Creating a strong employer brand
In this interview Craig Smith talks to Anna Kilmurray about creating a strong employer brand. Anna is Chief People Officer at ClearScore which is one of the most exciting growth scale-ups in Europe and she is based in Barcelona. Anna was one of the first six employees at ClearScore and they now employ over 200 people.
Prior to working at ClearScore Anna’s career was mainly in senior marketing roles and we will explore the transition from marketing to CPO later in the conversation.
Anna describes ClearScore’s mission as helping millions of people around the world to get better access to financial services and to make finances easier and simpler to understand. When Anna joined Clearscore in 2015 what she loved about the company was its audacity about this mission which was set out right from the start. Finances are really complex and people find them daunting or boring. Anna thinks they are one of the most important things we need to deal with as they affect so many things such as quality of life and choices. Anna says
“I love the goal of trying to simplify and make finances better for ordinary people”
From the beginning the ambition for ClearScore was to take this mission around the world, they have built the brand from nothing and now have over 13 million fully registered users. They also have 30% spontaneous brand awareness which as Anna says is incredible. She is really proud of the way the design team demonstrate so much passion, the product teams use their skills and thoughtfulness, the quality of engineering choices that the tech teams are making and the overall ability to move quickly. ClearScore have now reached a size where they can influence the industry and create better products for their users.
How to get to CPO from a marketing background
Craig asks Anna about her experience of moving from a successful career in marketing to CPO and she agrees it’s an interested and unexpected path. Prior to joining ClearScore Anna had 15 years’ experience in marketing, brands and CRM so Anna’s initial responsibility when she joined ClearScore was to set up the marketing team. She spent the first few years building up the brand by establishing clear messaging, setting up internal marketing channels and creating personalised CRM for their users. They launched ClearScore into two more markets during that time and Anna was involved in the creation of a product called ‘Coaching’ which is a personalised chat feature for checking your credit score when you make a financial decision.
Anna says this whole experience was an intense and exciting period of her career. During a period of maternity leave Anna spent some time reflecting on her choices and deliberating where she was spending her energy, which is something she has done at various points throughout her career. Anna spoke to her CEO about doing something to broaden her exposure and her experience and together they came up with the idea of her pivoting and taking on the role of Chief People Officer.
Anna loved the idea as it was something outside of her personal comfort zone and also an area she is hugely passionate about and which she spends her free time reading and learning about. It gave Anna the energy to come back with a new remit and she is able to rely on her team of professionals with the relevant skill sets and experience.
People potential and performance
Within ClearScore rather than using the term HR they describe it as ‘people potential and perfomance’. Just as marketing and product teams tend to think about the users, Anna’s users are the employees and that is who she focusses on.
Her first priority is to understand who the employees are:
- What do they care about?
- What do they think?
- What segments exist?
Secondly, she thinks about her product, which in this case is ‘ClearScore the employer of people’:
- What’s great about ClearScore as an employer?
- What’s less good?
- What’s our unique selling point?
It’s also about understanding the culture, which as Anna has been involved with the company for several years she knows really well.
Thirdly she focusses on the market they’re operating in:
- Who are we competing against for talent?
- What are other employers doing in this space?
- How are we positioned next to them?
- How does what we offer stack up
Conceptually there is quite a lot of overlap and programme development is about building the employer product with some new features. One thing is developing these features really well and the second thing is communicating them which as Anna says goes back to the bread and butter of marketing and where she feels more comfortable.
How to go about creating a strong employer brand
Anna is really proud of the culture and environment at ClearScore and the purpose behind what they’re doing. This is tracked as part of their engagement survey and belonging had a score of 80% which is a great signifier of their work. They’ve cultivated a high trust environment and many of the leadership team have role modelled vulnerability and openness. This has unlocked permission for other people to do the same and through this cultivate a motivated, intelligent and thoughtful workforce. This then leads to more reinforcement, for example some of the employees developed a mental health ambassadors programme and ran this independently to help people with their mental wellbeing. This led to people managing their mental health proactively and feeling more of a connection with the people that they worked with. Clearscore’s CEO is very open about their mental health journey and this has helped to normalise the challenges people face and create trusting relationships. As Anna says
“The energy that we put into work is a finite resource so it’s important that people feel they can be themselves and they don’t have to expend energy creating a work self.”
This then leaves energy for work or family or whatever else people are dedicated to. This is something that ClearScore feel passionately about and has been considered throughout the building of the company. Tech start-ups often have a reputation for being ‘work hard, play hard’ employers so it’s important to get the right balance.
How to make sure your employees are the right cultural fit
Getting employees who are the right cultural fit is a challenge for any organisation and something ClearScore have had difficulties with in the past. They have been on a journey with recruitment and no longer have a cultural fit part in their interview, instead they have evolved to look at culture build rather than culture fit. For example, can people bring new perspectives and new ideas to the company? They also look for ClearScore behaviours, which are a bit like the rules of the game and have moved away from types of personality to types of behaviour. How well these behaviours resonate with people is tested very carefully during the interview which is a two-way process. It’s about trying to find the right fit on both sides and about finding someone who is going to come in and succeed and love the environment that’s been created. It is probably one of the most important things that the managers can do to create great teams and bring talent into the company.
Connecting to customers
At ClearScore, teams are focussed on building the app (there’s also a website version of it) and the experience customers derive from it. They concentrate on how to create calmness when you’re making a financial decision and how to use beautiful design to lay out clear information. ClearScore also connect customers to products so there is an element of retail too, for example if you want a home loan ClearScore can direct you to loans that are right for you based on data you have given them. These products are provided by partner companies and it’s important that the customer’s experience is as good with these partner companies as with ClearScore as any problem reflects directly on ClearScore. It is therefore important that ClearScore take a lot of time working with partners who are innovative, obsess about the customer experience as much as they do and make the experience seamless for the user. It is especially important if a customer is rejected for a product that this is done in a way that is a as painless as possible. Advertising and sponsorship are also important touchpoints and where customers may see the ClearScore brand and form opinions about the brand.
Helping employees to see how they affect the customer experience
Scaling quickly has helped ClearScore become a huge channel for their partners who they work really closely with. The best partners have the same mindset as ClearScore and their engineering teams will work together on the end-to-end experience. This provides a more fulfilling experience for their employees and helps them take ownership of the whole process while working to the best solution.
Maintaining the strong employer brand during growth
Maintaining the employer brand is a big challenge for companies as they go through this phase growth and you can’t take it for granted that it will just happen. Anna says she uses Dan Pink’s work around what drives and motivates us. He talks about mastery, purpose and autonomy and Anna uses this in the programmes they are developing to deepen their strengths in those core areas while driving the performance of the company. What this looks like at different stages naturally evolves so it’s important they stay clear on what their people care about and what their purpose is through the different stages. There also needs to be flexibility around the ability to shape your career and your learning journey. All of these things help in creating a strong employer brand.
The experience of joining a company of under 50 employees (where, to a certain extent, you have to be a jack of all trades) is very different to a larger organisation where there’s more specialisation. It also becomes more interesting with all the data points generated, personalisation, open banking etc but this may not appeal to everyone so it’s important to recognise this may not suit the employees who started at the beginning of the journey.
Central to the employee experience, you have to put people’s personal potential and their holistic wellbeing firmly in the picture and it’s important to think how this will continue at scale. This is quite a challenge but also one that is manageable. Also investing in building on the goal of making a positive difference in this industry gets more exciting as the company gets bigger. Clearscore have a really ambitious diversity and inclusion strategy which is in service for the financial wellbeing for everyone goal.
The final thing is to continue to use performance management to make sure employees are all developing and pulling in the same direction which is critical.