Employer Branding with Bryan Adams: Repel the Many, Compel the Few

Reading Time: 16 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

Who is Bryan Adams?

Allison: Hey, 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. He works with clients such as Apple and American Airlines. He is a best-selling author of Give & Get Employer Branding: Repel the Many and Compel the Few with Impact, Purpose and Belonging. He is also a fellow podcaster, a creative strategist, and a specialist speaker. Bryan, thank you so much for joining us here today.

Bryan: Thank you. I’m excited to be talking to you.

#1 Leadership Tip

Allison: Fantastic. I kick these off with a quick deliberate conversation because we want to know what your number one leadership tip is for our listeners.

Bryan: 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. I always set out to employ people who are much smarter and much better at 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? That typically sums up my leadership style. I like to get out of people’s way and let them do what they do.

Allison: There you go. Clearing obstacles and making sure that they have the support they need to get done what they’re magical at doing. That’s fantastic. I love that tip.

# 1 Mistake Organizations Make With Potential Employees

We are about to embark on a conversation that is boardroom conversations, it’s coaching conversations. It’s 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, and attract the right type. I know that you’re a leading employer brand agency and you have tons of experience working with a diverse client base. What is the number one mistake that organizations are making when pitching themselves to potential employees?

Bryan: Good question.

It seems obvious and simple when we talk about it, but the problem 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 discuss and even lead with some of the challenges and adversities that 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? In order to answer that, you need to be very specific with the 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 they are looking to answer. Do I have what it takes to thrive, and then once they know that, you can then talk about is the give worth the get? Is it worth putting in what you’re suggesting to get out what I’m looking for? So typically, that’s what I would say.

Allison: Fantastic. I don’t know how often you peruse the want ads. I only do it because I do recruiting for clients. So, in doing that, all these jobs sound the same so I absolutely agree with you that it can’t be all rainbows and sunshine, right?

Bryan: Sure.

How to Attract the Right Talent

Allison: 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 do that or how you suggest someone do that and the reasoning behind it.

Bryan: The basic premise is when you present a challenge or an obstacle or anything of worth, it takes effort.

Nothing worthwhile is easy.

Now, when you position something in the marketplace, some people will look at that challenge and think that mountain is too challenging to climb. I have not got what it takes or it’s not worth the effort. Some will 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’ll 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.

Repel vs. Compel

 If it’s too calibrated towards the sunshine truth, all positive, everybody will be attracted, and actually that’s the last thing talent attraction leaders want, more of their funnels clogged up by unqualified candidates.

What you’re looking for is a way to position your proposition that will actually repel more people than it compels.

You do that by putting people to a decision that the information they need to make a smart assessment of is this somewhere that I can see myself for the next few years or not?

Apple As An Example

Allison: Can you give me an example?

Bryan: Yeah, sure. So 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’ve got to put in long hours. It’s a commitment 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, they said, oh, what are we going to do about that? When people find out that that’s what people think, and that’s what it’s like, people might leave. And 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. The employee base, they already know.

 Now a conventional traditional approach to employer brand of times gone by might be to sweep that under the carpet, and 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 are perhaps used to.

That’s what it takes to thrive and further your career at Apple. But if you do 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 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 at Apple, 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 much better than finding that out on Day two of your induction and being really worried about what about my yoga at four o’clock, or I have to pick the kids up at lunch times or whatever. That’s probably the most colorful and simple example I can give and hopefully people will relate to that.

Understanding the Parameters of the Employee Experience

Allison: I hope so too, because you say that and I go I want to work there, so I’m attracted to that. Apple maybe wouldn’t be weeding me out and that’s okay. I get it. So in the whole concept and theory of weeding people out, in such a difficult job market that we’re in where I sometimes hear people saying, I just want someone who has a pulse and can breathe. That is for our organizations overall. What would be your guidance to ensure that someone who is willing to work hard, but also does want to be at yoga at four, a great candidate, that you don’t weed them out by making it seem too unattractive?

Bryan: 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 it’s a high-performance culture that expects relentless results and the best version of yourself constantly, however, it’s a flexible, agile organization that’s 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 and it’s how it always will be.

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.

Every Company Has A Unique Factor

 The number of times we work with health organizations or life science companies and pharmaceutical organizations, and they all are very purpose led but they’re all very vanilla and they all say the same thing. We’ve 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. Usually that is a unique input 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 a sort of cultural thing, as well as the benefits of why people are there.

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 tends to point you in the direction of what makes you different, what makes people feel valued, and why they value their environment that they’re in.

 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. 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, because you might think that’s satisfies an immediate need, but you’re setting yourself up for failure long term. And we all know this.

Central Tenant of new book, Give and Get Employer Branding

Allison: Yes, we do. One of the central tenets in your book, Give & Get Employer Branding, you talk about creating a meaningful EVP, Employee Value Proposition, correct?

Bryan: Yeah.

Allison: You discuss how companies should basically base their EVP on the exchange of give and get. Can you explain this for me?

Employee Value Proposition

Bryan: Yeah, absolutely.

The employee value proposition, 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, it’s much more than just your expertise and your competency. There is a whole set of capabilities that 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. 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 that they belong somewhere. They can bring their whole self to work.

 So, building a proposition and it’s as simple as, hey, if you can do this and if you’re willing to agree to these set of things here, we can offer you this thing in return and that’s something that people can look at and decide is the give worth the get? That’s all it is. It’s a very simple premise.

We say is there’s two things that people need to look for in a candidate. You want to understand their brilliance and you want to understand their resilience.

2 Things Every Candidate Needs: Brilliance and Resilience

Typically, we just focus on the brilliance. Can you do X, Y, and Z for the role from a competency perspective? And sometimes their brilliance might include they’re great at public speaking. They’re great at coming up with ideas; they’re great at networking or 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 are 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 your employee experience.

Employees don’t just need brilliance, but also resilience.

 And if you have those ingredients, then you can put a proposition together, which formulates a great give 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.

Need for Authenticity

You know Allison, when you ask employees can you write a testimonial or can we film you, can you tell us how good the organization is, the uptake for that in my experience is usually quite low, because 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 never rains where we work, and every day is happy. Nobody likes to do that cause they feel like it doesn’t feel authentic.

 But when you say what qualities do you admire in your teammates? When the chips are down, what can you count on? They say, well, you know what? It’s quite turbulent here 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? I’ve never felt closer to my team than anywhere else 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, that’s a huge positive, so it’s a big lever to bring value, passion and pride to your employee experience. It bonds 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 team, external audience?

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

Bryan: Yeah, that’s what we do and we love it. Absolutely, we love it.

How to Craft the Perfect Job Posting

Allison: One of the challenges that I see in the differentiation of bringing your value proposition in a written word, because I think you catch it on video and get employees to do that and share that message, that’s great, but you can’t put that on a job ad. Could you just talk through the semantics of the perfect job posting? How much is resilience spoken? How much is brilliance spoken and how much and where does EVP go?

Bryan: Yeah, that’s a really good question. So, from a job posting perspective, typically, we start with empathy. That might empathetically connect with the vision of the organization and a key motivator of the persona. We want to grab attention using an emotive language. Sometimes it might be a question and if it’s a very purposeful organization, it might be around contributing to a very significant purpose in the world and the difference it can make.

 The next layer there is we want to create significant interest and pull people in, so then we might reference the difference, the team, the specific team that you would be joining. So, we’ve gone company and individual, then we’d go team and individual, then we’re touching on the tangible difference that you can make and that walks somebody through high level. The vision of the organization, you 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 like people, and then we’ll talk about capabilities and competencies of the specific role.

 But the give and get, we use a simple story formula and what therefore, and it’s a simple formula to use and easy to remember. 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 there are all your ands at the start, and then you put in a BUT. But you have to be aware or capable and able to cope with this and that and this, and in order to accomplish that, it takes this, this and this. So now you’ve balanced out the ANDS with what it takes.

 And then therefore, the third act to the structure, therefore, so here’s all the benefits, but 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. It’s a very simple story structure that you can walk somebody through to keep them engaged, to present a very 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 have actually advertised.

Then typically the call to action is going right back to the start, sort of squaring the circle with the headline so if you want to do that thing that we said right at the top, we’re waiting to hear from you kind of thing.

 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.

Company and Employee Persona

Allison: 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 I find 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 as to how creative you can really get. I super appreciate the structure outlining the role that the team, the individual, the company structure, that’s awesome.

 You brought up personas, and also in your book, you covered the company actually creating their own persona. They create a lot of personas, including the persona of who they want to fill that job and that’s always the basis of “the and and the and and the and” component of what you were talking about in that structure. So, give me just kind of a high-level overview of what a company should be thinking about in creating a persona to attract the right potential employee.

Bryan: That’s a really good question, and 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’s specific to that talent segment, the type of language and sentiment that is relevant and familiar to them. What aspect of purpose, impact and belonging is going to appeal to them most? It’s understanding what dials to turn up and down, based on the preferences and priorities of that talent audience, so that’s something you need to find out.

 There are two sides to that one. You can speak to existing teams and existing examples of that persona, and then two 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 it from a technical persona building perspective. You can do keyword research to see what language people are typing in to find those roles, understand where they hang out on social media and 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 so you know where to prioritize and add emphasis, and then making the tactical deployments of those job adverts and the communications messages.

Optimizing then by using SEO techniques and understanding where to post and where to try and get people’s attention. But the more specific that you can build up in terms of a persona profile, the better the results that you get. And if it’s culture first and it’s not just competency led, then you can maintain the specificity of 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. That’s definitely a big part of it as well. So, making sure it’s inclusive and then the technique of taking that job to the marketplace is where you’ll get the diverse candidates as well.

Need for Hiring Creativity During the Great Resignation

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

Bryan: Yeah. absolutely. There are some questions that we’ve sort of run through, I don’t know whether they’d be of any value to your audience in terms of to get the insights that people are looking for. The reasons for joining and staying is always of interest when you’re looking at persona segmentation. Why people have joined? What aspects of purpose, impact and belonging appeal to them? So why they joined, then why do they stay? 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.

 When they stay, what excites them in their role? Why do they get out of bed every morning and look forward to their work? What’s unique about the company from their specific perspective? How do they define the culture? What do they love about what they do? What motivates them in their role? 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 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. It can make a huge difference to the outcomes. And of course, the search volume and analysis, media research and TA insights and online behavior all supplement those big questions to tailor something which is usually useful to the efforts of talent, attraction and employee engagement as well, of course.

Allison: Awesome. Thank you very much for providing kind of an in-depth kind of structure of what those questions are. Bryan, I 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.

Connect with Bryan and Get the Book

Bryan: Great. Well, you can get Get Employer Branding on Amazon. Just search employer branding books. I believe it comes up first or second, so please get the book there. I always connect with people on LinkedIn. Also follow Ph. Creative. 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. Also, check out our Employer Brand Strategy Sprint Series. This is a 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.

Allison: Yeah, that’s fantastic. Bryan, I can sense your passion and I super appreciate your time in sharing with us here today.

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

Allison: Thank you.

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