Our thoughts

Good design is invisible

The thing about good design is you don’t often know it’s good design. Because it just works. 

Don’t get me wrong, design will give us those ‘wow’ moments and totally blow our minds. But 99% of design is totally unsung. It’s so good you don’t even notice it.

That’s not to say it’s easy, mind. It doesn’t just happen by accident. In fact, it’s actually an exercise in user experience. Let me explain.

Designing for the user

Someone once said, ‘the most important story you tell is the one in the mind of the reader’. The quote was actually about copywriting (I can remember that much, just not who said it!). Anyway, you could say something similar about design.

The important aspect of design is how it’s interpreted by the viewer. Therefore, everything is approached with that in mind:

  • What draws you in?
  • Where do you look first?
  • What happens next?
  • How do you get to what you need?

It’s how the mind works…

Have you heard of Gestalt theory? It’s a branch of psychology which says whilst the world is made up of lots of small parts, we process things as a whole. 

So, when you look at a car, you see a vehicle, not a collection of wheels, lights, windows and sheet metal. When you look at spaghetti bolognese (my favourite), you see a meal, not a mound of beef (or, in my case, plant) bits, mushrooms, tomatoes ,and  pasta.

Think of how complex the world would be if we processed everything there is to see. We have to make shortcuts. We do that by grouping things and seeing them as a whole. 

If we didn’t, by the time we processed the sharp claws, big teeth, narrow eyes, etc, the angry bear would have made its own spaghetti bolognese…  out of us.

Gestalt psychology is the foundation of good design.

The key principles

If we’re going to create visual things for people to process, knowing how they process them gives us a great advantage. 

There are various principles at the heart of Gestalt psychology. Here are some of the key ones:

  • Proximity – we make associations between objects based on their location. Where an object sits between two pieces of content, we assume it to belong to the one closest. 
  • Closure – we fill gaps between elements to create a whole image, even when there is not one. Dashes may form a circle, dots may create a square. We just need a suggestion of an image and our minds will do the rest.
  • Continuity – we see things as related when they sit in line. We naturally follow a linear path and connect those things that sit along it. 
  • Figure/ground – we separate what we see as the focal point from what we see as background. Contrast often helps us identify the light on dark or vice versa, but colours and imagery mean it’s not always that simple.   
  • Similarity – we naturally group items together based on colour, size, and orientation. Objects with similar appearance are thought to have the same characteristics (all words highlighted in red must mean X).

With all of these in mind, a good designer can use spacing, contrast, hierarchy and everything at their disposal to create pleasing visuals that just work.

It’s an experience for the user, built around how their mind works.

The unsung heroes

So, each time you look at a brochure, land on a website or see an advert, and just naturally know where to focus, what to attend to and what to take away, – spare a thought for the designer.

They have built visuals to play into how you see the world. 

They’re the ones who have worked hard, so ultimately, you don’t have to!

Get in touch if you need help visualising your story (we’ve also got a great Bolognese recipe too!)

Employer branding: should you hide the crap?

Let’s be honest; no business is perfect. Yeah, some are pretty good. But we all get things wrong. And we all have areas to improve. Still, when it comes to employer branding, let’s shout about the good stuff and put the rest in a drawer. Right?

Let’s leave that question hanging for a moment and go right back to the start. 

Why do we invest in employer branding? To help us attract better talent? To reduce recruitment costs? To engage existing employees?

Well, everyone will have slightly different objectives, but the crux tends to be attraction, with maybe a little retention. So, it would seem counterproductive to focus on anything other than the actual selling points of the business, wouldn’t it?

Well, our research suggests that when people are looking into a potential employer, the top two things they are looking for are 1) cultural alignment and 2) signs of their reputation.

What’s more, when it comes to choosing a job, we found that employer reputation is the second most influential thing for Generation Z (after culture) and the fourth most influential for everyone else (after work/life balance, salary and benefits, and culture).

People used words like “credibility” and “red flags” when describing what they’re seeking out in a potential new employer.

The reality is job seekers are looking at the good stuff but also digging deeper for reasons not to join.

Trust and believability

It seems safe to assume people’s behaviour is driven by a need for trust. When you read employer claims, you want to make sure they are as real as they say they are and you’re not about to waste time and energy.

So, let’s consider two hypothetical employer brands.

  • Business #1

You land on their career site. They’ve captured all the shiny great stuff that makes them look like a great workplace, with some nice personal employee content to bring it to life. Great.

You’re excited, but you do your due diligence. You look at Glassdoor and feel immediate disappointment that the reviews don’t match the company content.

So, you search for news articles about their culture and find they’ve made some bad decisions in the past. Hmmm.

  • Business #2

The business has captured all the great stuff, as before. But as you scroll through their content, these guys also make some admissions.

They made mistakes in the past, but it’s made them stronger and wiser as a result. They offer many great things, but they’re still working to improve X, Y and Z – and they invite you to be part of that journey.

Maybe they even give a narrative on their employer reviews and recent press, giving a humble understanding of their strengths and weaknesses and demonstrating the action taken as a result.

Which business do you choose?

Who fosters the most trust and belief?

A product versus a relationship

The thing is, when you look at how we market and sell products, we wouldn’t dream of highlighting the things they don’t offer people. Just picture it – “The latest iPhone has the world’s best camera but at the expense of the quality of the speaker”.

It just wouldn’t happen.

But with these products, we’re looking for volume. We want to sell to everyone.

What we’re looking to achieve in employer branding is more akin to building a long-term relationship. So more like eharmony than Amazon.

It’s about developing trust and understanding and taking the steps towards a commitment together.

Spotify admits that the way they work can be chaotic. Netflix openly says they aren’t a good match for people looking for stability or building seniority. Openness breeds believability but also increases the likelihood of finding the right person.

If something sounds like it’s amazing in every possible way, do you just think, “Wow, I’ve hit the jackpot”, or do you think “, Hang on, this sounds too good to be true”? Let’s be honest; an endless list of positives isn’t fooling anyone.

Put yourself in their shoes

It’s hard to distance yourself from the love you have for your company, your role or even your service. It’s what makes you a passionate professional.

But sometimes, the real value comes when you step back from your view of things and see it from your candidate’s perspective. Building your brand based on their behaviour and needs will bring you the most success.

So, should you hide the crap? No, you shouldn’t.

You don’t have to shine huge great lights on it, but the more balance you present, the more believable you’ll feel, and, well, the more you’ll lay down the first steps of a good relationship with the right match.

Want to know more about candidate views? Check out our research here.

Want to learn more about the Surgery and see how we’re people people? See our team here.

How do you convince a candidate to join you?

How do you get that perfect candidate to take that leap of faith? What would clinch it? And what does that tell us about how we’re really doing?

It’s a golden question. What’s the one thing we could do to convince you to join us?

For me, it’d be – show me how what I’m doing is positively helping people and positively helping the planet. And whilst I’m there, pay for some solar panels for my roof and perhaps a month’s travelling for my wife and me. Oh, and dog care whilst we’re there.

Okay, maybe I need to think that through a little more, but you get the gist.

We asked this question to over 100 people as part of a small research project. And do you know what they said? Certainly not this:

  • Make me MD
  • Buy me a boat
  • Give me shares
  • Double my salary

There were no outrageous requests. Not one.

We were shocked and disappointed. But actually pleasantly surprised! And maybe even a little moved. Genuinely, the nature of most replies was quite humbling.

What do people want? 

What is that one thing, then? What is the one thing that convinces you to join a company?

Yes, there were some of the things you might assume. There were people looking for financial reward, but more in a more measured way than you might think:

  • “More money and better working environment”
  • “Right now, it would probably be a significant salary increase.”
  • “Pay me fairly for my experience and what I bring to the table.”

It was far from the main theme.

You might also assume some requests around flexibility. And you would be right:

  • “Improve work/life balance”
  • “Show me how I can still put home life first.”
  • “four-day week“
  • “Remote work 100%”

But the absolute joy was in the consistent responses around fairness and ethics. People value being treated with respect, living up to values, honesty, and many other humble traits.

Now, we’re not expecting that to be a mind-blowing surprise – people are people. But remember, this is the ONE THING an employer could do. This is your big ask.

Here are ten responses to convey our point:

  1. “To be fair and transparent in all areas of the business.”
  2. Remove badly behaved employees to live by values.”
  3. “Demonstrate  they are fair, kind and ambitious.”
  4. “Show me how they value their staff.”
  5. Demonstrate that they put their values at the heart of how they lead and make decisions.”
  6. “Be honest about its failings.”
  7. “Show their track record to match their promises.”
  8. Respect my views and opinions.”
  9. “Convince me they give off a good energy and that they’re positive about what they do.”
  10. “Have an amazingly driven, kind team.”

And so…

And so, the question is – what do we take from this?

It’s great that people have such humble requests. Treat me fairly. Value my opinions. But it suggests these basic things are currently absent. If that’s the ONE THING you want, then the likelihood is that you don’t have it right now. Is that an assumption? Yes, but it feels like a very logical one.

So, whilst there’s a nice view of humanity from the responses we received, there’s maybe a tainted view of employers.

Are we all getting the basics wrong? 

Are we failing to make people feel they’re appreciated for the value they bring? Are we failing to be honest about our mistakes? Are we failing to show people we care about their opinions?

Here at The Surgery, we’ve always said to have the best employer brand you just need to be the best employer. And I think this underlines our view.

So, before we get excited about the snazzy things we can do to attract new people, let’s get the fundamentals right. For us, that starts with listening. Let’s ask people how we’re doing and build a plan that turns their thoughts into positive action.

Once that’s sorted, I’ll get back to negotiating that month-long trip and those solar panels 😉

Want to hear more about that research study? Download the report here.

The candidate snapshot report 

What do candidates look for in a new employer? Take a peek and find out… 

We spend a lot of effort recruiting the best talent we can. And it’s hard work.  

Employer branding is a way of making it a little easier, helping people know what you’re about before they even stumble upon a job ad. 

But to get it right we need to understand the people we’re targeting. Are they looking for their next employer? Where do they look? What do they want to find? 

These are just a few of the thing we’ve tried to uncover in this piece of research. So go on, have a read. 

Download your copy of our whitepaper: The Candidate Snapshot Report

AI – the rise of the machines or a useful tool?

Head of Digital Matt Prudente shares his expert view.

Q: Tell us what you know about AI. Do you see it as a positive or negative?

It’s a funny one. I see lots of positives and a lot of potential. But I also get everyone’s concerns, although maybe people have been watching Terminator too much!

Like anything, there are new tools that come along. I view AI as a tool. My simplest explanation is the development of a screwdriver. A basic screwdriver is great but requires a lot of effort. You can take some of that effort out by using an electric screwdriver. That’s progress, isn’t it? 

It’s how I view AI. We have a lot of repetitive tasks that can be handled by technology. We do it all the time. The Industrial Revolution obviously had a huge impact. And now, with coding and computer tasks, I think AI has the potential to be a great tool. It already is.

We’ve seen it problem solve and build websites. Platforms like ChatGPT can generate code for software like WordPress. If you want a particular function, you ask for it and it’ll create the code to drop into your website. AI handles those more mundane tasks, so you can focus on the bigger picture. 

Take Wix, for example. You can create an entire e-commerce website. It provides content, imagery and a template of your choice. It knows what works and can even apply SEO principles to it. 

And then there’s medicine and science. It’s helping come up with new drugs.

AI will make many developers nervous but it still needs someone at the helm who knows what they’re doing. I think the future will be AI carrying out complete problem solving. It needs data input – visual, language or figures – to produce the solution.

Q: Have you tested it out? Any thoughts on which platforms are performing best (ChatGPT, Bard, Code T5 etc)?

We’re at the stage where we’re figuring out what suits us. We’re already using ChatGPT but there have been some failings. We create hybrid apps and use a framework called ‘ionic’. So I tasked ChatGPT with producing a particular kind of ionic app. It came back with a series of code and told me what to do. As I read, I could see that it was wrong and outdated. There’s a limitation there which means it must be checked constantly.

Having said that, as developers, we’re meant to do code unit tests, to check something’s working correctly. We create our own code to check the code. AI could perform a task like that in a much simpler way. We want to use these tools to make the process less manual.

Co-pilot, a Microsoft AI assistant, is something I’m really interested in it. The benefits will be spending less time on laborious tasks and seeing greater output – quantity and quality – meaning a better product for the client. It’d also reduce the cost of a project. As a business, we’ll be able to deliver faster and save money.

Q: How might AI benefit/impact your role in digital?

There’s always a worry but in any role, we have to keep up. Companies pay for employees to attend training courses to improve their skills, or upskill to an area that’s needed. We should always find a place where we’re needed for work. It just adapts over time. My job changed from working as a printer’s apprentice at 16 years old, to where I am now, heading up digital for the Surgery. I’ve constantly adapted and changed, but there’s always been a job for me. We just don’t know what that’ll look like in the future.

A hundred years ago, lots of labourers had their livelihoods taken away but people still have work and there are many more of us now. AI will replace some jobs, just as it has done in the past, but other jobs will come into play because human interaction is still needed.

Q: Do you think we’ll get to a point where we can teach machines ethics, empathy and compassion?

Those are human traits based on love – different kinds of love. As humans, love is there but we don’t always follow it. We don’t always show empathy and compassion. It’s something we need to cultivate in ourselves. That makes it a challenge, for me, to say that a computer could ever be sentient because it’s feelings, not data.

With programming, humans set the rules but AI sets its own. Rules are ok but principles override rules. If you have principles, you can have two rules that cancel each other out. How will AI manage that, given that compassion and empathy feed in? Love overrides so many rules. Traffic laws, for example, are put in place to protect but what if a decision must be taken that doesn’t follow the rules, even though it’s the right and ethical course of action?

I’ve been trying to think of another hypothetical situation that might relate to this. Let’s say you have an air-conditioned room full of people, that needs to be kept secure. How would AI deal with failed air conditioning while still considering the security threat? Would it open the doors to let fresh air in? The data set might dictate ‘if the temperature reaches 38C, open the door’. Or will it watch people’s expressions, to understand feelings and emotions, and respond? Might it respond intelligently by putting people in place to act as security? How might they feel? A lot of facial recognition AI can read expressions, but subtle nuances often don’t tell the whole picture.

Q: How do you think AI and humans will co-exist?

 It depends on humans! We have choice. AI and technology all come from binary but with humans, we have a choice. It’s power. AI needs power. Computers. A man-made brain to be able to do this stuff.

When we have a power cut, it’s a disaster. AI is just technology, again. When your power tool runs out of battery, we use it manually. As humans, we have a choice as to what we do with it.

When the Industrial Revolution took place, it produced much bigger things and faster. And not long after that, we saw world wars and what was produced there. It can be great but destructive things were also created. There’s always the chance that humans can misuse tools. If you have a hammer, you can build or destroy. It comes down to human choice.

Q: Any other thoughts on AI, now and in the future?

It was 20-30 years ago that most of us were getting emails for the first time. From there, we’re using AI. We don’t have to be in an office – we can work remotely. That’s all come from huge, chunky computers. The advancements have been huge and it’s growing at breakneck exponential speed. Especially when computers are then figuring stuff out for you. The potential is amazing.

The pandemic changed the way we worked. We all had to jump on the digital bandwagon, whether we liked it or not. I wonder if that accelerated the need for AI.

Disruption… do it, deal with it and make it work for you!

Disruption… it’s a fact of life these days.

Like your toast landing butter side down, losing your socks in the laundry, or hastily updating your LinkedIn profile after a terrible day in the office, you’ve probably already experienced disruption at some level.

If you haven’t, you will, sorry about that!

As delegates at our recent Barn to Boardroom event (the networking and learning event for I/C pros) discovered, the good news is there are some solid tactics out there to help you embrace it, learn from it, cope with it and even make it work for you.

In fact, sticking to great internal comms principles, driving an employee-led employee experience, adopting agility, putting out some authentic stories and being bold and resilient might all help, whether you’re being disruptive OR being The Disruptor (what a fab name that would be for a 1980s cartoon baddie, don’t you think?)

A ‘north star’ employee experience

As Barn to Boardroom co-founder and Elsevier’s VP Internal Communications Sarah Meurer and her lovely team Richard Etienne and Lisa Pantelli explained, defining your employee value proposition can give you a real anchor should the waters around you get a bit choppy.

Making sure your EVP is clear and well-defined with employees and that it forms the basis of not just the employee experience but drives through to the external talent proposition means it can become your shiny and twinkling north star.

It’s not something you can sit around with a cup of tea and come up with. Authentic EVPs are something you’ll uncover using insight, insight and more insight from your people.

Giving it plenty of welly at launch and through drumbeat comms, and allowing your people to tell their stories will get your EVP messages ingrained in your BAU and get everyone feeling it every day.

Ready for anything with agile thinking

A bit of agility can also get you ready to disrupt or be The Disruptor (trademark pending).

It’s about being efficient, reducing those processes that drag along behind you every day, stopping you from being innovative and coming up with those funky disruptive ideas. Like new names for ‘80s cartoon baddies, for instance.

As Kate Hughes, Group Internal Comms Manager from Cambridge University Press and Assessment, shared, an iterative define-build-release model can help you constantly refine and learn on the go. It’s for BAU not just for projects and campaigns!

Team scrums, project sprints, and development bursts. They’re all part of your wider agile armoury, helping to drive collaboration, to be slicker in what you do, to reduce risk, to visualise and prioritise the work, and to be on-your-toes ready for whatever is around the corner.

Once upon a time

Stories. We all love them. But if they’re not compelling, genuine or come from those who are actually living them then you’re missing a great chance to be disruptive.

Sam Bleazard, Employer Brand Content Producer at Fortnum and Mason, knows a thing or two about disruption. In fact, he even created his job himself after persuading the bosses at the luxury brand a bit of storytelling is exactly what they need. Nice disruption, Sam!

As he says, sharing great internal personal stories (every business has great people with a story to share) is about creating that genuine, emotional connection with customers, and of course, with potential new talent.

Sam’s takeaway advice is to think about the stories you’re not telling. It’s likely they’ll be much more compelling than the one you’ve just posted on LinkedIn. Oh, and if you can get the CEO to share what they’ve been up to on your socials, it’s even better.

Eating disruption for breakfast

For Laura Campbell, Internal Communications Director at EasyJet, it’s all about resilience because resilience eats disruption for breakfast. She really should know. There can’t be many industries that have had to deal with as much disruption as aviation in recent years.

Natural disasters, cancellations, delays, even a global pandemic. You can add all that to the comms challenges presented by having a remote, up-in-the-air, and desk-based workforce at a high-profile household-name brand which is very visible on social media. Think I’d take the toast landing butter side down anytime!

Everything Laura and her team have dealt with has built real resilience. They use the power of their internal channels to integrate, to head off problems at the pass and to make their senior leaders visible and accessible. It means their strategy and responses to disruption are clearly signposted and out there. It’s really increased the value of their internal comms channels, too.

It kinda goes back to those good old comms principles. When the going gets tough, keep going and keep communicating. As Laura says, it means they’ve been able to bring back the joy (and the fun) of working in travel.

Be The Disruptor on LinkedIn

Personal branding, ooff. It’s one of those things we need to think about if we want to be disruptive, stand out and be noticed. It’s not always comfortable talking about what you do and how good you are at it, though, right?

As Vicki Marinker, Candid Career Coach, wonderfully told her attentive Barn to Boardroom audience, you can get yourself out there and grab attention without being a total $&*7.

It’s not all about you, of course. LinkedIn is where all the talent is just hanging around, waiting for the next piece of inspiring content to thwack them over the head. It’s where the decision-makers are too. In fact, LinkedIn is 277% (yes, you read that right) more effective at generating leads than Facebook and Twitter. 81% of B2B buyers are more likely to engage with someone who has a strong personal brand. Vicki makes a very compelling case!

So, whether it’s your brand or you’re updating the pages for Timpkins and Sons, remember Vicki’s seven Cs – complete your profile, curate your feed, connect, communicate, comment, create and be consistent.

So, another brilliant Barn to Boardroom (which had its own fair share of pre-event disruption thanks to rail delays, torrential downpours and chairs for the event only just turning up in time!) is done and dusted.

It was so good we should do it again next year!

Interested in employer branding? Download our whitepaper to understand the context, case and considerations for a modern employer brand.

The intriguing world of driving engagement through employee personas

In the bustling realm of internal communications (IC), one pivotal element that often goes overlooked is the understanding of employee personas. These fascinating character profiles provide a window into a company’s workforce.

From the diligent tech wizard who lives and breathes innovation to the enthusiastic social butterfly who sparks contagious energy, employee personas offer valuable insights for crafting effective IC strategies.
So, how do they shape the fabric of corporate culture?

The Visionary Trailblazer

At the helm of every organisation, you’ll find the Visionary Trailblazer; someone who’s brimming with ideas and a tireless appetite for innovation. This persona thrives on opportunities to reshape the company’s future, eagerly seeking out the next big breakthrough. To engage the Visionary Trailblazer, IC should think about offering a platform for brainstorming sessions, sharing cutting-edge industry trends and fostering a culture of continuous improvement.

The Analytical Problem-Solver

Meet the Analytical Problem-Solver, armed with spreadsheets, data-driven insights and an insatiable thirst for cracking complex challenges. This persona’s cerebral prowess and methodical approach ensures that no problem is left unsolved. IC should emphasise logical reasoning, present structured information, and provide opportunities for critical thinking and problem-solving exercises, to effectively communicate with the Analytical Problem-Solver.

The Social Connector

There’s a Social Connector in every office; a vivacious persona whose mere presence electrifies the room. They possess an uncanny ability to forge connections, build camaraderie and bring diverse teams together. To capture the attention of the Social Connector, IC should consider incorporating elements of fun, team-building activities, and foster an inclusive, collaborative environment.

The Detail-Oriented Perfectionist

Ever met that colleague who spots the smallest typo from a mile away? That’s the Detail-Oriented Perfectionist. This meticulous persona ensures that every comma is in its place, every PowerPoint slide is pixel-perfect and every document is flawlessly formatted. To engage the Detail-Oriented Perfectionist, IC should focus on precision, accuracy, and attention to detail, providing well-structured guidelines and templates.

The Enthusiastic Learner

Enter the Enthusiastic Learner, a perpetual student who craves knowledge and growth opportunities. This persona views each new project as an opportunity to acquire new skills and broaden their horizons. To captivate the Enthusiastic Learner, IC should offer a variety of learning resources, training programmes and platforms for knowledge sharing.

The Empathetic Supporter

Behind every successful team, there’s an Empathetic Supporter. This persona possesses exceptional listening skills and a genuine desire to help colleagues overcome challenges. They are the go-to person for advice, encouragement and an empathetic ear. Providing opportunities for team recognition and promoting employee well-being initiatives is a great way to tap into this persona’s needs.

Good stuff but how do we build our own employee personas?

  • First of all, talk to your colleagues with experience in building personas.
  • Talk to your employees. Set up working or focus groups. Understand their wants, needs and niggles.
  • Decide what criteria you’ll use to categorise your personas.
  • Build and store your new personas.
  • Test them out. They’ll naturally evolve over time but keep going.

Making use of personas

Having realistic expectations is important. In reality, you won’t be able to generate an optimum number of personas to cater for everyone but you can create examples highlighting common problems, based on your research or data. Addressing key challenges, segmenting your audience, deciding on preferred channels for communication and understanding what motivates your employees are all hugely beneficial learnings for cultivating positive engagement and hanging on to your staff. These learnings often have a domino effect, resulting in meeting your customers’ needs, meaning the business wins too.

Employee personas should serve as a guide to understanding your workforce’s needs. By striking the right balance between personalisation and authenticity, organisations can create a workplace culture where IC thrives, driving engagement to new heights.

Virtual work events: the good, the bad and the Wi-Fi woes

In a post-pandemic world, virtual work events have become all the rage. We’ve bid farewell to the days of stuffy conference rooms and awkward icebreakers and said ‘hello’ to the convenience of online gatherings. But, as with anything in life, there are good bits and bad bits.

The pros…

Super convenient

No more commuting long distances, getting stuck in traffic, or rushing to make it on time. With virtual events, you can join from the comfort of your own home, or anywhere with a stable internet connection. Plus, it opens up opportunities for employees globally to participate and collaborate more easily.

Kinder to the purse strings

Hosting an in-person event can be a hefty financial burden. Think about it: venue rentals, catering, travel expenses and accommodation can quickly add up. Virtual events, on the other hand, eliminate these costs. All you need is a reliable platform, and you’re good to go. So, not only can companies save a ton of money, but they can also allocate those resources to other important areas of their business.

Being inclusive

Traditional in-person events can be challenging for employees with disabilities or those who have difficulty attending due to personal commitments. Virtual events allow everyone to participate on an equal footing, creating a more inclusive and diverse environment. Moreover, introverts, who may feel overwhelmed by large gatherings, can find online events more comfortable and less intimidating.

And the cons…

Lack of in-person interaction

While technology is wonderful, it can’t fully replicate the experience of being physically present with others. Non-verbal cues, spontaneous conversations and building personal connections can be more challenging in a virtual setting. It can be harder to establish rapport and develop strong relationships with colleagues and clients, sometimes leading to feeling isolated or disconnected.

Screen freeze and other glitches

We’ve all been there – frozen screens, lagging audio or poor internet connections. Technical issues can disrupt the flow of the event, cause frustration, and hinder effective communication. Backup plans are a must. Test the technology in advance and be prepared to troubleshoot problems on the fly, before it turns into a tech nightmare.

The buzz

Virtual events can seriously lack the energy and excitement that come with in-person gatherings. The buzz in the air, the shared laughter and the spontaneous moments of inspiration can be harder to replicate virtually. Engagement and motivation can suffer too.

Winning with virtual events

There’s no exact formula for producing a gold-star virtual event but you can follow some easy steps to make it much more likely. Here’s how to engage your audience and add some digital dynamism:

  • Trying creating a fully managed vision-mixed broadcast with production levels that’ll make the audience feel like they’re watching a TV show – as opposed to it feeling like ‘yet another virtual meeting’.
  •  Share real stories that capture the attention and imagination.
  • Mix up the content with live speakers, interviews, video, Slido (or similar), and chat.
  • Ensure the content is fast paced, with no one presenting live without interaction for longer than nine minutes. There’s even some proper neuroscience research from Inc to back this up.
  • Give people a reason not to switch off with a ticker tape teaser – ‘coming up next is….’
  • Make sure everyone knows it’s fully live (and not just a recording they can snooze through).
  • Let people interact with the speakers via the chat and Slido.
  • Keep it interactive and fluid with quizzes, questions and polls.

Let’s champion the virtual work event revolution, adapt to its challenges and make the most of our digital connections.

Employer brand content: quick and dirty or highly polished?

Employer branding content is a conundrum. You want candidates to get an authentic feel of the business, whilst demonstrating how much you care. But does that point to film-on-a-phone style stories, or something a little more high end?

Forget Charles, content is king right. We all need content these days, it’s what we all trade in. It gets traffic to our websites, makes us look good and can help us spread good vibes (cat videos anyone?).

When it comes to employer branding, content is our way of showing who we really are. It’s a way of getting stories out to potential candidates, keeping us in the minds of future employees and generally helping people understand what we’re all about.

But does it matter how we go about it?

Personal and credible 

The approach to your content can say a lot about you. It can showcase your skills for one thing. And whether we like it or not, people will make judgements off the back of it.

Remember hearing about the halo effect in GCSE psychology? When someone or something looks good, we generally expect it to be good in other ways. So, if you make good content, we assume that you may be good at other things too.

Let’s say for a minute you get a handwritten note through the door. It’s a bit of lined paper, torn from a pad, with handwriting written in biro…

  • If that’s a neighbour asking you round for a barbecue, then you probably see it as a nice touch and think little more of it.
  • But, what about if it was a local restaurant that just opened?

Would you still see it as a nice touch, or would you wonder why it’s not something more polished? Would you see the lack of professionalism as something to worry about? If they can’t even create a proper advert, how can they cook us a decent carbonara.

Believability

There’s a danger that things that seem put together cheaply and quickly don’t capture the quality we want to convey. When we’re selling anything – whether it’s our role as an employer, or our latest pasta extravaganza – that can be a problem.

So, what about if we add some real production value?

In the context of employer branding, a cheap and quick approach may be getting an employee to talk to your smartphone, and putting the video out as a story. A polished alternative, may be using a videographer, with some professional lighting, directing and post-production to create a high quality video.

Based on our halo effect, a top-notch video should convey the quality we want right? Content that has clearly had some real care put into its creation, will mimic the care an employee could expect when joining. Right?

Er. Maybe.

Here’s the thing – there’s a lot of research that tells us (younger candidates especially) don’t really trust companies. Content created by the company with time and budget signifies something that fits the brand’s agenda – and therefore maybe shows their less than authentic spin on life.

Persuasive content

Beyond the woes of credibility and quality, we should also consider the goal. Anyone from a comms or marketing background will know there’s a real challenge in matching your strategy to your audience and creating something that gathers attention, builds interest, and drives some action. It takes skill and hard work.

Can we really hit the mark without the time, effort and budget to produce something carefully crafted? Can we really create something engaging enough on the fly?

Head f#ck

It feels like an oxymoron. Create regular authentic content that feels personal and trustworthy, but also captures the quality and care that conveys your approach as an employer. Unless you have a team of people with an empty diary that work for free – it’s a head f#ck.

But – perhaps it’s not quite as bad as we’ve made out (sorry not sorry).

All approaches have merit. Standing alone they are open to scrutiny, but together they can appeal to different aspects of the psyche:

  • Regular digestible content – can provide a baseline authentic view of who you are, through regular short conversations with real employees, filmed on a phone or put out as audio clips
  • Creative campaigns and more permanent content – can showcase what you can do with a little time and budget, reinforcing the care and standards you hold dear as a business

Let’s be honest, getting regular content out is a challenge. We need willing employees, endless ideas, and a cycle of speedy production. So keeping it a little quick and dirty will give us a realistic way to create a baseline of believable stories.

Then we can layer on content designed to showcase how good you really are. Think creative campaigns, or career site videos – opportunities to really capture the imagination.

Quick and dirty, highly polished, they’re both winners here. The trick is to make the best of both. Think of the end user, think of your capabilities, and find the balance that draws it all together. And if you get time in between to visit to the local pasta place, all the better, even if their promotion didn’t blow you away.

Interested in employer branding? Download our whitepaper to understand the context, case and considerations for a modern employer brand.

HR own employer branding. Here’s why. 

Employer branding is a hot topic in most circles right now. We’re all competing for the same talent, and those companies with a clear employer brand are starting to hoover it up. But there’s some push and pull over where it sits. So, lets clear that up today.

There’s a new film out. Top Gun 3. You’ve seen the trailer and, well, it looks pretty shit-hot.

So, you stick on your aviators, jump on your motorbike/horse, and head to the local cinema to spend your life savings on popcorn and fizzy drinks.

But three hours later, you come out deflated.

It wasn’t shit-hot. Just shit. The trailers showed all the good bits, the acting was bad, the plot had holes, and well it just didn’t live up to the hype.

Much like you, other people didn’t like it too. In fact, it’s getting a bad reputation. Poor reviews flood in, box office performance falls flat, and it ends up being one of those films destined for late night showing on freeview. (All totally unrealistic as Top Gun is great, obviously).

So, here’s the question – who’s responsible?
Is it the guys at the cinema, selling you tickets and showing you to your seat?
Is it the team doing the promotion?
Is it those who kept things ticking on set?
Or is it the people who made the major decisions about the film?

Hold that thought.

Talking about reputation

Employer branding is your reputation as an employer. It’s the feeling in the gut when people hear your name mentioned. It’s how they see you as a place to work.

“John, would you ever work at Barry’s Fish and Chips?”
“Yeah, Norman works there and says they’re a lovely bunch.”

The difficulty is people’s perception can be made up of a lot of stuff, so it’s a beast to unpick. But one thing is clear – it impacts how people interact with you.

If they see you as a great place to work, you’ve got your pick of the bunch. If they don’t, well then, it’s going to be an uphill battle.

Employer branding is worth investing in.

The right team for the job

We could argue that every employee has a share of the employer brand – because everyone’s actions can impact the perception of others. But who should be the one that steps forward when the board ask how the employer brand is doing? Who should be the one trying to manage or improve it?

In a January 2023 LinkedIn poll, here’s what our 497 respondents thought:

Who owns the employer brand?

  • HR – 16%
  • Marketing –27%
  • Talent acquisition – 10%
  • Dedicated team – 46%

In an ideal world, there’ll be a dedicated team to pull the strings. Because if managing the employer brand is a bolt-on to an already busy role, expect bolt-on-to-a-busy-role results. If it’s a dedicated person or people, well then now we’re talking.

But let’s be realistic – we aren’t all financing a new team just yet. So how do our other options stack up:

  • HR know their people
  • Marketing know the brand and engagement techniques
  • Talent acquisition know the candidates
  • Internal comms know how to connect the workforce (LinkedIn polls only give four options, so sorry IC you didn’t make the list but we still love you)

All of these teams play a valuable part. Can you manage the employer brand without any one of those stakeholders? No, you can’t. Not well anyway. So, they must all be involved right?

It comes down to who made the film

Top Gun 3 had a bad reputation because it was a bad film (yep, we’re back to this pretence). And no amount of promotion, persuasion, audience knowledge, relationship building will change that.

The same is true of you as an employer.

There’s great reasons why Talent Acquisition or Marketing should ‘own’ the employer brand. If you see the employer brand as the assets and how they’re shared with the population, maybe you sit in this camp. The challenge is their ability to impact it is limited. if you’re a bad place to work, then they have two options 1) be totally up front about it and hope there’s enough people out there still up for the challenge 2) paper over the cracks and hope people don’t find out the truth until they’re too invested to leave.

How about internal comms? They can wield great influence in the business. They join people up to the vision and values, they represent the face of the business to many, and well, they’ve got eyes and ears everywhere. They can impact the employee experience, and arguably bad comms can really let a good business down.

But – there’s no substitute in investing in your people and making every effort to create a place where people want to be. If you do that, then the rest starts to fall into place. And that has to start with HR and a strategy with people at the centre.

The conclusion: make a good film

A great film with poor promotion will still do well. The reviews will be good. People will talk on social media. The quality will carry it. It could be a classic.

A poor film with great promotion won’t. There may be some early interest but the reviews will be bad, people will talk on social media, and the quality will let it down.

The secret to a good employer brand is being a good employer. Yes, there’s value to add in how we share that with the world – but we can’t escape the simple fact that a good reputation comes from being a good place to work.

Managing your employer brand comes from collaboration across the teams with the skills and the interest – but the area of the business most empowered to impact it is HR. That’s why, when push comes to shove, they should own it.

HR listen to employees. They look after the values, nurture the culture, work with managers and the board to make improvements (no doubt with internal comms supporting). They are responsible for keeping people healthy and happy.

HR can help the business create the best place to work. No other team can boast that to the same degree. And creating the best place to work will attract and retain good people.

So, if you’re starting to think about your employer brand, start with HR and the question – how can we do more for our people?

P.S. If there is a third Top Gun film, with Tom Cruise’s grandson flying the jets, I promise to come back and update this blog.

Interested in employer branding? Download our whitepaper to understand the context, case and considerations for a modern employer brand.