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Sea of Sameness: The Talent Experience

Updated: Oct 8, 2020

We continue our series looking at the Sea of Sameness in Employer Branding & Corporate Branding, the impact on the talent experience, and how to create a distinctive talent experience for business big and small alike.


Listen to the Podcast here.


Hi, welcome to the HeatherP solutions, POV podcasts.

I'm Heather P. This is the third episode where we will discuss the implications of the sea of sameness in corporate and employer branding on talent experience. We're calling this episode, "Driving competitive advantage in the sea of sameness".

In our first episode, we covered what we were seeing as the sea of sameness in the core employer, branding messages in fortune 500 companies in finance healthcare and consumer foods. We aren't proposing the sea of sameness is exclusive to these industries. They are simply the industries we looked at and are using illustrate what we're seeing more broadly. Since that podcast, we actually have looked across all industries, the fortune 500 and found this pattern to be consistent throughout every industry.

We also found the same sea of sameness in the corporate brands across the industries going so far as to see some of the same talk tracks across brads, or even repurposed from one organization to the next, within a given industry.

We proposed in that first episode three potential drivers of this sea of sameness for consideration. The first is that the role of the corporate brand may be to not rock the boat with consumers, investors, et cetera. So, safe judicious language that checks all the boxes is in order. The second proposed driver was the alignment of the employer brand and the corporate brand. We did see strong alignment here between the employer and corporate brands. And usually we think of this as a good thing, but is it if we lack a distinctive narrative for corporate brands, is that a good thing? I will say in looking across all the industries, we never saw a case where their corporate brand was more distinctive than the employer brand. We did, however, see a few instances where the employer brand took a stronger point of view than the corporate brand. This was still in the minority, but we did see it. The third potential driver is the breadth and depth of roles and geography. Given the breadth of countries that many of these fortune 500 organizations are operating within and their breadth of roles, it would be hard to speak distinctively and have the message be as applicable to say graphic designers, as food scientists, as customer service agents and nurses.

In our second episode, we talked about how large and small companies alike can break through the sea of sameness and their messaging. First companies of all sizes can provide transparent video interview content about what it is like to work there. Pull out the iPhone folks and let the employees talk without constraint and without concern about the good, bad and ugly. A great question to ask is who would not be a fit for this company? This doesn't have to be expensive. And yet it was really interesting how many companies in the fortune 500 don't have any employee testimonials. Many that do have testimonials, if you block out the name and the logo, you wouldn't be able to tell one organization from another. It's just really bland content. The second thing that we called out was large companies will always struggle to come up with an overall differentiated corporate employer brand for the reasons that I just highlighted. Where large companies can really focus on really differentiated messaging is on talent that drives their competitive advantage and talent that is critical to their business model.

Small companies have an opportunity to level the playing field with large companies, because many of them don't have the same name recognition, but small companies can put a stake in the ground on their overall message that differentiates them as a whole versus necessarily needing to focus on a specific talent group. They can be bold and audacious and differentiated as a whole and level that playing field with the name brand large companies that they're competing with for talent. So those are the three highlights of how organizations can break through the sea of sameness when it comes to messaging.

Now that you're all cut up, let's ask ourselves, where are the opportunities to break through the sea of sameness when it comes to talent experience?

When it comes to driving competitive advantage, first let's define talent experience. I'm using talent experience to refer to three groups, potential employees or candidates, current employees, and alumni. At the end of the day, it's the talent needed to drive your business. By experience. I mean, all of the things that come into play that impact how talent perceives an organization. This includes technology workspace, extrinsic rewards, compensation and benefits, As well as intrinsic rewards like feeling valued. It includes interaction with peers, bosses, and leaders. It includes the workplace practices, both formal and informal, spoken and unspoken. It also includes where there might be a disparity of experience for women and people of color.

So now that we've defined talent experience, let's start with what all organizations should do regardless of size. When thinking about talent experience first, it is really important that the anchor for any and all work related to talent experience be anchored in who an organization says they are. I'm going to say this again because it's so important. It bears repeating. It is really important that the anchor for any and all work related to talent experience be anchored in who an organization says they are. Basically a talent experience needs to be a living example of walking the talk of who can business as they are. And what I mean by who an organization says they are, this includes purpose, mission, values, culture, brand promises, and those brand promises would be products and service their corporate brand and their employer brand. And it would also include leader voice. Particularly for this past year. This should include PR releases, earning releases, press interviews, all company memos and meetings to just name a few. Given who you say you are is how talent determines to work with you, it is their measuring stick. So therefore, it is your measuring stick for all decisions, prioritizations and roll-outs of talent experience work.

Surprisingly many organizations may have some of this documented in terms of who they say they are, but it might not be in a single place. This capture of who you say you are, is step number one to any and all work to talent experience.

So if the first thing for all companies, regardless of size is to anchor themselves and talent experience work in who you say you are. The second thing for all companies is something I rarely see. I rarely see companies or organizations link their talent experience work to their customer experience work. This disconnect is crazy, and it seems so obvious. Employees are the ones who deliver on your customer experience. If you do not link your work on talent experience to customer experience, there's going to be gaps. And those gaps are either that talent doesn't experience something so they can't deliver that experience to customers. If employees are treated like order takers, they will be order takers instead of problem solvers with your customers. If employees aren't given best in class training, development and support, how can they deliver a best in class customer service experience to your customers? If a company touts their innovation and technology, but candidates, experience old cumbersome ATS systems, then the talent really valuing innovation in technology is going elsewhere. And then you don't have the talent you need to deliver innovation to your customers. All talent experience work must link to customer experience.

The other gap that could show up is that employee experience actually thwarts the customer experience. One of the most common examples I've seen with clients is where employees in call centers are measured by the volume and speed of handling incoming calls instead of the quality of the service. Now, as long as you aren't promising quality customer service or quality customer experience as part of your promises, that's not a problem because that's sort of workplace practice is going to drive a fast outcome with customers, but not necessarily in effective one. Another thing I see time after time in my clients is employees not being empowered in working with customers. So it takes a customer multiple calls or multiple conversations to get resolution.

In summary, all organizations, regardless of size, when thinking about talent experience work, that works starts with who the organization says they are and then connecting talent experience work to customer experience work.

Now, if a company starts with just these two things, believe it or not, that company will start to break through the sea of sameness regardless of size.

Now, let's discuss what large companies can do to break through the sea of sameness. This is after the two foundational items we just discussed. Much like when we were talking about messaging, large companies have such diversity of locations and roles that creating a distinctive work experience can be challenging. Perhaps even more challenging though, as someone who worked for a fortune five company, is prioritizing the talent experience work. There can be so much to tackle and address as a large organization that prioritizing the work and budgets can end up wasting months or even years, much less garnering alignment from many leaders, doing your stakeholder management and keeping all those ducks in a row over an extended period of time. I've been there done that. It's not, it's fun. It's super challenging.

My recommendation, which will be your business case and your prioritization all in one, is start with the talent that drives your competitive advantage and the talent that is critical to your business model. I don't mean you only impact the talent experience for these two groups of talent. Rather that these groups will tell you what parts of the talent experience to prioritize. They can be your pilot grips positively impacting their experience first, and then you roll it out across the rest of your employees. And this is everything. This is systems, processes, benefits, recognition, rewards, training, development, opportunity for advancement, workplace policies and practices spoken and unspoken. And by golly, make sure you have an ongoing listening strategy for these groups of employees to get constant feedback on what is or is not moving the dial for them in their experience and their enablement to do their jobs. And perhaps the most important part of the work with these groups would be culture, work manager and leader training. Make sure these groups have managers who are really well equipped to develop and lead talent.

Also assuming like most organizations, your large company took a stance on racial justice. This is where you want to be really sure you start to close the gap on any disparity of work experiences with these talent groups. Like, well beyond the typical internship programs to build talent, actually examining the workspace, the leadership mindset and workplace practices that may be creating an environment that's not conducive to talent being able to show up as their full whole selves to contribute at the level that they know that they're capable of and, therefore, that talent then doesn't advance or continue to build their careers with your organization. Start those efforts with this talent group, because that diversity of perspective and experience when you're talking about creating competitive advantage, wow, that is serious business ROI just right on the table for you.

Continuing to look at our present world circumstances, when considering do you keep your employees working from home or return to the office, start with these employee groups. When thinking about how to support employees, who are parents dealing with distance learning or many unusual in-person learning schedules, get it right here. And then it's a halo effect for the rest of your talent. That way you're moving the dial for the talent that moves your business strategy, your driving competitive advantage for your company, your doing the work to attract, engage and retain the talent needed to keep you responding to marketplace trends and competitive pressure.

So in summary, for larger organizations, your layer on top of the foundation of who you say you are and linking talent experience customer experience is to start and focus your work on talent experience around the talent that drives your competitive advantage, or is critical to your business model. This will help you in your prioritization and building your business case, and quite frankly, getting alignment amongst all those leaders, all in one to get moving and start making a difference and break through the sea of sameness.

For smaller organizations, after the foundation of who you say you are and connecting any talent experience work with your customer experience, your opportunity is similar to what we saw in messaging. That is, you have the opportunity to do something large organizations can't do. You can create an overall differentiated work experience. You can be more personal in how you deliver an overall experience. For example, let's say you have a stand to have your customers feel valued? Well, in a large corporation, they might be able to remember an employee's start date and their birth date through computer automation. But you, you can go further. You can make it personal. You can ask them what events might have them feel the most supported and valued. Like maybe it's supporting their kid's first day of school each year. Maybe it's their birthday, their work anniversary. Maybe quite frankly, it's being able to cut out early for their wedding anniversary. Ask them what they most value and acknowledge those things.

Additionally, you could ask them what they would value more for acknowledgement on their birthday or work anniversary. Do they want to have day off or a donation to a nonprofit close to their heart? You can take feeling valued to a more personal level. And this is all inside the example for a small organization where customers feeling valued is one of your core promises. And then imagine how your salespeople, if that's how they're being treated, they will pay that forward to your customers. So that's just an example. If being part of community is your thing. Here's another example you could ask, whether a half day off to volunteer or a donation to local cause they care about is of more value to them. It's living your organization values. At the same time, you demonstrate that value with your employees.

Let's take a workplace practice. If you're a place where people are empowered, they can also be accountable. If people are empowered to problem solve, they can be accountable for outcomes with customers. You can tout how your place of work, everyone..... I mean, every single person in the small business.... is a Customer Experience Officer. Isn't that awesome? People are empowered and accountable for great customer experiences.

When people make mistakes, which they will, they clean up their mass, make it right with the customer, learn from them and move on. Who doesn't want to work someplace like that? And at a large company, they couldn't make that claim. They would struggle to operationalize it across a vast geography, but you can. You can get great talent by putting a stake in the ground like that with your overall experience. You get to create something that's distinctive, differentiated, more meaningful, and, quite frankly, more personal than what large organizations can do. And that levels the playing field for you to get the great talent you deserve.

So in summary, all organizations need to anchor talent experience work in two things. One, who they say they are. Two, they need to link to their customer experience work. Large employers, you're going to layer on top of that to prioritize and build your business case for your talent experience work around the talent that drives your competitive advantage and/or is critical to your business model. Doesn't mean you ignore the rest of the employees, rather that you start with these talent pools because they create competitive advantage and they create a halo effect out from there for the rest of your employees. So really all employees will eventually receive the benefit of the work, but you start with these talent pools.

Small businesses, you're going to put that stake in the ground and you are going to be more personal in your execution by putting that stake in the ground and taking it to a more personal level. You offer something in talent experience that large organizations can't offer. And in the process, you increase your competitiveness for great talent and your competitiveness in the marketplace.

Now you might be listening to this podcast and wondering where to possibly start, or you might need an extra set of hands, or you just might need someone who can come in and do this work for you. And that is where HeatherP Solutions comes in. We've done this work. We can help you do this work and we will set you up to sustain this work well after our engagement is done. All you have to do is go to Heather P and click the link in the upper right hand corner to sign up for 30 minutes strategy call.

We're going to use this call to understand your vision for your businesses, what it is you want to create, and then we can see if we're a fit to help you realize that vision.

Join us next time when we tackle how the sea of sameness is a phenomenon that is well outside the U S. We will be talking about how the sea of sameness shows up in Latin American countries and companies, and what actions can be taken to break through this global phenomenon.

This is Heather P signing off from the HeatherP Solutions, POV PodCast, third episode, "Driving competitive advantage in the talent experience through the sea of sameness".

Thanks for listening. Bye.

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