Strategic. 🔬 (EBH#167: Don't Let's Start)
Talent strategy is more than to-do lists and ten extra minutes of "thinking it through."
Mission: Create a million employer brand thinkers (like you!)
Employer Brand Headlines is written by James Ellis. »» Yes, you should say hello! ««
As an employer brander, you are usually faced with some pretty serious constraints: Limited access to leadership, limited budget, limited authority, etc.
What if I told you that the best employer branders weren’t the ones with the coolest creative and the hottest platforms? The best EB’ers are the ones can maximize the minimal resources they have. The ones who can make two dollars feel like a million bucks.
As your coach, I can help you see potential and possibilities at work. I can help you plan a long-term strategy for success in any company.
Interested? Ping me at email@example.com and we’ll figure out something that works for you.
The Big Idea
I’m just going to come right out and say it: The term “talent strategy” has nothing to do with strategy. It is a laundry list of projects and platforms we use to attempt to engage talent, a junk drawer of odds and ends filled with the lingering remnants of half-baked initiatives and things someone’s predecessor thought useful at the time but haven’t had the decency to die off yet.
And that’s too bad. This model where everyone effectively is doing the same thing (posting jobs to job boards, telling stories on blog posts and social media, posting videos that generally say little, add in a pinch of referral programs, an intern program which generates more news than hires, and pretend to care about internal mobility, and resorting to an RPO as a last resort or when executives start screaming) isn’t strategic at all.
Which is a screaming, wailing shame because talent needs all the strategy it can get its hands on.
First, what is strategy? It isn’t a plan. It isn’t a list of tactics. It isn’t something you add to the word “analysis” to make it seem smarter.
There is no commonly held and shared definition of strategy. If you went to Harvard Business School you might have one definition. If you worked at McKinsey, you might another. If you have a military background, you might have something completely different. But we need to start by rejecting the idea that “strategy” is just a new name for a “smart plan.” You can’t say Napoleon won most of his battles and wars because he has smart plans, because plans fall apart in the heat of battle. He had built strategies.
So let’s start with this definition: Strategy is the application of your strength against someone’s weakness to achieve a result. Your strength might be your size and scale. It might be your culture. It might be a fantastic and beloved consumer brand. It might be a specific benefit you offer. It might be your willingness to get creative in finding talent.
Google had a talent strategy for a long time: Be Google. Everyone (including my mother) knew Google offered great salaries and amazing perks as it organized the world’s information. Everyone knew the company. Everyone used its products. That was its strength and it applied it to competitors’ weaknesses.
Companies like Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Costco are famous for focusing their hiring efforts on entry-level talent and promoting from within. By focusing their efforts on building training and on-boarding, they created a strength that most companies can’t match.
Facebook used to to apply its strength (its financial position) by offering salaries no one could match. Boston Dynamics offers the chance to work on the bleeding edge. Deloitte lets employees rotate into other departments and roles to try them on.
Building a strategy isn’t “do stuff and see what happens.” It starts by understanding who you are and what you can offer people that other’s can’t or won’t. It starts by taking a tough look at your company and its competitors and see the places where you aren’t like everyone else.
It also requires that you have a result you’d like to achieve. Do you want to be so desirable that you don’t have to spend any money on agencies or RPOs? That’s an objective you can build a strategy around. Do you want to attract only the top of the top, the people who will eventually be considered for Nobel and Pulitzer prizes? That’s an objective. Do you want to meet your company’s hiring needs at the lowest possible cost? Great.
So before you talk about your talent strategy, think if you have defined how you are applying your strength to others’ weaknesses and what goal it should achieve.
(Are you a strategy nerd? Then you MUST listen to this podcast between Blair Enns and Jonathan Starck about their definitions of strategy).
The Forgotten Audience. I don’t want to be the ten thousandth person to say that most company’s DEI strategy is more performative than effective. Instead, I’ll ask if you’ve thought about your forgotten audiences. Maybe they are black and latino candidates. Maybe they are mothers returning from family leave. Maybe they are ex-convicts. Maybe they are people with autism or other physical and mental challenges. Maybe its people who hardly have any formal education. Maybe it’s some combination of those things. But rather than try to developing programs for lots of these audiences, what if you focused on a single one? Imagine being the #1 employer of choice for deaf people. Or disabled vets. Or LBGTQ+ latinas? This allows you to build long-term credibility with a single audience that you can tap into over and over again. Great hires become poster subjects and spotlight magnets for new hires in that audience. So stop trying to spread the peanut butter too thin and think about how you can go all-in on a forgotten audience.
New Project: Employer Brand Minute
Can I explain a single employer brand concept, strategy or habit in just a minute or two every day for a few months? Let’s find out! (Remember to subscribe.)
Brands are inherently optimistic. They exist because they have a view of the future, one they’d like you to join. Perhaps that vision requires you to make it happen, but that company is sailing forward to a better tomorrow.
Even when companies are feeling the need to play defense when things look dire, they exist because tomorrow, the sun will indeed come out.
So how are you telling your “future” story? What does the future state look like for your employees? How are you describing it to people outside the org?
Big Tech employees are TikToking on the job — and their bosses don’t always like it
“Truth suffers from too much analysis” - Frank Herbert
Whenever you’re ready, I have a few ways I can help you:
EVP Mastermind: Develop your own Employer Brand/EVP alongside other recruiting leaders in my next guided cohort.
Employer Brand for Recruiters: Video on demand to teach recruiters how using their employer brand properly makes them more effective. Group rates available.
Coaching and consulting: Email me and we’ll set up time to talk 1:1.
Cheers and thanks!
-James Ellis (LinkedIn)
Search all 1,600+ links historically referenced in the article archive.
Download 105 free (or almost free) ways to activate your employer brand.
Read Talent Chooses You for free from this open source Google Doc.
Here’s the 2022 version of The Employer Brand Manifesto.
220+ episodes of The Talent Cast podcast.
Where the subject line came from:
They Might Be Giants - Don’t Let’s Start
Can you imagine what it was like being a 14 or 15 year old nerd-let and hearing this song? And then going to the independent record store in town and buying the album to find 18 more songs just like it? Silly, smart, wry, unafraid to fail, with an authenticity and musicianship beyond the rough-and-ready nature of the recording, it was a thing too perfect and precious, it almost shouldn’t have existed. (The TMBG documentary tells the insane (bordering on impossible) story of how they cracked into the music business.)
Yes, the whole album is like this: a little angular, kinda homemade, a little stupid, a little genius. I don’t think a week has gone by in my life when I haven’t had a moment when I needed to remind my self to “do the dumb things I gotta do; touch the puppet head.” And don’t ask me why my brain knows every word to Number Three and Rhythm Section Want Ad. It is album of ear worms for a certain kind of person. And I was very much that person. I hope you enjoy.
If you are enjoying the music, congratulations, you’re old! Just for you, I made a Spotify playlist of all the subject line 80’s songs I’ve referenced over the last year and a half. You don’t even need hairspray to enjoy it:
Thanks for reading Employer Brand Headlines! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.