Repelling the Many and Compelling the Few with Bryan Adams

Reading Time: 17 Minutes

When you’re recruiting, do you try to attract the right candidates or repel the wrong ones? Bryan Adams share how you could do both at the same time.

About Bryan Adams

Bryan is the CEO and founder of Ph.Creative. His company handles employer branding for companies including Apple, American Airlines, and GVC.

Bryan is also a podcaster, creative strategist, specialist speaker, and the author of Give and Get Employer Branding.

Read the Transcript

This transcript was auto-generated from the original video recording using Otter Voice Meeting Notes. While the transcript has not been human edited, we hope it will still help you to quickly find or reference useful information from the interview


Deliberate Leaders I am your host Allison Dunn, Executive Coach and Founder of the Deliberate Leaders podcast dedicated to helping leaders build strong, thriving businesses. I’m super excited to have our guest, today we have with us Bryan Adams. He is the CEO and Founder of pH Creative, which is recognized as one of the leading employer brand agencies in the world. And he works with clients such as Apple, and American Airlines. He is a bestselling author of Give and Get Employer Branding, Repel the Many and Compel the Few With Impact Purpose and Belonging. He’s also a fellow podcaster, a creative strategist and a specialist speaker, Bryan. Thank you so much for joining us here today.


Thank you, I’m excited to be talking to you.


Fantastic, I kick these off with a quick deliberate conversation. Because I want to know, and we want to know what your number one leadership tip is for our listeners?


Oh, what a great question. I think what I’ve learned over the years is to develop as a leader is to have a servant mindset. And I always set out to employ people who are much smarter and much better that their role than me. And so I always meet with all of my direct reports and ask them, How can I knock down walls? How can I remove obstacles and barriers and make you run faster this week. And that’s, that’s typically that that sums up my leadership style, to get out of people’s way and let them do what they do.


Clearing obstacles and making sure that they have the support they need to get done what they get with their magical doing. That’s fantastic. I love that tip. We are about to embark on a conversation, that is boardroom conversations, it’s coaching conversations, it’s one of the biggest challenges. One of the biggest challenges, but definitely up there in the top five of what businesses are facing, which is how to actually find qualified employees attract the right type. So I know that you, you’re a leading employer brand agency, and you have tons of experience working with a kind of a diverse client base is the number one mistake that organizations are making when pitching themselves to potential employees.


So good question, I think it seems obvious and simple when we talk about it, but I see time and time again, organizations think that they just need to be the most generally attractive to the whole entire talent audience. So they set out to be the most attractive they can be. And they talk about the sunshine and rainbows version of the employee experience and they neglect to to discuss and even lead with some of the challenges and adversities that they people will face inside an employee experience that actually bring value to the achievements and the progress somebody can make with their career. Because the number one question people want answering is, have I got what it takes to thrive? So in order to answer that you need you need to be very specific with 360 of the employee experience not just why it’s so fantastic to work at your organization. And of course, everybody wants to put their best foot forward and present themselves in the best light. But if we think about it with empathy and compassion for employees, what they go through from an acknowledgement and appreciation perspective, we can’t just say it’s magical, it’s fantastic and talk about strengths, benefits and opportunities. It’s a two way street. And then when we try to attract talent as well, that’s the question we’re looking to answer. So what do I have what it takes to thrive? And then once they know that, you can then talk about well is the gift where forget you know Is it is it is it worth putting in what you’re suggesting to get out what I’m looking for so typically that’s what I was.


Fantastic if so in you know if you were to go out I don’t know how often you ruse the one out I only do it because I do recruiting for clients. So in that they all these jobs are the same so I’m absolutely new about it can’t be all rainbows and sunshine right? In the book you cover some ways to really present unconventional ways that will bring the right candidate to you and repel the wrong candidate. So tell us how you did that? Or how you’d suggest someone do that, and the reasoning behind it?


Yeah, so the basic premise is, when you present a challenge, or an obstacle, or anything of worth, it takes effort, right? You know, nothing worthwhile. It says, Now, when, when you position something in the marketplace, some people will look at that challenge and think that mountain is too, too challenging to climb, you know, I haven’t got what it takes, or I just don’t, it’s not worth the effort. So we’ll look at it and go, that’s not challenging enough, some will look at it and say, Wow, I’m really up for this, and they will lean in. Now the point to that is, with one message, or one story, or one claim or one reputation that you’re forging, you’re polarizing the audience, you know, so if it’s, if it’s to calibrated towards the sunshine, truth or positive, everybody will be attractive. And actually, that’s the last thing talent, attraction leaders want, you know, more of their funnels clogged up by unqualified candidates. So what you’re looking for is a way to position your proposition that will, will actually repel more people than it compels. And you do that by putting people to a decision with the information they need to make a smart assessment of, is this somewhere that I can see myself in the next few years or not?


Okay, can you give me an example?


Yeah, sure. So we, we worked with, you mentioned Apple, that’s a really good example, when we did the research for the employer brand at Apple, we discovered that by and large, there’s not very great work life balance, you know, you have got to put in long hours, you’ve got to, you know, it’s a commitment in in blood, sweat and tears. It’s a very special place. But the work life balance, isn’t fantastic. And when we presented that research back and said, Well, what are we going to do about that? You know, like, when people find out that that’s what people think. And that’s when it’s like, people might leave? You know, we were surprised by that, because we said, well, no, they won’t leave, because they already know. They’re the ones that told us, you know, the employee base they already know. Now, a conventional traditional approach to employer brand at times gone by might be to sweep that, under the carpet, just talk about the fantastic magic of contributing to something so significant in the world. But actually, if you think about it, by saying, look, you might have to come here, and you might have to commit and work harder than you’ve ever worked before, longer than you’re perhaps used to. But that’s what it takes to thrive and further your career at Apple. But if you do that, you’ll quickly become the best version of yourself, you’ll find out exactly what you are capable of, you’ll be surrounded by some of the smartest people in the world, and you’ll see your work and in the hands of millions of people every day. Now, some people will be inspired by that, and some people will run for the hills. And quite rightly, they’re doing it based on the reality of what it takes to thrive. And they only want people who are willing to look at that challenge and say I am comfortable committing my life 24 hours a day pretty much for the next few years. Because what I get out is worth it. It’s a it’s much better than finding that out on day two of your induction and being really worried about oh, you know, what about my yoga at four o’clock or I’ve got to pick the kids up but you know, lunchtimes or whatever you know so it’s that’s probably the most colorful and simple example I can give and hopefully people will relate to them.


I hope so too because you say that they go I want to work there so I’m maybe wouldn’t be weeding me out and that’s okay. I guess. So in in the whole like concept in theory of weeding people out in such a difficult job market that we’re in where I sometimes feel I hear people saying I just want someone has a pulse and can breathe at that is for our organization’s overall um, what would be your guidance to ensure that someone who is willing to work hard but also does want to be at yogurt for like a great candidate that you know By being over, making it seem to an attractor. Yeah, so I think this is where it comes down to the hard yards of the research and understanding the full parameters of the employee experience. Because if there’s if it’s a high performance culture that expects relentless results, and you know the best version of yourself constantly, however, it’s a flexible, agile organization that is empathetic to people juggling dogs, cats, kids and everything else, then that’s a very different working environment to somebody who demands that you’re at your desk, and you’re in an office nine to five. And that’s just how it’s always been, it’s how it always will be. So you need to understand the nuances of the employee experience. And then, if you can’t tell a very specific story, or articulate the employee experience in a unique way that differentiates you from the marketplace, then you’re going to struggle that needs. And the number of times we work with health organizations, or life science companies and pharmaceutical organizations, and they all have very purpose LED, but they’re all very vanilla, and they all say the same thing. You know, we’ve never, never been inside an organization small and large, where we haven’t been able to find a unique factor that makes their point of difference. And usually, that is a unique, important, as well as a unique output in terms of sacrifice or commitment that you have to be able to give, and that might be a mindset thing that might be an integrity thing, or, you know, sort of culturally, as well as the benefits of, of why people are there. And we also notice, the reason for people joining is usually the difference for the reason for people staying. And that’s a really lovely thing to find out there. Because that’s a sense to point you in the direction of what makes you different what, what makes people feel valued, and why they value their environment that you know, so the research phase is incredibly important. But if you get it right, you can then have the confidence to say something that is different, to say something helps you stand out. And that builds affinity with people who are going to join your organization flourish and add to your culture, you know, and if you need more people to apply for the roles, that’s actually a recruitment Marketing Challenge, where you need to turn up the dials and turn up the amplification. It’s not a justification for diluting the message in the first place, just so you get more people with a pulse, you know, because you might think that satisfies an immediate need. But it’s you’re setting yourself up for failure long term. And we all know this,


you know? Yes, we do. Yes, we do. Yeah, I’m one of the central tenants in your book, given get employer branding, you talk about creating a meaningful AVP employer value proposition correct. And so you discuss how companies should basically base their ebp on the exchange of give and get? Yeah.


Yeah, absolutely. So the employee value proposition. You know, the clue is in the last word proposition, it’s not a one way broadcast, it’s a two way value exchange. So what you have to give, so it’s much more than just your expertise and your competencies, you know, there is a whole set of capabilities that you will be expected that people require for you to put in what the job needs. And then there’s a whole aspect of what you get. So it’s more than just what you get paid. People typically are looking for satisfaction from an impact purpose and belonging perspective. So they want to know that the work is meaningful, they want to know that the work they’re doing makes a difference to the organization to their lives to the world. And they want to feel like they belong somewhere, they can bring their whole self to work. So building a proposition, you know, and it’s as simple as, hey, if you can do this, and if if you’re willing to agree to these set of things here. We can we can offer you this thing in return, you know, and that’s something that people can look at. and decide, is the gift where forget, you know, and that’s, that’s, that’s all it is. It’s a very simple premise. But what we say is, there’s two things that people need to look for in a candidate you want to you want to understand their brilliance You want to understand their resilience? You know, so typically we just focus on the brilliance, you know, can you do X, Y, and Zed for the role from a competency perspective, and sometimes their brilliance might include the greater public speaking, they’re great at coming up with ideas that greater networking are collaborating, and they make people feel great. But actually, when you look at the harsh realities and the adversities, in every employee experience, and every working environment has adversities, and harsh realities. What’s the resilient qualities needed in every employee, in order to cope with the day to get through the highs and the lows, and to contribute consistently in a meaningful way, under the conditions that are that is your employee experience. So it’s not just the brilliance, it’s also the resilience. And if you have those ingredients, then you can put a proposition together, which formulates a great gift and get. Not only is that the most authentic, transparent approach, but what we find is, it’s more than just being transparent with the negative bits, the bits that are less desirable. It’s bringing value and worth to the achievements that you have inside an organization from an acknowledgement and appreciation perspective. And, you know, when you ask employees to say, Hey, can you write a testimonial, or can we film you? And like, can you tell us how good the organization is, the uptake for that, in my experience, is usually quite low. Because, you know, because the like, people feel uncomfortable in their own skin, because they feel they’re being forced to put on that happy smiley face and say, it’s great here, come and join an amazing team. It’s, it never rains, where we work, and it’s every day is happy. And nobody likes to do that, because they feel like, you know, it doesn’t feel authentic. But when you say, what, what qualities do you admire in your teammates? When the chips are down? What can you count on what you know, and they say, Well, you know what, it’s quite turbulent here, you know, so you need to be quite resilient. And you need to be able to deal with hectic things that drop on your desk, and you have to be able to turn them around quickly. Or, for such a big organization, there’s no structure, so you kind of have to fend for yourself.


But if you can, it gives you more autonomy, you can be creative, it breeds trust, because everybody is in the same boat. And you know what, like, I’ve never felt closer to my team than anywhere else, because of because of those challenges. Now, not only does that feel more genuine and authentic, it gives somebody a much better insight as to whether they want to be in your boat or not. And also using the traditional conventional perceived negatives as a huge positive, you know, sort of big lever to bring value, passion and pride to your employee experience. So it bombs everything together from a galvanizing internally to a polarizing externally with one message and that’s usually the litmus test. Allison, can one message galvanize your internal team whilst polarizing your external to external audience?


And that’s the brilliance that you help people create, correct?


That’s Yeah, that’s what we do. And we love it. Absolutely. We love it.


And one of the, one of the challenges that I see in the differentiation, right, like bringing your, your value proposition in a written word, because I think we catch it on video and getting clicks to do that and share that message. That’s great. But you can’t put that on a job ad. So could you just talk through the semantics of perfect job posting how much is resilient spoken, how much is brilliant spoken and how much and where does EDP go?


Yeah, that’s a that’s a really good, really good question. So from a job posting perspective, typically, we start with, with empathy that might empathetically connect with the vision of the organization and a key motivator of the persona. You know, so we want to grab attention, using an emotive language. Sometimes it might be a question, you know, and it might be around if it’s a very purposeful organization, it might be around, you know, contributing to a very significant purpose in the world and the difference it can make And then the next layer there is we want to create significant interest and pull people in. So then we might reference the difference the team specific team that you would be joining you No, so we’ve gone company and individual, then we go to an individual so So then we’re touching on the tangible difference that you can make, not walk somebody through, okay, high level, the vision of the organization get a feel for that, then we talk about the team and give an insight into what it might feel like to exist inside my immediate surroundings of people. And then we’ll talk about capabilities and competencies of the specific role. But the give in gap, we use a simple story, formula. And what therefore, and it’s a, it’s a simple formula to use, and easy to remember. And if you think about, if you think about writing a typical day, and talking about what you need to thrive and the opportunities, you can say, it’s great because of this, and this, and that, and this, and that, so they’re all at the start. And then you put in a bot, but you have to be aware or capable, and able to cope with this map. And this and in order to take in order to to accomplish that it takes this, this and this. So you’ve now you’ve balanced out the AMS, you know, with what it takes us. And then therefore, so the third act to the structure, therefore, so as all the benefits bought, you need to be willing to put in all of this stuff and deal and cope with these things. Therefore, this is what you can expect as an outcome. And it’s a very simple story structure that you can walk somebody through, to keep them engaged, to present a balanced view of the employee experience. And use your employer brand pillars in a very tangible, specific way to articulate what it’s like to be sat in the seat that you’re actually advertising. And then typically, the call to action is linking. go right back to the start squaring the circle with the headline, you know, and so if if you want to do that thing that we said right at the top, you know, let’s we’re waiting to hear from you kind of thing. And like you were talking about the employee stories, what we’re seeing more and more now is personalizing those pages, to have employee stories of people in that team. Or something of significant relevance to that team or even that specific role, which is incredibly powerful as well.


It absolutely is especially if you’re able to get the inbound talent interest coming to your website where you can control that message. But um, I found that most recruiting platforms really kind of try to control the message more for you and drive the traffic to them. And it’s very confusing, you know, as to like how creative you can really get, I appreciate the structure and kind of outlining the, you know, the role the team, the individual, the company, you know, structure, that’s awesome. You brought up personas. And also in your book, your cover the company actually creating their own persona, a coach a lot of people in creating the persona of who they want to feel that job. And that’s always like the basis of the and in the end of the end component of what you were talking about and that structure. So give me give me just kind of a high level overview of what a company should be thinking about and creating a persona to attract the right potential customer, I mean, employee do you actually.


So it’s a really good, really good question. There’s two parts to this really, the first is the sort of the psychological, behavioral aspects of the perfect example of a candidate that might apply for a role. So you need to understand their main motivators and drivers that specific to that talent segment. A type of language and sentiment that that is relevant and familiar to them. You know, what aspects of purpose impact and belonging are going to appeal to them most. So, you know, it’s understanding what dials to turn up and down based on the preferences and priorities of that talent audience so that that’s something you need to find out. You know, this, there’s two sides to that one, speak to existing teams and existing examples of that persona, and then to the marketplace, because the people you have might not necessarily reflect the people that you want, or need. And then of course, you can do from a technical persona building perspective, you can do keyword research to see what language people are typing in to find those roles and understand where they hang out on social media, and, you know, what, what blog sites they read, and all of that stuff. So you can build up a very three dimensional technical picture of who they are, what motivates them, and drives them, what aspects of your employee experience is going to appeal most to, you know, where to prioritize and add emphasis. And then making the tactical deployment of those job adverts and the communications messages, optimizing them then by by using SEO techniques, and understanding where to post and where to sort of try and get people’s attention. But the more specific that you can build up in terms of persona profile, the better the results that you get, and if it’s culture first, and it’s not just competency LED, you know, then you can maintain the specificity of, you know, doing your homework and getting the rewards for that, while still being inclusive, and then still getting diverse candidates, because of course, with the persona research, understanding where they hang out, you can make sure that it’s not just posted in the typical places where the typical people apply, you know, yeah, that’s definitely a big part of it, as well. So making sure it’s inclusive, and then you’re the technique of taking that job to the marketplaces. This way, you’ll get the diverse candidates as well.


I appreciate your, your insights on just not relying on your standard posting platforms is, in your experience this past year, some of the more creative ways that people can think outside of the box and getting the message in front of the right people.


Yeah, absolutely. You know, and this there’s some questions that we’ve sort of run through it at whether they be of any value to your audience in terms of to get the insights that people are looking for you know, so the reasons for joining and staying is always of interest when you’re looking at persona segmentation. So why people have joined you know, what aspects of perhaps impact and belonging appeal to them? So why they joined them? Why that? Why do they stay? Yeah, that is really good insight into not just the universal employee experience, but also their team, and the impact they’re making in their seat. You know, when they stay what excites them in their role, wants to get out of bed every morning and look forward to their work. You know, what’s unique about the company from their specific perspective? How do they define the culture? What are they love about what they do? What motivates them in their role? You know, and then from an inclusion and belonging perspective, can they be themselves at work? How do they do that? How is the company in their opinion doing on diversity and getting their perspective from that point of view and the reason we ask those questions are if if diversity in an organization isn’t great, a conviction to change or momentum in the right direction is the next best thing. And hearing that straight from the employee is super valuable that can make a huge difference to the outcomes you know, of course the search volume and analysis and Media Research and ta insights and online behavior all supplement those big questions to tell us something new, which is usually useful to the to the efforts of talent attraction and employee engagement as well of course,


as a thank you very much for providing kind of an in depth kind of structure. But those questions are and Bryan so appreciate all of your sharing today and I just want to make sure that we share with the listeners how it’s best to either connect or follow you and where to get your book.


Great. Well, you can get didn’t get employer branding on Amazon, just search employer branding books I think comes up first or second. So yeah, please guess get the book there. I always connect with people on LinkedIn. Let’s type in Bryan Adams. Number one are Bryan Adams, Ph creative, connect with me there and I’m quite active. So if you get in touch, I’ll probably get back to you pretty soon. I love talking about this stuff as well. So any questions, feel free to jump in and ask. This is this is it’s the labor of love employer branding. It’s the most human aspect of marketing and communications out there. And we’re so fortunate to be able to do it every day.


That’s fantastic, Brian, I can sense your passion. And I super appreciate your time and sharing with us here today.


It’s been my pleasure. Thanks for having me on.


Thank you.

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