Employer branding: you can run but you cannot hide

On december 6th, I had the unexpected opportunity to attend the Vlerick Retail Platform session on Employer Branding. I learned some valuable lessons over there, that I’d like to share with you.

Lesson 0: Always be prepared

I found out that the maps application on my cellphone is not an adequate alternative for a real GPS device. Not only is driving and checking your smartphone at the same time very dangerous, it’s also a guarantee to arrive late at your destination.

Lesson 1: Employer branding starts from the inside out

Creating a desirable place to work is the sum of your effort to communicate to existing and future staff. That was the first sheet presented by Gino Van Ossel, Professor Retail Management at Vlerick. It was a call for employers to also spend time and money on internal marketing, to  start talking to their staff. Colruyt,  IKEA, Torfs… these are the classic Belgian examples of brands that can prove they are doing a good job, because their staff is out there, on the internet, telling everybody about their workplace, and defending their employer when under attack. One reason for this, is because these employers keep investing in educating their staff. In times when your client knows as much or more about your product than your sales-persons, this is a major investment to make.

Lesson 2: Leverage your employees’ experience

As a brand, you need your employees on board when you want to move in a new direction. And that was exactly what Michel Delfosse, owner of fashion retailer Bel&Bo, was aware of when re-branding Promo Fashion to Bel&Bo. During his move from a retailer with a bad image to a love brand, Delfosse has listened a lot. It’s clear he has relied a great deal on market research to know exactly which direction he had to take. But not only did he listen to the market, he also listened to his team of 64 store managers, surveying them, calling them to the HQ for days of brainstorming, taking the decisions together with them. The biggest proof of his success, is that to this day, there are still people who do not know that Bel&Bo used to be called Promo Fashion.

Lesson 3: Be clear about what you expect from your employees

Apart from stating that working with his Dutch colleagues has proved to be one of the biggest challenges in his career, Brico’s HR director Julien Chaubet, advocated the need for clearly defined company values and culture. “Do the right thing”, more easily said that done, but it’s the title of Maxeda’s (Brico’s mothership) code of conduct, a booklet with guidelines on how to do business with integrity. And this moral integrity seems to be the core of Chaubet’s HR policy: Straightforward, clearly defined rules on how Brico employees should act, emphasizing teamwork, supporting ambitions, facilitating innovation, and heralding customer centric thinking and decision making. By stating upfront what they expect from their employees, Brico wants to attract the perfect team.

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