At This Moment, Your Employer Brand AND Culture Are Mission Critical With Dan Kessler of Energage

In what ways does a company’s culture and employer brand impact its success? How effectively are organizations communicating culture to new hires? In this podcast episode, Dan Kessler, president of Energage, offers insights. He discusses the criticality of a company’s culture and employer brand in attracting and retaining talent. Kessler posits the importance of an authentic communication about an organization’s culture in the hiring process, as well as recognizing disparities between what the employer believes they are delivering versus what job seekers perceive.

He also emphasizes that executive teams have a significant role in influencing company culture. Particularly interesting is Kessler’s assertion that aspirational elements in a company’s culture should be shared with candidates transparently. In his view, inviting candidates to join the journey towards achieving these aspirations can foster trust and set realistic expectations.

Listen in to this episode to understand why communicating your company’s culture and employer brand effectively is not just an HR responsibility, but a necessity for the success of your business.

Listening Time: 23 minutes

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Dan Kessler
President Energage

Currently focusing on sales and partnerships - Also leading Finance, Professional Services, Customer Success, Operations, and Employee Experience.


Energage – At This Moment, Your Employer Brand AND Culture Are Mission Critical With Dan Kessler

William Tincup: [00:00:00] This is William Tincup, and you’re listening to the Recruiting Daily podcast. Today, we have Dan on from Intergage, and our topic is At This Moment. Your employer brand and, which is bold, underlined, culture, are mission critical. So what we’re going to be talking about today is not one or the other, it’s the combination of the two and how they’ve become, they’ve transcended into becoming mission critical.

[00:01:00] So why don’t we do some introductions? Dan, would you introduce yourself and also what you do at Intergage?

Dan Kessler: Yeah, thanks, William. I appreciate you taking the time to have the conversation. We’ve been, we’ve been looking forward to it. Uh, so I am Dan Kessler. I’m the president at Energage and we are a purpose driven business.

So we exist to make the world a better place to work together. Um, and we’re really proud, uh, to say that we’re actually one of the first 20 B corporations in the world. There’s thousands of B corps around the world that, um, have purpose driven businesses as well. And what we do, uh, fundamentally is, is build and brand top workplaces.

So, when you talk about the mission criticality of employer brand and, uh, agree with your bold and underlying culture, um, that is really at the heart of what we do and what we think about every day and, and we’re really excited to, uh, to have this [00:02:00] conversation with you today. Awesome.

William Tincup: So prior to COVID, we, we would talk about employer brand and the reasons for spending money in it, uh, tied to alumni and the candidate experience and employee experience and all that stuff.

There’s even conferences that kind of came about and some of that’s kind of. Mellowed out, died out, etc. And, uh, culture has always kind of been there. I’ve always had a problem with HR owning culture. It’s a personal bias of mine. Um, so we’ve talked about culture, but I really think there are, are, we’ve been shocked through the, through COVID that a lot of people thought and, and probably still do think to some degree that culture is the box.

The, the, the place. And so I believe that fundamentally people have like really struggling with what, what is culture. And so. This is the conversation. What I love about this is it’s like, okay, [00:03:00] well, you can’t have one, not the other. You can’t have culture and not have an employer brand, or you shouldn’t. So technically you can, but you shouldn’t.

So take us into these worlds. Let’s talk about employer branding first. What are you seeing when you look at the wonderful world of employer brand and branding? What do you, what

Dan Kessler: do you see? Yeah, so a couple things. Um, I think in general, when we look at the world of employer brand, I think the, the, the sort of good news, if you will, is that it seems that employers have figured out that It’s really important to talk about your culture as part of your employer brand strategy.

To your point, you know, we can, you know, all the words and the jargon, whatever, um, you know, you have a culture, the, uh, the employees, the candidates that you’re talking to really care about what that culture is. And so, You need to be communicating it, right? What we’ve found, um, the counter to that or the challenge is that [00:04:00] our research suggests that employers are really struggling to do that effectively.

And there’s actually a, um, a real disconnect that we’ve seen in our research between, um, what the employee, what the employer perceives. They’re doing around communicating their culture versus how the job seeker experiences it. And so just to make that real for you and quantify that, we actually asked, um, a set of employers and a set of candidates, um, you know, to what extent the company culture is clearly communicated in the hiring process.

And I don’t think you’re going to be surprised by the results, which is that employers, right? What employers say, 80 percent of them, absolutely right. We are clearly, 100 percent right, exactly. Clearly, can you be clearer? Yeah. What could you miss? Um, whereas only 30 percent of the job seekers agree. And so, um, and, and so a massive disconnect there.

And admittedly, well, you know, it’s, it is tricky to, uh. to communicate culture because it can be [00:05:00] perceived as this, as this esoteric, um, sort of concept, to your point, or it can be very narrowly defined as, as, you know, the ping pong table or whatever it is in the office, and I think our perspective on this is, um, at least one really important vehicle to articulate that culture is through the voice of employee, right?

And allow your employees to tell the story of your culture, right? Slapping some things on your website saying people are our greatest asset, um, is virtually meaningless at this point in time. Um, and it’s more about that authentic, raw, Um, unique, quirky, uh, you know, perspective that’s going to come through voice of employee feedback.

And so that, that’s really what we’ve honed in on as, as we think about what can be our unique value add to this challenge and opportunity that we see around employer brand. Yeah. A hundred

William Tincup: years ago, uh, Glassdoor put together an employer branding conference and I was on stage [00:06:00] and, uh, someone asked me, what is, what is employer brand?

And I said, it’s a fingerprint. There’s no two that should be the same. What works at Zappos doesn’t work at GM. What works at GM doesn’t work at Tyco, et cetera. Like it’s gotta be that specific to you. And so she pushed me, you know, the, the person else pushed me like, well, first of all, that’s fantastic.

And I’m going to steal that B. Um, yeah, but what is it? I said, well, it’s the things that you’ll allow and the things that you’ll accept and the things that you won’t accept. And every team, I mean, there’s microcultures and inside of a big company, the sales team in New York is a little bit different than the sales team in Topeka.

So certain things are accepted and certain things aren’t accepted and that’s fluid. And she, she loved that. She like, she got it. She’s like, okay, I wanted like a black and white answer. I still didn’t, I still haven’t gotten the black and white answer, but, but at [00:07:00] least I’m at least going down the path. And so it’s evolved since then.

And I think the pandemic, you know, sped some things up. And I also, I would like to get your take on this. The audience, i. e. candidates have changed dramatically in terms of like their desires from a company. They want, as you know, they want speed. They want things that are highly personalized. They want companies that are fair, you know, they, they’ve got a list of needs.

You know, don’t negotiate with terrorists, but they’ve got a list of needs. And if you don’t, you know, subscribe to their needs, then they’re just going to move on to something else.

Dan Kessler: Well, and it, so yes, completely agree with all that. We see that in our data and what, what might be helpful just to kind of articulate that and sort of keep this theme of, of employer brand and culture is let me just briefly kind of walk you through what, what we measure.

So you talk about, you know. How you define [00:08:00] culture being, you know, the things that you’re willing to tolerate, which, which, again, completely resonate with that. Um, at the same time, we can quantify the dimensions of culture, um, through the feedback we gather from employees. And, and we look at it Almost, like, similar to a, um, to a Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, essentially, which is, you know, the top of the pyramid is this concept of an, of an engaged employee, right, which is, which is truly more of a mindset around, you know, I’m highly motivated, I’m loyal, right, I’m not, I’m not looking for another job, I’m even, I love this place so much that I’d bring in a friend, um, and so when you have those things that, He’s getting that discretionary effort that everyone talks about and, you know, our data and others proves that when you’ve gotten more engaged employees leads to better business results.

Just, you know, period. End of story. Um, now the, the, the other side of that is that notion of engagement is really an output. Right, it’s hard to impact those things [00:09:00] around motivation, loyalty, referral, so, so what are the drivers of that? And I think this will get to, uh, where you were going, which is what are, what is the employee want out of a company?

And it’s, what’s interesting, William, is, is That answer actually changes when you’re a candidate to when you’re on the other side when you’re in, right? So, so the kind of base of, of that, of that pyramid is around, um, what we, we consider kind of a concept of almost are you fairly valued? Um, so a compensation, benefits, work life flexibility, those kinds of dimensions.

Those are really, really important when I’m a candidate. What’s fascinating, um, is once you’re on the other side, they actually become less important. Not unimportant, right? But relatively less important in terms of correlating to that ultimate goal of engagement.

William Tincup: What, what, what trades, uh, what takes this, uh, place?

So what takes

Dan Kessler: its place is, um, A [00:10:00] number of things. The first piece of it is really about my relationship with my manager. And so what do I want from my front line manager, right? What I want is, I want to be appreciated, um, I want them to listen to my ideas, I want them to care about me, and I want them to be, um, Training me and, and thinking about my growth, my potential, uh, and, and kind of where, what I’m trying to achieve.

So, so there’s a lot that we measure and look at around that manager employee relationship. And, and we sort of, I’d say we, we somewhat agree with the fact that, that companies, uh, that people leave, you know, the, the whole, you leave your manager, not the company, that’s somewhat true. Um, and the reason I say somewhat true is because the other dimension that we look at is things that are really more, um, In control of typically the executive leadership.

So that’s kind of the next dimension up, which is things like, um, are we clear on our direction? Do we have a set of core values? Is there a sense of meaning in our work? Right? So that’s kind of one dimension. [00:11:00] And then the other dimension that executive teams can really impact is, Um, you know, how does, how do we communicate, right?

Do I, as a senior leader, understand what’s actually going on? Do I, as a frontline employee, feel well informed about important decisions that impact my role? And just, frankly, is it, is it, is it easy, how easy is it to just get stuff done around here? Um, how do our, how do departments work together? And so, um, when you talk about, Uh, you know, that, that who owns culture, right?

So, you know, ultimately everyone should be responsible for shaping the culture and they do actually, right. And for better or worse, everyone is responsible for shaping the culture, but executive teams haven’t. outsized influence on that culture. And, and certainly HR plays a role in that, but I couldn’t agree with you more that, um, you know, the executive team needs to be bought in and, and truly aligned, um, on, on the culture that they’re willing to tolerate and the environment that they want to create [00:12:00] for the team.

And so, and the reason that, so just kind of closing off on the, on the manager thing, our kind of sort of corollary to that, you leave a manager versus the company is in a really strong culture. That crappy manager isn’t going to make it because the culture won’t tolerate it. You know, so, so you’re, sure, you’re leaving the manager, but you’re actually, what you’re really doing is you’re leaving a company that didn’t have a strong enough culture, um, to get that manager out.

To jettison.

William Tincup: Exactly.

Dan Kessler: That’s exactly it.

William Tincup: That’s exactly it. When you look at employer brand, um, and let’s say there’s a brand umbrella, and so there’s a consumer brand somewhere on the other side. Is there a Is there, is it derivative of, like, there’s a candidate brand, there’s an employer brand, and there’s an alumni brand?

So, uh, that’s an awesome, awesome question. There’s elements that kind of cross, uh, those things, yeah.

Dan Kessler: So, so, um, uh, I guess, um, first, first statement is that I do not fashion myself [00:13:00] to be an overall brand expert. We are employer brand experts, and that’s what we think a lot about. Right, right, right. Our, our sort of point of view on it is that.

I guess, ideally, or perhaps even aspirationally, there should be some thread. Um, to that, you know, consumer market facing commercial brand, the alumni brand, the employer brand. Yes. I think where the world is at maybe more realistic and where employers are at more realistically is, I think, step one. It’s just putting that thought and energy into what that authentic employer brand even is.

Just living that. Just living it. Cause, cause we see too, there’s too many companies who are still either, either just not doing anything, frankly. They’re silent on it. They’re deferring to a glass door. Um, and getting a flawed perspective on their employer brand and allowing that to tell the story for them.

Or. You know, they’re just putting kind of generic buzzwords out there, um, and, and statements that, that don’t really [00:14:00] have any substance to them and that aren’t unique to the company. And so that to us is step one. And then, and in theory, you know, I guess, William, that should, if that doesn’t connect to your commercial brand, like there’s probably something, like it’s like, it should connect, right?

Like the leg

William Tincup: bone should connect to the hip bone, somehow, some way. Yeah. It’s. It’s, it’s fascinating, um, because, you know, when, when people think about culture and they think about employer brand, it’s thinking about those, like, okay, like I think of it like a DNA strand or a coin that you flip it over one’s employer brand, one’s culture.

Great. They’ve got to be aligned with a DNA strand kind of visualization exercise. These things have to be aligned and in lockstep with one another and the discussions I have with recruiters. So I’ve. I have three different discussions with vendors and with HR with recruiters. The discussion I have with recruiters is like, if something’s aspirational, uh, be it your [00:15:00] employer brand or your culture or something in, in the mix, then tell the candidate it’s

Dan Kessler: aspirational.

Oh my gosh. Yes. Yes. It’s okay. Which is okay. It’s totally okay. Yes.

William Tincup: We’re not, we aspire. To be here, that’s, I mean, you just add a couple of words in front of it and you tell the candidate, make sure you understand, we’re not there yet. So when you get the job and you’re in, you’re working, I don’t want you to get frustrated because we’re not there yet with your help.

With all the help of a lot of other folks, we can push this boulder. We can, you

Dan Kessler: know, it’s get, I love it. I love it. Because, you know, some of that, we, we actually think about that internally for us, right? This is our business, right? Yeah. Well, like we are in the business of culture and employer brand and so sometimes when folks interview with us.

They, you know, have this sort of like, you know, mythical or utopian version of our culture. And we’re always like, I hate to, I hate to break the news to you, friend, but you know, unfortunately, we’re just a bunch of human beings trying to figure things out as well. And, [00:16:00] and therefore there are these elements of our culture that are more aspirational.

But by the way, we’re going to tell you what we’re aspiring for. You know, we’re going to be working on that every single day as a team. And we want you to be a part of that. But I, you know, you’ve, I’m sure you’re probably familiar with. Um, you know, the concept of, of a core value is truly core when it can actually do harm.

And one of the things for us, one of our core values is helpfulness and, um, you know, we’ll be so helpful, uh, that we’ll lose money on a customer. We’ll be so helpful, um, that we’ll, uh, You know, not allow someone to figure something out for themselves, say, right? And so that’s how we know that helpfulness is truly core for us.

Whereas you can define an aspirational value. Um, for us, it’s, we want to be more and more innovative. Right. And so we feel we’re pretty innovative, [00:17:00] but we, we have more room to, to, um, to go there. And so we talk about that. And, and so I think it’s just, to your point, it’s just critical to. Um, and that gets back to that authenticity, that if you can be authentic about the employee experience and what’s actually going on, people are going to trust you more.

And frankly, they’re going to be a better Um, employee, when they come in, because they know what they’re getting themselves into, right? There’s no surprises.

William Tincup: There should be no surprises. Exactly. Two things. One, when I talk to recruiters about that, they kind of get it, right? When I talk to HR, they’re like, yeah, we can’t do that.

Like, I, there’s, there is a wall that I know that recruiters, corporate recruiters in particular, they hate, they face, and I’m not blaming HR, I’m just saying, they don’t want to talk about it as an aspirational. They want to talk about it as it is. That, that, that even if they’re not that way, like say Fairness, they’re not there.

They want to be there. They want to say they’re there. [00:18:00] And so the rub sometimes internally is that recruiters want to tell candidates the truth, if you will. Yeah. And talk about aspirational versus, versus, uh, you know, life at this company, et cetera. HR doesn’t, doesn’t like that. By and large, I’m just painting with the big dry brush now.


Dan Kessler: no, of course, of course. And go ahead, keep going. No, the, the,

William Tincup: the thing that I’ve done in hiring for a long time is I start off with all the bad news. So mine’s kind of a shock and awe type of strategy when, when we’re, when I’m hiring someone, it’s like, let me tell you all the things that we failed at just in the last week.

Yeah. Yeah. And I’m going to purposely, I’m going to try to scare you out of taking this job because I’m going to lay it all out there. Hey, listen, here’s the deal, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Let it all out. I mean, all I’m going to try to repel you. You’ve gotten to this [00:19:00] place. I’m going to try and repel you.

And if you then can understand all that and, and it’s okay, and you understand where we’re on our journey and you want to be a part of it, okay. Then there’s no surprises, like that’s the worst thing that can happen to a freshly minted employee is that it’s not what they were sold.

Dan Kessler: So, what’s so interesting about that is one thing that surprised us, because one of the things that we do with companies is we take, again, that voice of employee feedback and we help them share that with, with, um, with the candidates, right?

And so our assumption, um, was, well, they’ll really want, you know, we capture positive, constructive, everything in between, right? Right. And so our assumption was, though, most companies will want to, um, really just focus on the positive, right? They won’t want to. Do the shock and awe approach and share the things they’re working on.

And what has pleasantly surprised us is that more companies than you might think, again, and this, maybe it’s a, it’s a selection bias for the ones we’re talking to, are saying, yes, of course we [00:20:00] want to say positive, share the positive things, but we’re willing to say, you know, here’s some things that we’re working on.

Um, and we just thought that was, that, that, that was really cool because it’s, it’s exactly where you’re going, which is, yes, let’s celebrate the positive, um, because by the way, every culture, every organization that we talk to, there’s good stuff going on, right? People aren’t sitting in a room thinking, how can we make our employees lives miserable today?

Um. You know, like let’s figure that out. It’s like, no people, you know, for in the most, I’m sure maybe there’s a couple of cases where that’s happening, but in the vast, vast majority of organizations out there, people are trying to do right. Um, you know, by the team and, uh, and it’s just kind of, again, how do you articulate that in a way that is authentic to your organization and your culture and your business and your goals?

So as

William Tincup: people listen to this podcast, the nuggets that they need to get out of it. But one thing that, you know, will come up is how, how do, [00:21:00] how do they know where they’re at on their journey of putting these two things together? Like how do they figure that out? Like, okay, we’re better than we thought we are, or actually it’s worse than we thought.

Dan Kessler: So, so for us, that is really at the heart of what we do and obviously starts with measurement. Um, so, so what we do is, you know, through our data, we’re able to give every company a single number, a workplace experience score that articulates where they stand, and we give them the opportunity to earn recognition based on how they stack up.

So, we recognize top workplaces all over the country. We’re really excited, William, that we have a new partnership with USA Today. So, we’re going to be publishing top workplaces USA, um, in, uh, the spring of 2024 and every year, um, moving forward. And so, for us, it’s about taking that assessment, understanding where you stand, you know, If there’s something to celebrate, shout it from the rooftop, um, and if there’s not something to celebrate, [00:22:00] we’re going to help you figure out, you know, one, how to find some positive things to articulate about your culture, and for every company, we’re going to help you continue on that path to improvement, um, and to be in the, you know, be in the culture and having the brand that you want, but for us, it all starts with that voice of employee and employee feedback being the thread that ties it all together.

William Tincup: Drops mic, walks off stage. Dan, thank you so much. This has been absolutely wonderful conversation. Thanks for educating our audience.

Dan Kessler: Thank you so much, William. Really enjoyed it.

William Tincup: Absolutely. Thanks everybody for listening. Until next time.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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