Enabling Your Employee Voice
November 20, 2018 by Lindsey Sanford, Global Employer Brand Manager, Palo Alto Networks
Employees are the backbone of your employer brand. As a practitioner, recruiter, or frankly, anyone who touches any aspects of recruitment, you probably know this. Your employees embody the brand, embrace or reject the brand, and communicate the brand through their actions within and outside of the organization. All of this (hopefully) stems from the way that you’ve hired your employees – to be a cultural add, value fit, and ultimately, “on brand” with the kind of company your employer brand believes you to be.
But ultimately, it comes back to your employees. You can document your brand, share your brand, talk about your brand, measure your brand… but if you’re employees aren’t exemplifying your brand…you aren’t your brand. It’s that simple.
It’s important to recognize that alongside your employees representing your brand, your employees are also more trusted when it comes to the authority of your brand. Not only do they “own” your brand – but they are also the people who are sought when looking to authenticate your brand’s claims around value proposition. The reality of our world is that organizations are less trusted than individuals. Edelman releases an annual report titled the “Trust Barometer”, and this barometer measures how individuals trust information from different sources. The end result? Trust is high in experts and…people “like you”. This category is a phenomenon – it’s individuals who are similar to yourself (or perceived to be similar). It’s people who think like us, look like us, act like us – or who we aspire to be. Even with the decrease in trust across the board, this is one of the categories that is imperative to your employer brand being distributed and trusted.
So, how do you leverage your employees as a trusted source of information in a way that distributes your employer brand in an authentic, believable, scalable way? That’s the million-dollar question.
Advocacy tools will tell you it’s advocacy programs. I’d argue that one of the reasons that we saw a decrease in trust in people “like you” is because of influencer and advocacy programs being mismanaged. It may be an unpopular opinion because advocacy programs distributed by larger companies is, what seems to be, a really easy way to get content to your target audiences. But, if you have 100s of employees sharing content that is identical to everyone else sharing that content – it loses its authenticity and believability.
Instead, you should be enabling employees to tell the story in their words, and without your oversight.
Am I saying that we should encourage employees to tell their own stories without strict control brought to you by copy editors, review teams, brand approvals, and campaign guidelines?
Before you have a heart attack, I’m not suggesting that these stories be published directly on your career website (though, if you’re that afraid of your employee voice, I’d ask you if there might be an underlying problem you have instead). I AM asking you to enable your employee voices so that they feel comfortable sharing their stories across their personal platforms (with the potential for amplification on your official digital channels and materials – because, frankly, you’d be silly to miss the opportunity these voices will provide).
Where do you start?
In my years of experience finding employee stories – there are always two things you have to overcome: employees feel they don’t have a story, and even if they had a story, they feel that they can’t write it.
Both of which are bologna.
But that doesn’t mean that the employees don’t have an inherent anxiety or fear of their stories not being interesting, compelling, relatable, or, sadly, worth telling. The first step to telling the employee story is validating it.
Step 1: Validating the Employee Story
Employees are an interesting bunch. They are all-stars in their industry, stellar performers and contributors. They are rock stars at exhibiting your culture, and they are one-of-a-kind. The catch?
They don’t believe it.
Human nature is tough – we are both assured and uncertain. Without continuous (positive) feedback and validation, we can become self-critical. We remember negative feedback more often than we do positive. It’s true – our brains are almost hard-wired for us to remember negative experiences more than positive, and it takes many more positive memories to outweigh the negative.
Every company worth their weight is asking employees for testimonials, stories, blogs, content founded in the employee experience.
But before you ask employees for their stories, are you validating the employee’s voice? Are you reminding them that they have something unique, critical, compelling to say? Are you telling them why you are reaching out? Are you telling them how they are crucial to communicating your brand? Are you honoring their story by listening to it? Actively listening to it? Are you reaching out to employees recently nominated – not awarded, but nominated – for awards to compound that honor and respect it? Are you telling them that their voice is critical to connect to the kind of people you are looking to recruit?
To cut it short – are you telling your employee through your actions or words that they matter, their voices are crucial, and someone is listening?
If not, your employees won’t believe they have a story worth telling.
Step 2: Creating a Safe Environment
How many of you were told at some point in your life that you couldn’t write? This is where I would count the countless hands that were raised into the air – because I have yet to run into someone who said no. Professional writers like Hemingway, Twain, and Tolkien all had similar beliefs – they couldn’t write. It would take draft after draft after draft to write something they thought worth writing, and they are famous authors. Imagine how your employees feel.
The second step to collecting employee stories is helping them feel more comfortable in writing it. Once they know they have something worth saying, they need to feel safe in creating content when they may have (most probably have) been told they aren’t good at it.
But the truth is – with a good story, something worth saying, the words will come. Sure, it’ll look different person to person. That’s the point.
So how do you get them to believe they can write? You teach them.
- Give them examples. Find employees who have done something similar. Create something similar to give them an example if you have nothing. Tell your own story and give them that as an example to bring vulnerability to the table.
- Enable their voice. This is a personal content piece – not a branded one. They do not need to stifle their voice, and often this is the root cause of the “you can’t write” feeling. Teachers have stifled our voices for the purpose of “academia” for years. In this case, the voice is the differentiator.
- Start with your objectives. Tell your employees to start with a few sentences of what they are trying to convey through their personal stories. This will give them a place to start, without the pressure of a “draft”.
- Avoid blank paper at all costs. I don’t know what it is about blank pages, but there’s something intimidating from starting from scratch. Send your employees prompts. Questions. A few sentences. The objectives from above. Anything. Just don’t start on a blank page. Way too much pressure.
- Just start. Think about your first draft as only for them. No one else will ever see their first draft. Just write. Don’t worry about order, yet. Vomit words onto a page, step away and come back to it later.
- Cut and Change. They’ve spewed words onto a page – now it’s time to pick the pieces they like, expand them, and frame a different kind of draft, one that they might feel comfortable sharing.
- Length, schmength. It doesn’t matter – sure you can find article after article proving me wrong, but the reality is that if they have something worth saying people will stick around to read it. If they find themselves repeating their words, stop. If they have more to say, keep going.
- Build trust with an editor. You, as an employer brand practitioner, can be that voice of trust and provide your services as an editor. If they want someone else to be their editor, that’s okay too. But make sure someone edits it. We are physically unable to review our own work.
If all else fails, and they feel like they still can’t write – write it for them. Conduct an interview, transcribe it, format it, and create it in their voice. OR, give the employee something to start from with your notes from the interview, and have them recreate it in their own words.
Step 3: Honor it.
Look, your employees have been validated, they’ve built their confidence in writing, and now, you have to take the most important step: Honor their voice and the piece they have put together by sharing it. Hopefully, the piece they’ve created is something that you can distribute – whether internally, externally, on your digital channels, or to interested candidates individually. Ideally, you can use these pieces to share across your company’s recruitment social channels to bolster your authenticity and employer brand’s claims.
For more recruiting and interview insights, join us in San Francisco this January 30 - February 1, 2019, at #SRSC where talent acquisition leaders connect to leverage emerging recruiting practices.