Thursday, December 15, 2022

The Intersection of Employer Branding, Workplace Culture, and Leadership


As a member of the Twitterverse for more than 13 years, I always enjoy meeting new people and learning from them. To quote Matthew Kobach (@mkobach), "Twitter is a key that unlocks thousands of doors, some of which you never even knew existed." Recently, I connected with Michael Kerr from Canada, and invited him to appear here on my Blog in a Q&A discussion about employer branding, workplace culture, and leadership. Highlights of our conversation follow a brief introduction.

Michael Kerr is a Canadian Hall of Fame speaker who speaks on inspiring workplace cultures and businesses that leverage their humor resources to create outrageous results. He is the author of 8 books, including, “The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses Are Laughing All the Way to the Bank,” “Hire, Inspire, and Fuel Their Fire,” and “The Jerk-Free Workplace: How You Can Take the Lead to Create a Happier, More Inspiring Workplace.”

QUESTION: The employee onboarding process starts the moment an open position is advertised and reflects the employer brand. How can C-Suite and other top leadership teams understand the importance of employer branding?

MICHAEL KERR: 90% of the job of getting your culture right is making sure you invest in your recruitment, hiring, and onboarding. Leadership teams need to embrace the idea that if you are truly looking for the best possible candidates for any position, then in theory, if they really are the best, they can work anywhere they choose!  

So, you need to champion your distinct cultural advantage and brand and sell the benefits of why employees should work with you. And by bringing your cultural norms to life on your website and everywhere you recruit candidates from, you can start the process of teaching your cultural values and norms before employees have even begun working for you.

Finally, leaders need to embrace the chicken and egg relationship when it comes to having a strong culture brand – you need to hire top talent to help you strengthen your brand, but having a strong brand also helps you become the hunted – in tight labor markets you do not need to sweat as much to find employees because employees will be tripping over themselves to come and work for you!
QUESTION: There are many new titles for the head of personnel, aka Human Resources, including: Chief Happiness Officer, Chief People Officer, Chief Talent Officer, Chief Encouragement Officer, to name a few.

One of our leadership/employee engagement/workforce culture colleagues, Marli Rusen from British Columbia, Canada, has said, “The title of Human Resources covers the myriad of responsibilities performed by the HR department. The other titles you mention are too limited in scope and fail to recognize the many roles and responsibilities assigned to those who work in this field. For me, what’s more important than the title is that employees and leaders clearly understand the mandate of the HR department in their organization.”

What are your thoughts to change the title to improve the position’s value to all employees?

MICHAEL KERR: I also know of a Human Resources Manager whose alternative job title is “The Queen of Fun and Laughter,” so yes, there are an increasing number of alternative job titles popping up.

I’ve never been a fan of the phrase “human resources.” I actually find it somewhat dehumanizing and impersonal, so jazzing up the titles to make them more fun or to help redefine what the actual role is, or can be, is a good thing. Words matter. Labels matter. So, how we define roles at work is important. The crux of this, though, is making sure that this isn’t merely gimmicky window dressing. Actions speak louder than words and talk is cheap, so if you change job titles but nothing else changes, or those new names don’t reflect the reality of what the label conveys, then you are going to do nothing more than raise the level of cynicism amongst your employees!

TWEET THIS: Words matter. Labels matter. So, how we define roles at work is important. ~@HumorAtWork #WorkplaceCulture #DebbieLaskeysBlog

QUESTION: During this challenging time of “quiet quitting” and the “great resignation,” what are some ways that leaders can provide feedback to their employees who work from home in a constructive and non-combative manner?

MICHAEL KERR: I think offering feedback is essentially the same whether employees are working at home or in the office. With remote employees, however, leaders need to be far more intentional about how often and how they communicate and connect with their employees. Leaders need to understand as well, that there’s a difference between checking UP ON remote employees versus checking IN with remote employees (anyone with teenagers at home understands this important distinction).  

When it comes to giving constructive feedback, leaders need to be more aware than ever before about how different forms of communication might not work as effectively. One study found, for example, that 50% of email messages have a “tonal issue.” Half the time respondents aren’t sure how to interpret the tone of the sender. So, leaders need to be extra careful about how they phrase feedback via email or even over the phone, where the employee doesn’t have the benefit of reading body language clues. Ideally, reserve any feedback conversations with remote employees for video meetings, or, even better, for longer conversations, make it a priority to meet face-to-face whenever possible.  

QUESTION: Which three leaders, from history or business, inspire you, and why?

MICHAEL KERR: That’s a tough question, there are so many options to choose from, and most of the ones that come to mind are leaders I’ve interviewed over the years from around the world for my work. Here are three that aren’t going to be household names!

One that comes to mind is Bill Strickland, author of Make the Impossible Possible. I met him and heard him speak over 10 years ago, and his talk was one of the most powerful talks I’ve ever heard, where he described how he, as the principal, turned around a poor, inner city school in Pittsburgh. It’s such an inspiring story of how leaders with a powerful vision can inspire massive change.

Another leader that inspires me is Mike Easton, the President and CEO of Argus Industries. Easton embodies so much of what I speak about regarding workplace culture: treating employees with respect and dignity, valuing the family members of employees, and embracing a workplace culture that values fun. In fact, one of his mantras that I love is, “Work is hard enough as it is without making it any harder, so let’s have fun while we’re working hard to achieve our goals!”

And finally, I’d name Kim Axelson, CEO of AFA JCDecaux, who I had the pleasure of interviewing in Copenhagen, Denmark. Axelson was a leader who, well into his 60’s, rather than retiring, decided to revitalize his company with a re-imagined workplace culture that launched their business into a new level of success, again, by embracing fun and humanity in the workplace. He had a child-like enthusiasm when he spoke about his employees and clearly was having the time of his life leading a re-invigorated company.   

QUESTION: According to Chelsea Castle on Twitter, “The number one way you can be a great boss? It has nothing to do with being in charge. It’s being a great teammate.” What are your thoughts about this concept?

MICHAEL KERR: I agree…but with a caveat. We’ve heard the phrase “servant leader,” and I think most people understand the importance of adopting a service mindset as a leader – that the job of a leader is to serve their employees and create more leaders, not more followers.

The danger, I suppose, in distilling it down to being a “great teammate” is that leaders still have a responsibility to well, lead, to make tough decisions, and to hold employees accountable for their work. Those duties can become challenging if everyone considers you one of the gang.

The notion of a boss as being a great teammate makes me think of one of the world’s worst fictional bosses, Michael Scott from The Office, who so desperately wanted to be liked by his employees that it constantly got in the way of his ability to lead them.

Now, I do agree with the notion that being a great leader has nothing to do with being in charge. There is a difference between being “the boss” and being a true leader. Your position as a boss or manager comes with your job title – it’s your business card label. But true leadership has nothing to do with your job title or what’s on your business card – true leadership is earned. It’s about your character and who you are as a person, not what’s written on your business card.

TWEET THIS: True leadership has nothing to do with your job title or what’s on your business card – true leadership is earned. ~@HumorAtWork #DebbieLaskeysBlog

My thanks to Michael for sharing his workplace and leadership insights and for appearing here on my Blog.

Image Credit: Eugene Golovesov via Unsplash.

Connect with Michael at these links:
Inspiring Workplaces YouTube Channel:  
Twitter: @HumorAtWork
Facebook: /HumorAtWork

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