We are now several months into a tentative growth cycle in the economy, and that means some of us, for the first time in two years, are thinking about hiring. For a small business hiring decisions can be a make-it or break-it issue. One compulsive liar, professional victim or weak link in skills can bring down a business when there are just a few of you. If your company is bigger, that kind of person can bring down morale. Even someone who’s just operating at a different level than everyone else can have a huge negative impact. So it’s important to hire well.Many organisations just consider role, skill and presentation when hiring. That leaves out the all-important aspect of whether the prospective employee can deliver your brand promise, day in and day out.
If your communications are on-brand, that’s great. But if your people aren’t delivering what you’re promising, you’re on the road to oblivion. The secret to creating a strong brand isn’t great advertising, but how well your employees deliver on your promise. In fact, you can make a case that great advertising without great brand delivery will kill your company faster, because the disconnect between what you promise and what you actually do will be big enough to chase away customers and create negative word-of-mouth.
Every employee needs to understand and be able to act and interact in ways that create satisfied, committed customers. They need to be able to project your company’s unique personality and make decisions that will move your company toward a bigger brand difference in the marketplace. They need to deliver the brand as part of their jobs, every day. So how do you hire “on-brand”?
Here are a few tips for finding, screening and hiring potential brand champions.
Then, describe your ideal employee. These descriptions will help you create a list of desired characteristics, questions to ask and scenarios to pose in an interview. While brand clarity alone won't scare away the wrong candidates and attract the right ones, it will help. The Mayo Clinic, which has a strong team ethos, typically doesn't hire superstar doctors because their ambitions are at odds with the clinic's brand of teamwork. Those in hospitality industries know they need to hire people who value relationships, because strong hospitality brands need employees who enhance the guest experience.
A referral reflects on the person making it, so people are careful about whom they recommend. In addition, your employees are in the best position to determine whether someone they know will be able to deliver on your brand promise.
For example, Cold Stone Creamery has applicants sing or show off their talent in a three-minute session called 'bust a move.' If teamwork is central to your company, ask for examples of where being on a team worked, and where it didn't. Since great writing skills are a necessity at our firm, we always ask for an unusual cover letter. We tell candidates to treat their cover letter like a personal branding exercise; an opportunity to demonstrate their personality, to tell us what it is that makes them unique and how they can be asset to our team. So the framework is loose, and we look to see how they make themselves stand out from the crowd--from clever storytelling or writing about their assets in the form of a poem to sending a video that demonstrates their skills. That helps us gauge writing style and ability. It also determines how creative applicants are, whether they can follow directions and how closely they pay attention to details.
If you are leading-edge, make sure your people are, too. If you are friendly, hire friendly people. If you are hip, hire hipsters. If part of your brand promise is 'fun,' for example, don't hire an introvert in a customer-facing position. And beware of mimickers--people who pick up on the expectation but can't walk the talk. We always ask candidates to give an example of when they've used a particular attribute to solve a problem.
After you've hired the on-brand employee, you still have work to do....
You have to orient employees to your brand difference, training them how to make decisions using the brand as a compass.
You have to train them to be brand storytellers and to think about delivering a brand experience in everything they do.
You have to model brand-based behaviour yourself. If your brand is about trustworthiness and you tell your receptionist to tell people you're out when you're not, that's giving employees a mixed message about living your brand.
I didn't say it would be easy--it's not. But the best way to create a strong brand is through your people. And the best way to do that is in the hiring process.
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