Our workshop, led by Sheila, aimed to take the most brilliant comments from the panel debate and see how they applied (or did they?) to the colourful collection of companies represented in the room. Inspired by Stuart Murdoch’s reference to Tech City’s t-shirt slogan ‘Skip the city, join a startup’, we began by identifying what makes a startup so attractive. Helping to shape the company, being involved in more decision-making and a more flexible and less process-driven culture were just a few key attractions. But startups are not for everyone. With a plethora of ages in the room I was interested to hear from a graduate that she wouldn’t want to take the risk of joining a startup straight out of uni. Personally, straight out of uni seems to me like the time I would join a startup, whilst I’m free from responsibilities and excited by the risk. Ever-the-entrepreneur Richard Branson’s well-known phrase ‘screw it, just do it’ came to my mind!

On the other hand, the workshop identified plenty of benefits and attractions about joining a company that has history, heritage and a great brand story; not only do these companies evoke pride and belonging, but their reputation can – rightly or wrongly – be seen as a great credential on your CV.

The challenge for established brands is to adopt some of the startup characteristics that seem to be so appealing, and work out how to maintain and nourish them in a bigger organisation. Every company begins as a startup though, and with even bigger challenges are those companies, for example, that have prided themselves on giving their employees the opportunity to build something from scratch but have now become so successful that it’s important to implement structure into the business. How do you continue to cultivate a thirsty and exciting culture in a company with 10,000 employees that have true entrepreneurial spirit, whilst preserving processes?

From the pros and cons of startup cultures, we moved on to the challenges of engaging frontline staff – a familiar theme to internal communicators in all kinds of sectors. There are humongous differences in the engagement levels of customer-facing employees. Every company relies on these people to demonstrate their brand day-after-day but they are often the lowest paid in an organisation and they are all-too-often not given the management they need or deserve. This can lead to staff investing only in their customers and not their company, or taking no pride in their role at all. There was a clear consensus on the need for managers to treat their teams with respect and get to know what motivates their staff individually. We all agreed that it’s important that frontline staff understand what makes their company different from others, what part they play in the company’s strategy; that they are valued; and, where possible, they are given ownership of their tasks – all of which can be incredibly motivating.

Finally we discussed how the employer brand vs the individual brand debate plays out in different sectors and decided on a few other corporate characteristics that could be influential too. Having a global footprint, for example, adds a broader perspective to the company culture which attracts certain types of people – including young graduates who are eager to travel. In our search for differences, we stumbled across some common truths: the need for a sense of belonging and purpose, as well as a culture where the individual is treated and valued as a whole person so that ‘brand me’ isn’t at all at odds with the organisation’s collective identity. A culture that is demonstrated through recruitment and good new employee induction are just a couple of ways to get it right from the beginning.

One thing that was particularly prevalent for me throughout the workshop was that we all face similar challenges, old and new, and hearing such a rich mix of stories and opinions and working together to solve them can be so valuable. As for ‘what role for the employer brand?’ it seems that it still has massive appeal when it is authentic and real, but working patterns are changing. Though the notion of a ‘brand me’ may seem to be new, it’s surely because we are all more publicly visible than before. More important to me is that companies are working hard to build a unique and attractive offering that magnetises talent and loyalty. I think they need to modernise the way that they recruit that talent by deciding whether an employee is right for their business by focusing less on IQ and more on emotional intelligence.

As usual, I have the feeling that every topic we discuss in thefuturestory series can make a significant impact on the world of business. Rather than waiting for the future to come to us, talking about them now feels to me as though we are helping to shape them. And that gives me a sense of belonging.

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