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What is a Human-Centric Employer Brand? An SME Perspective

For the second instalment in the signature event series,Conversations with Impact, we're unpacking what it means to create a truly authentic, human-centric employer brand.

We recently sat down with our keynote speaker Meaghan O'Brien, Employer Brand Leader at Canadian Tire Corporation, to find out more about her professional journey, her passion for stories, and the importance of crafting a human-centric employer brand.

Allison: Can you share a little bit about your professional journey up to now?

Meaghan: Absolutely. I’ve had quite a nonlinear career path and background. Out of university, I started as a journalist, which is where I found a love of listening to stories. My experience in brand marketing began when I worked as a Project Manager in recruitment marketing and communications at Bow Valley College in Calgary. From there, I stayed in the post-secondary field. I liked hearing stories about student growth through school and breaking into their careers. From there, I took a complete turn from the post-secondary field and moved into financial services, which is where I eventually became an Employer Brand leader. The timing of my move into Employer Brand is interesting because it was during COVID – a time when you could be more authentic and empathetic. It was really the jumping-off point where people and companies could be more humanized in their brand marketing approach.

People were going through a lot, and everyone was essentially experiencing much of the same things in life: balancing work with child-care or elder-care responsibilities, pivots in work accountabilities, isolation, job loss, you name it. It was a very stressful time and I think that people learned to resonate and relate to one another more. From there, I found myself in another new industry, retail, now leading Employer Brand at Canadian Tire Corporation.

A: Can you tell us a bit about the different projects and initiatives you lead as an Employer Brander?

M: Every single day is completely different. I wear many different hats and partner with so many areas of the business to showcase our brand, including our Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging team, Communications and Brand and Marketing to name a few. One day I may be working with my team around building an integrated campaign strategy for peak recruitment for our retail banner stores. The next day, I may be collaborating with teams on what it’s like to bring our Sherwood hockey products and brand to market, showcasing our people’s pride in being part of changing landscape of hockey. This past spring, we launched our that we're doing specifically around a recruitment demand, and the next day we might be working on an integrated campaign - this past Spring we actually launched our There's a Place For You Here campaign, which was our kick-off to employer brand at Canadian Tire. Lots of very fulfilling work went into the development of the “hero video,” which is the anchor to the campaign. Much of the work leading up to developing that finished product was learning about our people's stories, coaching them through how to share their stories, and partnering with our videographer, photographer, copywriter, and cross-functional teams to bring the piece to life.

A: What would you say are the most enjoyable aspects of the role but also the most challenging?

M: The most enjoyable aspects are the stories and understanding that our employees have a personal tie to the company, whether it's from just working at the company or visiting one of our stores as a child In my role, I place a strong emphasis on fostering a human-centric employer brand that encourages individuals to openly share their stories. Everyone’s journey holds value and deserves to be heard. We recognize the power of collective storytelling, as it is through these shared experiences that we shape the identity of the brand. Whether it's reminiscing about childhood memories, embracing the challenges of being a newcomer, or reflecting on the transformative university or early career years, we cherish and celebrate these experiences.

The most challenging aspect, especially early in the development of the function, is showing the return on investment and value. A huge part of that is demonstrating even anecdotal value to garner buy-in from the business. To overcome this challenge, it’s important to identify the right metrics and how the data will be collected. Over the last two years, we’ve seen great buy-in – I am proud to see the lift in engagement, the increase in advocacy, and the challenge in and of itself of the increased demand we’ve created. It’s so rewarding to hear the acknowledgment from candidates of our shift to a more “always-on” employer brand in the market.

A: Have you seen a shift in how people have communicated their employer brand over the years?

M: Yes, I would say so. There's a high volume of retailers having a bigger, louder voice on social media with bold, authentic messages and stories from their people. Some that come to mind that do a really great job are Sephora, Home Depot and H&M. And I think there's been another shift in the last several months where people are becoming even more comfortable sharing personal anecdotes organically on their own social channels about their employee experience and how their experiences may positively impact their personal lives.

In my role, I’ve seen a very positive increase in advocacy and engagement. We spent time educating how to share stories and really encouraging that the talent audience is keen to hear exciting anecdotes that you wouldn’t otherwise have a glimmer of without having an inside look at the culture firsthand. Now folks are approaching us eager to tell their stories and recognize members of their team. It’s an exciting time!

A: What do you think is the Executive Leadership's responsibility in crafting an employer brand versus the employees?

M: Leaders are responsible for setting that culture. They play a huge role in setting the tone for what it's like to work at the company and ensuring employees feel they belong by championing programs and initiatives that align with what people are saying. When it comes to benefits such as flex days, employee resource groups to provide meaningful experiences, and other incentives, we look up to leaders to be advocates of that.

Furthermore, when it comes to a company defining what its core values are, it's important to identify your core values as defined by your people. Then, as our leaders are walking the talk, employees also feel proud and inspired to do the same.

A: What do you think it takes to achieve a truly human centric employer brand?

M: It's about finding people with compelling stories that align with your core values, that align with what you know your employee value proposition to be, and giving guidance to them on how to tell their story and what talent truly wants to hear. For this reason, it's important to craft an employee value proposition where you have done your research, conducted a road show, and met with folks from different business units, functions and levels. You've facilitated focus groups and have really learned what people are saying.

I believe you can't truly have an employer brand without an employee value proposition. And you certainly, in my opinion, cannot develop an employee value proposition that's based on assumptions. A ton of research needs to be done. That’s the starting point; that’s where you really learn the true EVP.

A: And what do you see as some of the advantages to ensuring an 'authentic, human-centred' employer brand?

M: People want to work at a place where other people have similar stories to theirs and where they feel as though they truly belong. It's being yourself and bringing your passions to work, knowing you'll be respected for it. Being true to who you are.

A: And last question. In your experience, what are some of the challenges faced in bringing an employer brand from strategy to action and how can these challenges be avoided or overcome?

M: The biggest challenge is focus and trying not to do it all. It’s a very challenging talent market. It’s about balancing the priorities of recruitment, both proactive and reactive, as well as maintaining a consistent, “always-on” approach to your employer brand.

To stay focused, know up front what your strategy is and how you’re going to execute it. Maybe even consider key themes, but always lean into what differentiates you from your competitors. What makes you unique is that you focus on quality over quantity. Also, ensure you understand what your talent strategy is and what objectives you need to hit; everything should ladder up to that.

Don't miss Meaghan's keynote at the next Conversations with Impact. Grab your tickets here!

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