Today on the RecruitingDaily Podcast, we welcome a very special guest and visionary, Anne Sample, CEO and owner of Navigate Forward. We’ll discuss five strategies to improve your employment brand.
Anne deBruin Sample is an accomplished business and HR leader with an innate passion for relating to people and helping them live more fulfilling lives. Through collaboration with clients, consultants and peers, the firm has grown while focused solely on helping others navigate change and reach their potential. Previously, Anne was head of HR and strategy at Pepsi Americas, Thrivent Financial and Caribou Coffee and Bagels.
Navigate Forward is a Minneapolis-based consulting firm that assists executives in driving transformation in many areas, including employment brand. With over 40 years of combined experience, the team builds customized services for executives preparing for their next challenges and clients in need of executive outplacement.
Some podcast highlights: Structurally and process-wise, what does the ideal candidate map look like? How much time should go into online presence? Why do 60 percent of leaders who come into a company from the outside fail within 18 months?
And naturally, we’ll also cover Anne’s five employment brand strategies.
Of course, there’s more. You have to listen to find out! Please drop your thoughts in the comments!
Listening Time: 34 minutes
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Anne is an experienced, creative and accomplished executive, strategist and business leader. Her past experience as a Chief HR Officer (CHRO) positions her to add value at the intersection of business strategy and people strategy.Follow Follow
This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week, we take one over complicated topic and break it down so that your three-year-old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you are listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. So, today we have Anne on from Navigate Forward going to talk to me about the five strategies to improve your employer brand, employment brand. Employer brand and employment brand sometimes are used as synonyms. She’s going to actually school us on that. But we’re [crosstalk 00:00:55].
They’re the same thing.
Yeah. But I’ve actually had heated discussions with people about, “There’s a big difference.” I’m like, “Okay, that’s cool.” But we’re going to be talking about the five things, and I can’t wait to get your advice. So, without any further ado, please introduce yourself and your company and Navigate Forward.
Sure, glad to. Thanks. I’m Anne Sample. I’m a former corporate executive and HR leader who now is an entrepreneurial business owner. So, I’ve got my feet in a couple of different camps. In my previous life, actually, most of my career, I’ve been in a variety of HR roles. I was the head of HR and strategy at Pepsi Americas, at Thrivent Financial, and at Caribou Coffee and Bagels.
And about two-and-a-half years ago, I bought Navigate Forward. So, I’m currently the CEO at Navigate Forward. And we provide highly customized support to leaders, those that are looking to be in transition, planning change in the future, or seeking board service. So, we help people when they’re at that career inflection point. And as a result, I think it gives me the chance to talk about this from lots of different angles, lots of vantage points.
Oh, I love that. I mean, first of all, I love your experience, but I love what y’all do. And people, they don’t really know how to navigate that next step. I get a lot of people because I serve on a lot of advisory boards for technology companies. I get a lot of people asking me like, “How do you do that?” I’m like, “Well, first of all, I slapped it together like anybody else.” But there is a proper way to do these things.
Let’s start. And I know you have… there’s five strategies. These are probably not in numeric order, or they can be, but let’s start with the first one.
Okay. The thing that’s always interesting about recruiting and about what creates your brand is just the experience the candidate has. And so, I think it’s so important. I’m a little bit of a process wonk, I’ll admit it. And so, I tend to think of this as look at the… map the process out from the candidate’s perspective. Think about the user experience. Think about the interfaces.
We’ve got applicant tracking systems. I remember when applicant tracking systems came onto the market, and we all thought they were going to be… it was going to be the nirvana. It’s going to be the answer. You’d have this beautiful system, and you’d put in your criteria, and the best candidates would float to the top. And I think, in fact, they actually have made the process pretty cumbersome.
Right. Over engineered?
Way over engineered. So, the first part is just how does the system work? And then I think you got to look at how it works for candidates in terms of how many meetings is this taking. I think there are people that take longer in a process to decide where they’re going to work than they do somebody they’re going to spend the rest of their life with. And I just think it’s important to streamline it as much as possible, think of it from their perspective.
Recruiters have a tough job. I don’t know many recruiters that aren’t overworked. I don’t know many hiring managers that aren’t… Usually because they’re in a pinch, they have a pretty unrealistic viewpoint of what they need done. So, I think you’ve got to take as much… streamline your process as much as you can, get really clear on what you’re looking for. And communications is the secret, because you got to make sure you’re communicating with people like crazy.
I love that. I love that. And some of the things I would take out and call out is that time to apply. How long does it take for a candidate from seeing a job post or whatever through the application process, just how long is it, period? What does that look like? I liked the way that you talked about process in terms of post application. What is it? What does that look like? Is it a five-step process, seven-step, three interviews? What does it look like both structurally and process wise and and micro process wise, but also just time? I love the way that you start with candidates. First of all, it’s giving people an idea of like, “Hey, listen, it takes us a month to hire.”
“So, we’re going to start here. It’s going to take a month. There’s going to be several different places where you can obviously bow out or we’ll bow. And it’s 18-step process, whatever.”
“But it takes a month. You will have a decision.” And just some type of clarity I think would be good for candidates. And the last thing, and this is just something you’ve probably done yourself, but apply to your own jobs.
Yeah. Oh my gosh, you will learn so much. If you use your applicant tracking system, you will find things you just didn’t expect.
What doesn’t my zip code work? I don’t understand.
And one of my businesses was a retail kind of restaurant business. And we would have thought it was very easy to apply, and I discovered I couldn’t get an interview when I tried. It just wasn’t possible.
Scheduling. [crosstalk 00:06:39].
Problematic. You got to really think about that.
I mean, first of all, I tell recruiters that are thinking about a company and they want to switch to apply to a random job.
So, one of the things I tell recruiters is to apply not only to jobs once they’re there inside the company, but also apply if they’re thinking about looking at a job. And apply to a random job just to see what their process is, so that when you’re in the interview process, you can talk to them eloquently and have an informed opinion about, okay, here’s what I’ve seen. Obviously, you’re probably making changes, et cetera. And it’s just a good way to have some intel about how they hire. And again, I know it creates a little noise in the system, but it’s a good way to do research. So, first one’s done.
And are you talking about applying inside your own company or applying to a similar role?
Both. Once a quarter, I think recruiters should just apply to jobs, their own jobs. Now secondarily, if they’re thinking about leaving their company and applying for a job, let’s say, at Facebook, go apply to another job at Facebook and just see how their process is just to see what it’s like. Because once you get deep into… and I’m just using Facebook as an example, you get into deep discussions, you can actually talk about, okay, I applied for this other job, and here’s some of the things I’ve learned in that process. So, it gives you a heads up on what they’re looking for and how they go about it, how they communicate, to your point.
So, okay, one’s done.
Well, can I do one quick thing?
Because the other thing I think is interesting is if somebody has… if you’re the recruiter in a role and somebody has networked their way in, they found somebody else at the company to walk into your office, I also think it’s pretty important to make note of who those people are and at least make sure they get a touchpoint.
You might look at their resume and say, “No, they’re not the right person.” But they took the time to network their way in, and again, it affects how they feel about your company if they never hear from somebody.
Well, that’s a great point on a couple levels. If it’s a consumer brand, you’ve potentially impacted their feelings about your consumer brand. And it’s also a morale killer for the folks that they networked in through, that you don’t care enough to actually follow up or [crosstalk 00:09:51].
Think of how embarrassing it is for that leader who says, “Yeah, I’ll make sure they know that you’re in the bowl. Yeah.
And it’s easy enough to just go, “Hey, listen, I’m glad that Jane gave me your resume. And went through your LinkedIn profile. You’re missing these three things that are just going to be critical for this particular role. We might have some other stuff that might be applicable, but this one is just… you’re not going to be in the running.” Okay. That might be a two-minute conversation.
Yep, but really important.
But that person’s got clarity. You’re a person that did the referral, they’ve got some clarity around you’ve communicated. It’s just, again, you nailed it when you first started talking about experience, and you started with candidate experience, but also there’s all these other experiences that are important to recruiter, hiring manager, sourcer, all that stuff.
All right. So, second one. What’s our next one?
I think people also have to look at a big piece of your brand is these days, everything is based on how you show up online. And I think there’s tons of focus on… I mean, I’m not the person to talk to you about how to make sure your website stands out or make your ATS work. I actually think the thing people forget about is how do your executives show up online. Because people go to work for people, not companies.
And you want your brand to show up really well across all the platforms. And right now LinkedIn is where it’s at. And it’s interesting because a lot of executives have missed the… they missed the importance of LinkedIn. And they think if they go create a profile on LinkedIn that somebody inside their company is going to think they’re looking for a job.
Well, the fact of the matter is, especially as a senior HR leader, I had to work with all of our executives and I said, “Look, I need you guys to show up really well. I need you to be… People need to be able to find you, they have to know you based upon your LinkedIn profile, and they have to want to work for you. And their first impression is going to be when they look you up there.” So, I think it’s… And I don’t think it’s as challenging when you get to the mid-level of the organization.
But top of the house, people just don’t spend the time on profiles that they need to.
Well, you’re selling. You’re selling. You’re selling the brand and the experience, et cetera. So, the corporate profiles, again, I think you have to be authentic to the culture and the values and the ethics, morality of the firms. So, I don’t expect people to all show up with surfboards. However, again, to your point of people want to work for people, they’re also looking for… they’re looking for something that they can grasp, that they can get their hands around, and some of that’s hobbies. [crosstalk 00:12:50]
They’re looking for the commonality. Right?
I mean, they’re looking for the, wait a minute, we lived in that state, we went to that school, we like this, we were on similar boards, we’ve got different volunteer causes.
I love the bio’s on websites that… favorite hobbies. When not working, Janet likes to dot, dot, dot. Janet’s currently reading this book.
At that point, it’s like I’ve got all the legitimate stuff, certifications and degrees and experience, all this meaty stuff. Like okay, got it. But then I’ve got this personal stuff that I think as a candidate I like. And again, not all surfboards and all that type stuff. It just needs to be true to the culture. But I think you can, even in like a Goldman Sachs, something that’s relatively conservative, McKinsey, you can still have some personalization. You can still do some things there that help people and help candidates fall in love with you, if you will.
Absolutely. When we’re working with our clients, and when we’re talking about how they want to represent on LinkedIn, I think it’s the same advice I’d give executives that are doing the hiring. It’s think of LinkedIn as your… It’s almost like your… It should feel like a warm handshake. It should be make it personal without… I mean, you need to show up very professionally in most organizations. If your culture lets you be really fun, you can be really fun.
But I think sometimes it’s as simple as get a headshot that really looks like you.
So, when the person, you know, sits down to talk to you, they’re not surprised. Create a simple headline. You can’t imagine how many people make it… you can’t find them on LinkedIn because they’ve done something funny with their URL or their name. I mean, test it. Type yourself in and find out if you can find yourself. Because if somebody is coming to interview with the head of marketing and they can’t find you on LinkedIn, it just isn’t as effective. And so, I think there’s a lot you can do there.
Yeah. And the only thing I’d add to this story, just telling a story through all your experiences. And the best advice I’ve been given is going back and making sense of the things you’ve done in the past so that you are telling this story. An internship that led to this that led to this other thing, like telling that story so that when someone goes to your profile, they can see a consistent… even when things don’t look consistent, or degrees might be off the track a little bit, that you can make sense of it all.
And again, I think that’s a part of that warm handshake. I love the metaphor just because I think it’s really appropriate because that’s the first section. Headline, profile, boom.
You’re selling right there in the profile pic, obviously. You’re selling right there. And if you got the person, then they’re going to dig in and go, “Okay, let me look at these other things that are a part of the profile.” Great one. All right. Number three.
I think the third strategy that’s really important for your employment brand is when you do find people and bring them on board, do a great job bringing them into the company. When we use the word onboarding, people are like, “Oh yeah, we’re going to get them their badge. We’ll tell them where to park. We’ll tell them how to get lunch.”
Yeah. And the crazy part is there’s an incredibly… I mean, the stats we’ve seen are that 60% of leaders that come into a company from the outside fail in 18 months.
And think of how much work you did as a recruiter to bring that person in. If you can work with the manager, if you can work with everybody around it to make sure they stick, it makes life a lot better, and you’re going to make sure those folks are successful. Sometimes I think people have run the gauntlet. They made it through. They got through the ATS, they got through the interviews, they got hired. And then you just throw the candidate in the pool and say, “Good luck.”
Yeah, it used to be, and you’ve lived through this horror story. It used to be the baton pass where onboarding was kind of seen as, okay. the demarcation or end of recruiting and the beginning of HR. And I think both of those are fails. I think retention starts with candidates, and it’s pulled through into the experiences they have in the first two years, 18 months.
Not the first day, not the binder, not the checklist, not the first week, not only that stuff, but it’s constant. A relentless like, “How are you doing? How’s everything? How’s everything working out? Do you need anything?” et cetera.
And so, I think recruiters can play a part there, hiring managers, HR, et cetera. And so, I think from that historic model, I think recruiters have to do a better job of extending themselves post hire.
And I think HR’s got to do a better job of going into the hire.
Yeah, it can’t be… The baton pass does not work, especially if you’re not in the same lane and you don’t get close enough. And I don’t think.. And as you said, the hiring manager is just as much a part of that.
And so, we’re a big believer in a structure. Structure the goal setting process so that the new hire and the new boss are really, really clear on what success looks like, how you’re going to measure it, what kind of help the person needs. You can’t just hand somebody the, “Here’s your book on the hundred-day plan. Fill it out and let me know what you’re thinking.” I mean, you really do have to create some kind of plan for those first. If you can plan well for the first four to six months, there’s a lot of research that it’s going to work.
Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. At the end, things can change. But the fact that there was a plan as opposed to it looks like this is being made up day to day. I think some of the better companies, Anne, that I’m talking to are finding out in the recruiting process about skills and things that people want to learn, candidates want to learn, and then tying that into what we used to call training and development or learning and development. And it’s a great bridge of just saying, hey, you said that during the recruiting process you want to learn Python. Fantastic. We’ve got 19 courses on Python.
So, let’s get you started on a path, again, using some of your language. Let’s get you on this path, this journey, to where you learn things that you want to learn. And again, it’s going to help the company, but also it’s a nice way to think about retention.
It tells the person right up front that you care.
And chances are somewhere in your interview process, you both identify gaps or things from a development standpoint. No candidate’s going to hit every piece. Right?
No. I don’t trust that. In fact, if someone tells me that, I automatically distrust that.
So instead, figure out the things that you both agree that are a stretch for the person and put plans in place.
Put something in there right from the beginning. And if they’re a people leader, it is so simple to do. I mean, I would do it with the facilitator and somebody who’s an objective party. But run a program for that new leader with their team, because things can get out of whack.
Because people don’t have the same information on that new leader. And you can speed up the process significantly by having a… You can do it in one session, honestly. But you got to plan it and you got to do it, and that takes HR and recruiters on that new manager committing to it.
Yeah. I love the way that you brought measurement into it. Because there’s nothing worse than starting a new job and not knowing what success looks like.
I love that. All right. Well, let’s go on to four.
Okay. I think the other thing, and we’ve been talking about it already, but I think it’s that focus on retention. And onboarding’s a way to do that. There’s lots of leadership development, culture. There are so many things you can do. But leadership turnover is so… it is so detrimental to your employment brand. I mean, at the end of the day, if what people see is lots of churn at the top, it will tell them something about your organization.
And they don’t want to be in a situation where they don’t know who their next boss is or which direction the company is going to go. I think there are a lot more opportunities for developing more frontline talent. And so, I think companies have to get a little creative about how they… what do you do with your senior folks? And I admit, we work exclusively with executives, so I end up having more of that lens right now.
But what I find is once people get to a certain point, companies just stop developing them.
And it’s going to lead to… It can lead to one of two things. It’s going to lead to turn over that you don’t want, or it’s going to lead to them never going anywhere, and you’re going to block a spot. And so, we’ve really tried to encourage people, what’s going to benefit your senior leaders the most? It’s not about going to another program. Maybe it’s about getting on a board at a different company and learning how to… Okay, what’s happening over there? What can I bring back? What can I bring them? How do I get growth?
Well, what I love about that is it’s personalized. So, Janet’s driven by certain things at that particular moment. So, one of the things that we think about when we think about retention is it’s a never ending goal. You never actually reach retention. It’s a pursuit that’s relentless. And again, if you’re touching base with people non-stop and you’re finding out, hey, what’s driving you? What would you like to do? Is that an international opportunity? Like you said, is it a board position?
What’s driving you today? And I think where we do this with high potentials, hyper performers, maybe even some of the executive team, but pushing that throughout the organization into… Like everyone gets some of that treatment. I think that’s where some of the automation that’s coming to HR and technology, I think that’s where that can help is that everyone… We’ve got to focus on retention of everyone, especially talented people,
We’ve talked about the war for talent more from a talent attraction and acquisition perspective for 30-something years. But I think we’re entering a phase of the war for retention. And again, it’s not just the C-suite, those are critical, but it’s got to be everybody, everybody that’s quality. I’m one of these people that I believe that turnover is actually a good thing.
A certain level, don’t you think? I mean, a certain level. Yeah.
First of all, I say that just to shock people. Then I split the hair and say regrettable turnover.
Oh, okay. Yeah.
Right? So, people that you wanted to keep that for whatever reason you couldn’t keep and didn’t keep, those are killers. From frontline all the way to the C-suite, it’s the people that you wanted to keep and you just didn’t have the ability. Some of that comes down to communication. Say you lost track of what they cared about. You didn’t ask.
I’ve had people that have moved on to jobs. I’m like, “Why’d you move?” “They just kind of like forgotten me. I was just doing a good job, and they had other fires. And I just felt like I was on an island.” I’m like, “Well, that’s just crazy.” But you and I both know that happens more often than not. All right. What is our-
Yeah. I don’t think you can ever communicate enough. I mean, at the end of the day, it comes down to understanding and communication and having people feel valued.
I a hundred percent agree. They can tell you, or they’ll delete things. If it’s email or texting or whatever, they don’t have to respond. But you actually making sure that they are aware. I think actually COVID helped HR in a lot of ways because we were forced to think about employee communications. We were forced at gunpoint, but we were forced to think about it in a much more robust way. And so, I think that’s actually helped HR really think about how they communicate, how they collaborate, and how they do that. I’m on your page. I don’t think you can over-communicate. All right. So, what’s our fifth?
The last one is just… and this goes back to the same premise a lot of marketers use. But there’s going to be reasons why people have to leave your company. Right? Some of those are going to be… There can be many, many reasons. But if people have a bad experience on the way out, those bad experiences get magnified in incredible ways. I mean, all you have to do is look at the majority of comments on Glassdoor, they’re made by former employees.
When people do not feel good about the way the departure was handled or about the way it worked for them, it is amazing how much it affects your employment brand, whether it’s overtly or discretely, because candidates will track down former employees.
Oh, they… Yeah. [crosstalk 00:27:18]
Yes, they want to talk to people who currently work there, but they want to talk to people that have left.
That’s right. I mean, why did you leave and what was the process? How did that play out? I think what’s interesting. And I feel the exact same way. We romance people on the front end. Right?
Like it’s all romance in recruiting. And then once someone has said, “Hey, I’ve got a new opportunity with pick a company, and it’s the right thing for my family and for myself. And I hate leaving, but really this is just something I got to do.” We tend to just… they’re dead.
And we’ve grown up with this mentality of, okay, you leave us, you’re dead to us. And in a transparent world that we live in right now, I mean, that’s a dinosaur mentality.
It doesn’t work.
It absolutely doesn’t work. I mean, you have to be as thoughtful on an exit as you do an entry.
Hundred percent, hundred percent.
And if it’s the company’s decision, if you’re restructuring.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Right.
Then you really got to think about it.
Because this whole process has to be… Whether somebody made the decision to leave and they’ve let you know, or whether something’s changed in your structure, or the person who was the perfect hire is no longer the perfect hire.
If you are just kicking those folks to the curb, it completely affects what people think about your company and your culture.
I think it goes on for a lot longer than people think. And again, because you’ve worked with some consumer brands so you understand, this also affects their consumer attitudes. And everyone’s got a Twitter account. And they all go to church, they all have friends. So, it’s like it doesn’t just stop with that one person. And I think, I mean, even if we get into the ethics and morality part of this, just treat people nicely.
Again, a riff is a riff.
The company didn’t make its earnings and we have to lay off 4% of our workforce. You know what, no one likes that. The CFO doesn’t like that. No one likes that. It just has to be done, and hard decisions have to be made. It still doesn’t mean that we can’t do it in a way that’s humane.
And like I said, dignity and respect. Right? Because by the way, the people leaving are going to be fine. This is a fantastic person. They’re going to get great jobs. And what you don’t want is… It’s the same problem. Like in a consumer products. When somebody has a bad experience with a product, they talk about it I think isn’t it 10 times? I don’t know what the official [crosstalk 00:30:11] is these days. But it’s like if I have a bad experience, I tell everybody.
Oh yeah, oh yeah.
If I have a great experience, I might remember to tell people, I feel good about it.
So, when somebody’s leaving, give them a fair severance, give them the right kind of support in terms of outplacement transition services, and give them somebody that’s specialized in what they want to do next. I mean, again, it’s kind of the same… listen to it. Right? Figure out where are they going to fit and how can you help them.
And I think you have to be careful. I got lawyers in my family. I’ve worked with tons of lawyers. I’ve been a head of HR. But you’ve got to make sure you balance the… Sometimes in situations like that, we let somebody who’s worried about the risk make decisions that then take away the person’s dignity.
That’s right. That’s right. That’s right. And I think, again, it’s treating people with that respect in either case, whether or not they made the decision or we made the decision. If they have a good experience. Again, parting is parting.
But they have a good experience. They feel like their dignity and respect… And they understand the communications have been laid out. They might not like what happened, but they understand it. These are also folks that could possibly come back and work for your company.
And that’s yet another reason in a tight talent market to think about how will we think about our employer branding on the back end of our employer brand, and how we create better experiences for those folks. Because guess what? That person that left for all the right reasons, that we treated them badly, well, they’re not going to come back. That’s done. They might go to our competitor, which is even worse.
But if they have a good experience and they love the culture, it was just they wanted to be in a different city or whatever the bit was. Now they want to come home. That’s happened, but that’s predicated on them having a good experience.
And sometimes it’s their spouse, their child, their brother, their in law. I mean, the other thing is that networks these days are amazing when you really take a look at them and pull them apart. And if you’re creating one bad experience, you got to look at everybody that person’s connected to and know that you’ve lost that. I mean, you got to just say, “Yep, we walked away from that entire network. We don’t want any of those people at our company.”
Yeah. Yeah. Because again, I mean, this is just candidate 101 [inaudible 00:32:47] research, they’re going to look at Google, they’re going to look in LinkedIn, they’re going to reach out to former employees, they’re going to look on Glassdoor. They’re going to do all those things sometimes even before they apply to a job.
So, there’s a really, really good… I loved all five of these. So, Anne, thank you so much, A, for your time, but also your intellect and experience, and thanks for bringing all of these to bear.
Absolutely. I really enjoyed it. And I think we all need to get better at this. And I would say that to the recruiters that are out there, I know how hard that job is. Make sure you’re working with HR, working with those hiring managers, and going after these kinds of things, because your job’s hard enough.
A hundred percent. And for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast, thank you again, and until next time.
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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.