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 prese