How to Build a Vision for Employer Brand and Culture at Your Company

May 5, 2020
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Guest Post
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Jen Paxton is the VP of People and Talent at Privy. Jen is a leader in the PeopleOps space and has partnered with Drafted to release a 5-part series for PeopleOps leaders that are just starting out or at the frontlines of a hypergrowth startup.

In a sea of startups offering unlimited snacks, weekly happy hours, and all the ping pong you can handle, how do you set your company apart? Your employer brand is like a megaphone to the world telling them what your company culture is and what you believe in. 

Think of it as the DNA of the company. No two are the same, each one possesses something that makes them different. It could be unique benefits that are offered, or the speed the team works at, or how people communicate and treat one another. Ultimately, it could end up being a combination of one of these plus many other factors.

Let’s be clear, it’s not built in a day, but carefully crafted and curated by every employee day in and day out. Sometimes the culture is obvious and apparent and sometimes it takes a bit more digging to understand the heart of it. As the PeopleOps leader at your company, one of your many missions is understanding, unlocking, and cultivating company culture. 

Unlock the Culture at Your Company 

I would argue that as a PeopleOps leader, it is not your job to build a company culture from scratch. The culture already existed before you got there, it’s your job to find out and understand what that culture is and highlight what makes it special. 

Getting a firm grasp of your company’s culture will take a bit of investigation. I like to start out by spending time getting to know different people that are major culture drivers at the company. In my first few months in a new role, I have casual conversations with as many people at the company as possible, focusing on what it was about the company that drew them there, what they believe the company values, and what makes them stay.

These three factors help me paint a picture of what the company’s culture looks like and gives me some guidance on how to keep steering it in the right direction. 

Focus on What Matters to People

After you understand what drew people to the company and what makes them stay you can start to develop a plan to support your employees and the company’s culture. 

The easiest thing to look at first is the company’s perks, benefits, and programs. Do they support employees in the way that employees need/want? Are there other things that would add value to employees? 

To gather this data, I would suggest doing pulse surveys regularly and make changes based on employee feedback. Some common questions that I have asked:

  1. What benefits matter the most to them?
  2. What new benefits would make the most impact on their lives?
  3. What programs are we missing/would help us be more effective and successful?

A more visible way to express the company’s culture is through the benefits that you offer. Benefits should reflect the company’s culture and values. 

One benefit that I would like to highlight about Privy is our Unlimited PTO (with a two-week minimum). A central theme to Privy’s culture is trust, honesty, and respect. It’s no surprise that we support our employees by trusting them to make their own decisions around PTO. (We also have a super flexible WFH policy). 

When I joined Privy this benefit was already established so as a PeopleOps leader it was my responsibility to highlight this benefit (from an employer branding perspective) and also educate new hires about the mutually aligned trust that this benefit offers. We have mutual respect for all of our coworkers and understand that each of us is working hard to build something great. 

Make Sure You Are All Aligned

When I was earlier on in my career I interviewed at a company and had 1-in-1 sessions with some would-be peers and my potential manager. I asked them to tell me a bit more about the company’s values/culture and after I left the interview that day my view was a bit murky. I wondered if they are all talking about the same company. 

I saw a glaring misalignment of expectations and values between the IC (Individual Contributors) and my potential manager. This worried me so much that I didn’t continue any further with the company. As a PeopleOps leader - this would be the stuff of my nightmares.

So after gathering the data about the company’s culture, I take a little time for introspection. Does the vision that I have heard from employees align with how the CEO/Executive team sees it? Are there any glaring things that we need to work on with the culture to course correct? 

I don’t know of a company that has ever been perfectly aligned with this from the start, if there is one out there then they are a unicorn! So it’s always good to share your findings with the CEO and Executive teams. 

Factors to Consider When Building Your Brand Strategy

This is where, as a PeopleOps leader, you need to put your marketing hat on. Employer branding starts from within and radiates out. It’s about giving the outsiders (non-employees) the view of the insiders (employees). 

So after you have gathered your data from employees on what makes the company special it is time to do some analysis of your current employer brand (how you look from the outside). When you are putting together your employer branding strategy it is good to remember your candidate journey for inspiration.  

When you come into a company, the culture may already exist but it is up to you to help it thrive and flourish. Sometimes it takes someone brand new, looking through the lens for the first time to spot what makes the company tick and what makes it unique. Once you find that, make it easily known and understood internally. Then turn around and take those same benefits and values and tell the world about them. 

This blog post is the third part of a five-part series. In series four of How to be a PeopleOps Leader at a Growth Startup, Jen Paxton will share How to scale your PeopleOps and Talent teams. In case you missed it, check out part one -  Setting Up for Success and part two - How to Win Executive Trust.

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