Several years ago, I attended a company meeting about a huge product rollout that was really challenging the skills of our workforce and creating a shift in our company culture. My regional director, who was running the meeting, confessed he’d been reading what employees posted online about our company. “It’s the sort of thing I do on a Friday night,” he sighed, shaking his head, “cocktail in hand.” Looking at what’s said about your company on Glassdoor or in other online forums isn’t always the most joyful activity. A lot of former employees head for these forums with an axe to grind, leaving feedback skewed by bad relationships with former colleagues or a fundamental lack of self-awareness. Even so, what current and former employees say about your company tells you a lot about how your talent brand is faring in the real world. It gives you a chance to change negative conversations while also emphasizing the things you’re doing well.
Shake yourself a martini and read employee forums on your own, or assign a sober intern or manager to gather data for you. Whoever does the reading should set aside a few hours to pore over everything and make notes about what employees have said. I recommend writing down key phrases the first time you read them and then adding a tally mark when someone else says the same phrase. The phrases that have the most tallies are often the primary messages people convey about your talent brand, for better or worse.
Take the most commonly repeated phrases and categorize them in ways that make sense. Write them on sticky notes and organize them on a whiteboard or tabletop, or drag and drop them on a tablet or smartboard. Phrases like “managers only promote their friends” or “you have to brown-nose to get ahead” could be grouped together under categories like Perceived Weaknesses or Problems to Solve. Notes like “offers excellent benefits” and “makes me feel like my work matters” are Perceived Strengths or Plusses to Promote.
Decide Which Themes Matter
It’s impossible to make every employee happy at work, and no manager should be expected to perform that kind of twisted emotional yoga. Frankly, some employee complaints matter less than others, so use these questions to decide what’s important:
- Are there potential hot-button issues or legal issues presented in these themes?
- Are any of these themes immediately perceived as poisonous by the candidates we want to attract?
- Does the theme show that we’re living our core values or that we’re not being true to those values?
- Does a theme show that although we think we’re a certain kind of company, employees don’t see it that way?
- Are there easy wins among the themes? In other words, can we roll out some quick changes that would make an immediate positive difference?
Changing a talent brand often creates pressure for parallel changes in company culture. Even employees who complain about your company prefer the known to the unknown, which means they resist the changes they claim to want. In some cases, resistance comes from the C-suite, a tough obstacle to overcome. One proven strategy is to pilot changes among small groups, celebrate the positive results, and use the results to sell change to a wider audience. Of course, you can’t monitor your talent brand if you haven’t defined how you want to be perceived by talented candidates. Take time to clarify what your company has to offer, and make sure you’re consistently offering it. Also, don’t have blind faith that you’re offering it. Verify it by regularly monitoring your talent brand. Whether or not you do it with a cocktail in hand—that’s up to you. Image credit: Pixabay (public domain)