Opinion: 'Antifragile' employer brands – The diverse solution
Human resources faces a big question: how much does a company want or need a homogenous culture (and a rigid definition of it)?
In one corner, there are the the culture experts, the engagement gurus, the competency framework consultants and many of the brand consultants. They’ll present evidence that shows that the most effective companies have a shared purpose, shared values, shared ambitions and generally a bunch of people who think and act alike.
In the other corner, is an increasingly lonely and frustrated group of diversity specialists asking difficult questions like, “Aren’t we inevitably asking anyone joining your company to think like the people who lead it? Aren’t they likely to be overwhelmingly a bunch of middle-class, Gen X, white guys?”
I can’t answer the big question for anyone, but I can help to explain what I’ve learned over the years about how to tackle this question from an employer brand standpoint, which in turn might trigger some helpful thoughts about how to tackle it in other areas too.
When I’m working on a client’s employer brand, we at ThirtyThree tend to start by defining the employee value proposition – the set of factors that are most attractive about an employer. So far, so normal. Where I part company with a lot of the other experts in the field, however, is that I try to steer clients away from obsessing about precise wordings and specific eventualities, to think instead about general principles.
The reason for this is simple: any specific wording can and should be optimised to a specific audience – whether that’s senior professionals at competitors, school leavers, people returning from parental leave or any other group. Getting tied up in knots about whether to use optimise’ or ‘maximise’ in a particular sentence in the core employer brand definition is a waste of everyone’s time. Especially as, for the vast majority of audiences, you’re not going to use either of those words.
An employer brand that’s going to be successful with a diverse range of audiences – with different preferences, perceptions, prejudices, ambitions, backgrounds and outlooks – must, by definition, be an employer brand with flexibility. That means reconsidering the way we document and frame those guidelines.
When I see an employer brand guide with every possible use detailed, draconian strictures on words that must or must not be used, a limited bank of headlines and the other ways we like to reassure ourselves we have a robust employer brand, I’ll admit: I worry. What happens when we’re trying to reach an audience we weren’t thinking about when we wrote that? Either we’re going to chuck those rules out the window anyway, or we’re going to limit our ability to connect with that audience. And unfortunately the latter does happen.
In Nicholas Nassem Taleb’s concept of ‘antifragility,’ he suggests that in business, people have become obsessed with the idea of things being fragile (i.e. vulnerable to outside forces) or robust (i.e. resilient in the face of outside forces.) He then asks if there is something better, or antifragile – something that can positively take advantage of outside forces, whether those are market changes, world events, or in our case, demographic and social changes in the workforce.
An antifragile employer brand is not one that is robust in the face of diverse audiences, it’s one that is strong precisely because it’s able to adapt and evolve. So what does an antifragile employer brand look like? Simple. Succinct. Flexible.
Marcus Body is a consultant on the brand & insight team at ThirtyThree. He will moderate a panel at the Employer Brand Management Conference on 9 December. To book your place, click here.