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Innovative employer branding | S2 E19

First published: 22 June, 2021

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Innovative employer branding | S2 E19
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Innovative employer branding

In this episode, Craig talks to Farrah Ekeroth about innovative employer branding. Farrah is Employer Brand Lead and Co-Chair of Women’s Network at EY and has driven the development and execution of EY’s employer brand strategy across 18 countries, developing creative campaigns and championing new ways to engage recruitment audiences.

Farrah currently works from home in South London, but for the interview she came into the EY offices in Canary Wharf where things are gradually beginning to open up again after the Covid pandemic. EY are one of the big four professional services organisation with about 300,000 people across 150 countries. One of the biggest misconceptions people have about EY is that they’re just an accounting firm, while that is a large arm of the organisation, they are so much more than that. They have people specialised across tax, management consulting, strategy and transactions as well as colleagues working across the core business services.

Farrah works within the EMEA (Europe, Middle-East and Africa) Financial Services Region where they specialise in serving their financial services clients across 18 countries. Farrah’s role is to lead on EY’s employer branding efforts, to be attracting and retaining that talent within the business.

The rise of employer branding

Employer branding is a topic which is highly relevant when it comes to employee engagement and employee experience but when Farrah started working on this type of marketing seven years ago, it wasn’t quite as mature as it is today. It was very much focussed on the recruitment/attraction side of things and looked at what channels and content to use, in fact they were known as the Social Media Team. This name really didn’t do justice to the real value that employer branding brings to an organisation.

 “When it comes to retaining your people there needs to be harmony with the brand messages that are being put out in the external world and the actual lived experience people have once they enter your organisation.”

You can’t over promise and under deliver as this has a direct impact on whether you retain that talent.

EY have always recognised that they have a brand that’s out there whether they are consciously building and developing it or not. As they have started to move into new areas such as digital and technology, they need to recruit a different skill set to the talent pool they have traditionally used, they need to recruit people with a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) background so there’s a lot of work being done around attracting this new talent. The leadership team recognises that unlike many other industries or sectors EY don’t sell a tangible product, they sell their people, services, their insights and expertise so it’s hugely important that they attract the right talent and use employer branding to help achieve this.

Initiatives to help employer branding

At the heart of EY’s employer branding there has always been the employer value proposition. The learning and development EY offer their people has always been very important and the EY badges and EY Tech MBA are really great examples of some of the more tactical programmes that they’re running.

EY badges

The EY badges programme was launched a few years ago to help recognise that the world of work is moving at pace. While the organisation is bringing in new talent they are also investing in their people and helping them upskill themselves so they can future-proof their careers. The EY badges are essentially digital credentials that cover a number of topics and themes such as technology, purpose, diversity and innovation so there is content in there for everyone regardless of the area of the business that someone is from.

There are different levels of badges so once you have completed a certain number of hours and practical experience, you can earn your bronze badge and then progress up through the three levels. It’s a multi layered programme that’s flexible depending on the person and their other commitments. A lot of work goes into updating the modules and content every four months to make sure it’s relevant.

It’s been a very successful and well received programme across the business and last month they reached the milestone of awarding over 100,000 badges worldwide which shows how popular it has been.

EY Tech MBA

Last year it was recognised that with the new strategy that was rolled out across the business there was a really big focus on technology and digital, so they introduced the EY Tech MBA. Farrah believes it is unique and a first for the industry to offer a MBA programme that is free to all of their EY people regardless of who they are, where they’re from, their rank or country. It was important to EY that everyone had access to executive education. The learning and experiences that they offer through the MBA are no different to those you would get through a traditional MBA programme. People need to complete badges and essays to explain how they’ve applied their learning and also a project which helps to address a business or social impact challenge. The MBA is awarded through collaboration with The Hult International Business School, so it’s recognised externally. The programme is flexible and very future focussed which people have appreciated.

These are two fantastic propositions for any organisation to offer to their people.

Counsellors

EY also uses ‘counsellors’ within the organisation who have a different role to someone’s line manager, they look more holistically at someone’s career. They look at where someone would like to be in 12-18 months and what support they can offer to ensure that they get there. They advocate for and represent people at any discussions around performance and how someone is progressing through the organisation. The counsellor has a really important role in someone’s career, and they recognise the lived experience that their people have at EY. It is also not uncommon to change counsellors as someone’s career progresses as aspirations may change and everyone is very open to it. Farrah herself has had two or three counsellors over the last seven years. Counsellors are provided with a lot of training, so they are aware of the skills and attributes that they need to be exhibiting throughout their relationships with the people they counsel. The counsellors themselves are also really useful communication conduits and change agents and provide an invaluable network within the organisation.

Measuring the impact of the initiatives

Many of these innovative employer branding strategies can take years to fully embed within the organisation and sometimes it can be difficult to see the direct link between the strategies and the impact they’re having on retention and hiring. EY have a number of datapoints and tools that they use across the organisation, for example “Our People Pulse Survey”, which is done at regular points throughout the year. It was previously done on an annual basis but during the last 12 months it’s been done more frequently to gauge how people are feeling and experiencing the organisational culture.

During this survey questions are asked such as:

  • Do we provide an environment where you feel free to be yourself?
  • Are we meeting your learning and development expectations?
  • Do we give you the flexibility to balance your work and personal commitments?

It was through the data acquired via the surveys that they realised their people were looking for more tailored learning and development offerings and the response was to offer EY Badges and EY Tech MBA.

The survey also helps to assess if there are areas of the employee experience that are being done well such as equality and diversity and learning and development, but it also highlights areas where there might be gaps. One area highlighted recently is for more work around mental health and many organisations have found this particularly in response to the Covid 19 pandemic.

Another way to measure the impact is to look at the numbers of people taking up the learning and development programmes. It’s also possible to see which areas of the business the badges are popular in, and which areas of the business may need more support.

The role internal communicators play in building the employer brand

Farrah has found a lot of value by collaborating closely with the communication and engagement teams. When she first joined EY she was amazed at the number of different programmes, events, initiatives and campaigns that were being run internally within the business, but they weren’t being communicated into the external space. This felt like a missed opportunity as potential new recruits would be even more excited about becoming part of the brand if they knew about these initiatives.

Over the years Farrah has had more conversations and worked more closely with the communications and engagement teams and they have regular check-ins to find out what is happening across the 18 countries that EY operates in. There are often fantastic local initiatives taking place that Farrah might not be aware of, so the comms and engagement team are the eyes and ears on the ground and keep Farah informed of the various campaigns that are running. For example in Ireland they have a fantastic well-being programme where people benefit from x,y and z, so there are stories here that can be crafted and repurposed for EY’s external audiences which could be on the careers website or social media for example.

For employer branding, EY have a strategy around employer advocacy (which is a topic that has been covered in a previous podcast – Employee advocacy and pride | S2 E1 ) and the role their people have in telling their brand story externally. They wouldn’t have been able to launch this programme if it wasn’t for the communication and engagement teams as they knew the people they needed to get onboard across the various countries to spread the word organically. They were really helpful in identifying individuals and stories that could be featured across the external marketing.

Personally, Farrah is in awe of some of the communications her colleagues create internally, she learns a lot from reading the materials they produce as they are wonderful storytellers and know how to produce beautiful copy and design. Often this can be taken and easily shared in the external marketplace. She says “the communications and engagement teams are one of the key stakeholders across the wider EY hierarchy”.

Farrah says that at EY they recognise as an employer brand that when someone joins the organisation, they’re not always going to stay with them, they may go on and even join some of EY’s clients. Interestingly EY has a wide community of “boomerangs”, where people do come back so it’s important to think about your alumni in your employer branding as this also has a role to play within your retention. It’s important that you’re providing this good experience as ultimately some of this talent may go on to work for EY’s clients, so you want your people to advocate for your organisation.

Useful links

https://www.linkedin.com/in/farrahekeroth

FarrahEkeroth (Personal Twitter)

ey.com/en_gl/careers  (Careers at EY)

instagram.com/eyfsocareers/  (Instagram)

twitter.com/EY_CareersFS  (EY Twitter)

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