The Employer of Choice Trifecta: Culture, Purpose & Employer Brand

By: Christina Zurek
manager employer of choice congratulating employee

Spring is in the air. In addition to the rampant anticipation of more sunlight and better weather, I’ve noticed something else taking root: optimism.

Optimism about the “next normal” of this pandemic and what it will bring to people around the world.

But as exciting as it is to think about a world much more familiar to the one we knew prior to 2020, it’s raising some hard questions about the future for employers, too. For example, historically during periods of significant economic disruption voluntary turnover decreases because people are grappling for security and thankful for any job.

Yet, despite the massive crisis we’ve been in for the past year, one in five employees still voluntarily changed employers in 2020, with Gen Z and millennials accounting for more than half of those turning over, according to the 2021 IBM CEO Study.

Underlying causes for this turnover vary, but many studies on the topic cite three common employee needs: flexibility, purposeful work and better support to fend off burnout. That’s because the pandemic has illuminated for workers what matters most to them—and where their employers have shortcomings. That same study found that only about half of employees felt their employers were living up to their expectations

Related: Learn what employees told us they need most from employers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Knowing this, one thing is clear about the future: If employees are willing to leave an employer during a pandemic because of what matters most to them, they’ll certainly be willing to jump ship post-pandemic if those needs aren’t met.

That’s why it’s never been more important for you to focus both on retaining the top talent you already have and drawing in the top talent you need for future success. It’s time to get serious about being an employer of choice.

Employee Brand Advocates Establish Your Organization as an Employer of Choice

To effectively make the leap to being an employer of choice, it takes a coordinated effort across your organization to clearly and authentically communicate the value you offer as an employer. When you effectively convey that value to your people, you:

  • Energize them and reignite their individual passion for what they do
  • Excite them with stories that build their confidence in your organization and compel them to share their experience with personal networks as employee advocates
  • Create a positive image for your organization in the community as your newly aligned army of employee advocates actively share the stories of what makes your organization a great place to work

If these sound like the outcomes you want but you’re unsure of what stories you would tell to excite and motivate your employees, now is the time to dig deeply in to your culture, your company purpose and your employer brand—they’re the key to unlocking those messages.

HR as the Great Connector for Culture, Purpose & Employer Brand

The importance of culture, purpose and employer brand to organizational identity is a reasonability well known today. But in my experience, these elements often lack ownership. I wholeheartedly believe that HR is the most well-equipped business function to own, communicate and nurture messages related to these critical topics of culture, purpose and employer brand.

Bear with me.

I know you have so much on your plate already and this can feel overwhelming to consider adding more, so let’s start first with definitions of each. Because what we can define we can also organize, prioritize and act upon.

1. Culture

SHRM defines an organization’s culture as the “proper way to behave within the organization” or a “shared set of believes and values.” Personally, I prefer a less formal definition: Culture is the way things are done—especially when leaders aren’t watching.

Why should HR own culture?

I agree with so much of this article about how culture is everyone’s responsibility with one caveat: Culture is a shared responsibility once that desired culture is defined. Without defining cultural norms, cultural fray and, eventually, breakdown occurs. That’s why I believe that as the business function that hires and develops people, there’s no better group to set the tone on what is and is not acceptable than HR.

2. Purpose

Culture is how things are done, and purpose is why things are done. By asking deep questions like why your company exists and how you uniquely, positively impact the world, you uncover this incredibly important facet of your organizational identity. But remember—there are two elements of purpose that are key to engaging your employees. First is a shared, collective sense of purpose. This is what unites your people across business function, geography, level and more. But equally (if not more) important to employee self-esteem is helping them find their individual purpose, or “why,” for the work that they do and the meaning it brings for them.

Why should HR own purpose?

We’ve heard for years that company values shouldn’t be generic; rather, they need to be specific to the behaviors you desire to see from your people to support your business. But it’s about more than the service or product you provide. To succeed in the future of work, those values need to anchor directly to the purpose-driven messages you’re sending to employees. Whether it’s reinforcing those behaviors in your recognition and rewards strategy, incorporating them into metrics for your compensation and performance or otherwise, HR is in a prime position to clarify and reinforce those messages.

3. Employer Brand

Culture is the how, purpose is the why—and employer brand is how you package and communicate what you’re saying about both. In the past employer branding has been siloed as a function for talent acquisition efforts only; a story to tell when recruiting. But when you reinforce those compelling stories to your current employees, you set in motion exactly what we addressed earlier—the groundswell of employee advocacy that you’re really after.

Why should HR own employer branding?

Often, you already are—especially if your focus has been on using your employer brand for talent acquisition. If that’s the case, keep it up and explore extending your efforts further to reach your current employees through emotionally impactful, cross-media campaigns. If your organization’s employer branding efforts are primarily managed through marketing, work your way in to a partnership with them. While marketers are often perceived as the natural storytellers of the organization, you have a deep understanding of the messages that authentically capture your culture and purpose that you can bring to the table. The most effective ways I’ve seen employer brand managed is actually through close collaboration between these two functions.

Future-Proof Your Organization With Highly Engaged Employee Brand Advocates

While the future holds many unknowns, one thing is clear: top talent will demand more from employers. To establish yourself as an employer of choice capable of retaining the best employees and recruiting more, it’s imperative that you lean in to the power of culture, purpose and employer brand as a way to activate the employee brand advocacy necessary to fuel your future talent needs.

For more ideas on this topic, check out our white paper, Ideas to Implement Today: Motivating & Empowering Your Employees to Advocate for Your Brand.

Christina Zurek
Christina Zurek

Christina is an experienced leader with a passion for improving the employee experience, employee engagement and workplace culture. Few things excite her as much as an opportunity to try something unfamiliar (be that a project, development opportunity, travel destination, food, drink or otherwise), though digging in to a research project is a close second.