Employer branding is about identity. It is about how the people who work for an organisation view the organisation as an employer. And it is about how the people the organisation would like to see work for it view it as a potential employer.
In contrast to classic corporate branding, employer branding isn’t primarily about an organisation’s products and services.
Take my company, Siemens. We do some amazing stuff. Among other things, we’re currently working on doubling Egypt’s energy production, finding ways to prevent malaria, making cities smarter and more eco-efficient, designing mobile, autonomous, and connected 3D printing robots, and helping NASA explore Mars. In short, we’re changing the world through engineering.
Highlighting these things will help attract talent, for sure. But talent today has plenty of ways of finding out about a company’s portfolio: through ads, business news, events, and many other channels. And portfolios’ power as an attractor is waning, with talent becoming ever more interested in the deeper questions that even platforms like Glassdoor or kununu, where employees can review their employer, often don't adequately address.
These questions include: What does it feel like to be part of a team that worked on the products, projects, services? What did it take to develop these products? What were the challenges along the way? Questions like these often provide the best answers for an interested prospect as to whether they might fit in to an organisation.
The need to communicate this more human aspect of working at an organisation has increased lately due to shifts in labour market preferences. A recent study by Universum, a specialist in talent market intelligence and employer branding, found, for example, that within Generation Z, 55% prefer the idea of founding or at least working for a start-up to that of working for an established player.
For Siemens, these shifts have led to a decline in our attractiveness scores as an employer. Our merely doing impressive things no longer automatically makes us the kind of place where a gifted engineer, data scientist, or technologist might consider working.
We feel, however, that the preference for start-ups is often based on a misunderstanding of what is like to work for an established player. And this is why we have developed a new basis for employer branding at Siemens.
We know that the most powerful way to find out what it is like to work at an organisation is through speaking with someone who works there. And we know that the more our world digitalises, the more a personal conversation with a friend from college or former colleague will stick out from a message carefully curated by a company department. So at Siemens we have introduced a new employer branding strategy based on sparking conversations, namely ones about the future of engineering and what it takes to get there.
These conversations are not intended to take place on an abstract level between our company and the talent market. The aim is to spark a multitude of conversations with society. They can be initiated internally or externally. The important thing is that they are always at the human level and thus provide an important insight into what it’s like to work at Siemens.
This conversation principle is influencing all of our employer branding activities. In early 2017, for example, we relaunched siemens.com/careers, the second-most frequently visited website at siemens.com, restructuring it around employee-driven stories that provide an authentic look at what it is like to work at Siemens.
Our aim is to give potential candidates as unedited an account as possible of what they can expect from Siemens as an employer. We believe that, as long as we resist injecting corporate jargon into the dialogue, these conversations are the best tool we have for spreading knowledge about what it is like to work at our company and the kind of culture that awaits a new recruit.
Vertical to horizontal
The way we are seeking to spark these conversations is by giving employees and prospects something interesting and relevant to talk about. To this end we have, for example, produced state-of-the-art virtual reality documentary videos featuring Siemens colleagues working in different countries and different Siemens businesses. The stories and protagonists were selected in collaboration with colleagues based in each respective market to ensure that the content is relevant and authentic and represents Siemens in the most insightful way.
All 351,000 Siemens employees will eventually receive virtual reality Google cardboards that, when used with their smartphone, will enable them to experience the highly immersive and rich virtual reality environment of the films. Crucially, because the technology runs on individual smartphones via an app, the experience can also be shared with family and friends, thereby scaling the experience and the conversations. The films also enable us to show a more intimate side of our company at events and job fairs.
By switching from a vertical, headquarters-led programme to a horizontal, employee-driven one, we believe that we have created a strong, contemporary approach for the Siemens employer brand. It also embodies our belief that the employer brand needs to be owned by the employees.
This horizontal approach doesn’t mean that there is no direction to the programme. In fact, in an intensive process of collaboration and co-creation, we have created a solid framework for the Siemens employer brand that provides guidance to those running the employer brand programme in the different regions.
What it does mean, though, is that, since these colleagues need to address the local situation and needs, we have to relinquish some control at headquarters to ensure that they can employ different tactics to spark the types of conversations that best suit their local goals. This requires much mutual trust and continuous dialogue. It requires the willingness in headquarters to give up influence and power and the willingness in the regions to assume responsibility and gain autonomy. Collaboration and co-creation are therefore additional essential pillars of the Siemens employer branding strategy.