Communicate Magazine Webinar: How can companies foster belonging and build their employer brand?

It’s great to see the whole theme of ‘belonging’ being taken up more widely. Last week Communicate magazine and Glassdoor hosted a webinar ‘How can companies foster belonging and build their employer brands?’

The event was hosted by Andrew Thomas, Publisher of Communicate magazine and Stephen Williams, Client Relationship Director.

All the participants shared strong case studies (more detail below).

Glassdoor set out the commercial case for culture, and close involvement of employees, looking at how employee advocacy creates strong brands and retains top talent.

Stephen Williams, Client Relationship Director:
“Satisfied employees are engaged employees; internal trust turns into trust with customers”

Fitness First’s case study emphasised the need for common values, relating strategy to employer brand in a way that’s distinct from others in your field – and to make an international business feel like one team.

Niall Cluley, Global HR Director:
“Focussing on our EVP has massively changed our management culture”

The Crown Estates, well respected for their depth of work in sustainability, showed how powerful a sense of belonging can be when it promotes shared commitment to purpose and ethos.

Urvashi Desai, Strategic HR Business Partner:
Conscious commercialism’ really brings people together and helps them connect. What matters most is an idea – and encouraging ideas to come from many different people. You get a more complete contribution from people.”

BMW looked at reinvigorating a strong employer brand with renewed focus around values, as well as promoting collaboration with new environment design, particularly to meet the needs of Millennial generation employees.

Sarah Baxter, Employee engagement Manager:
“People are more likely to enjoy what they’re doing if they can shape what they’re doing.

Measuring effectiveness?
It’s clear that measurement remains the hard challenge. Surveys can only go so far, there’s a limit to the depth from quick, quantitative answers, and culture is such a wide-reaching influence.

“We’re on our journey with this, measuring through engagement surveys, how managers enable this to happen, and the outcomes we get”

“Measuring is really hard, but you feel the energy and the culture”

And Sarah
“Our cultural survey each quarter shows we are continually moving the needle on this, making progress – but measurement might be hard with this one, you can kind of feel it.”

This is a tricky challenge that we’ve addressed recently with our Belonging Litmus Test. We’ve identified the parameters of belonging, so you can turn what people feel into feedback that is measurable and trackable.

Communicate Magazine and Glassdoor’s webinar showcased three companies that have gone to considerable lengths to strengthen culture, all with a strong sense of belonging.

Glassdoor have just launched their e-book ‘The DNA of Glassdoor’s best places to work’ 

 The participants’ case studies in a bit more detail:

 Stephen Williams, Client Relationship Director – Glassdoor, opened by setting up the theme of the session: is there a close relationship between a strong sense of belonging and a strong brand?

Glassdoor see that satisfied employees are engaged employees; internal trust turns into trust with customers, which turns into sales and profit, and a sustainable reputation.

Stephen stressed the power of employee advocacy, quoting Denise Holt, CEO, Collaborative Inc.

“When employees share content it receives 5-10% amplification rate than brand-shared content”

Stephen asked three practical questions that are a great way to get an idea of how your company’s employees see you, and whether they are advocates:

– Would current employees recommend you to a friend?
– What are your employees saying about you on social media?
– What is your current rating on Glassdoor?

In case any business leaders question the importance of a sense of belonging to commercial success, Stephen quoted Deloitte’s research findings:

“82% of leaders believe company culture gives them a competitive advantage”
(Deloitte: 2015 Human Capital Trends).


Niall Cluley, Global HR Director – Fitness First, recommended “Get your purpose and values in place first, then go into the change process”

Fitness First ran 8/9 workshops including every part of the business, across the globe, to involve people in the values definition. They included a mixture of roles, not just senior people.

Neil says:
“It was an engaged process, very much connecting people across the business. 80/90% of our team are front line in our clubs. We wanted to hear from them, the best and worst bits of today, a shared blueprint of the future. We asked how to bring things to life, what support it would need. Our marketing team then took that on and refined it”

They developed an inspirational campaign – ‘One team’ – that really connected people around the world.

“Then we got employer brand proposition in order. Our markets bring the campaign to life in different ways, depending on their focus: eg attraction, retention or development of staff.”

“It was worthwhile and rewarding: It helped us move from a workforce that (as people in our field tend to be) is all about sport and fitness, to a workforce that’s about what we can do for our clients, AND passionate about sport and fitness”

This runs through the lines on posters and collateral.

“Our people promise:
At Fitness First you’ll enjoy all the support you need to turn doing what you love into a worthwhile and rewarding career”

“Be inspirational:
Do what you love and do it brilliantly. Get more out of every day. Touch lives. Change things for the better. Make a difference to the people around you, and enjoy the opportunities to make the most of your skills in return.

Aim higher and be the best you can be”

Niall stressed this was a
“business-enabling strategy, to link from employer brand and people strategy to business strategy”.

The pulled this together into a
“very simple one-pager. Every employee can understand what to contribute and expect”

 This case study was described more in terms of ‘Employer brand’ or ‘Employer value proposition’ than ‘belonging’ – but clearly Fitness First’s approach is about invitation not instruction. In a sector that tends to have a high staff turnover, especially in the front-line, it’ll be great to see if Fitness First can encourage greater loyalty with their new approach. Then they will have harnessed some of the power of belonging to sustain the business longer term.


Urvashi Desai, Strategic HR Business Partner – The Crown Estate

The Crown Estate is an independent commercial business created by Act of Parliament.

Urvashi set out the company’s principles: “Conscious commercialism defines our approach to business”

With Net profit 2015/16 at £304.1m, and capital value at £12.9billion this is a powerful commercial force. And 100% of profits go to HM Treasury, for our collective benefit.

“Conscious commercialism” is a strong ethos. It’s big promise that holds up to scrutiny. It’s an assiduous approach, carefully worked into all aspects of the business over recent years. Urvashi explained that it’s not a trade-off between business and belief:

“The first point is that we are a commercial business first and foremost and we never forget that.

We are obliged to hit our targets for UK treasury and for our public responsibility

But with our strong sense of history, ‘Conscious commercialism’ really brings people together and helps them connect.”

Urvashi showed that the three strands of the business promise form a powerful internal sense of purpose:

–       Be a commercially successful business
–       Be a sustainable and responsible business
–       Put people and customers at the heart of our business

This is complemented with the ethos for employees in ‘Our Behaviours’. The expression is deep and thorough. The emphasis is on ‘what we do and how we behave’, with an indication of the outcomes as a result. For example:

“We are enterprising in how we create value, agile and considered in how we do business”

“We do what we say and tackle our work with spirit and commitment, empowering ourselves and others”

This goes much further much deeper than the usual laundry list, from so many companies, of ‘our values’. Shared accountability is built into the statements, and into the responsibilities in daily business practice.

No glib words here: these are promises that employees can commit to. The Crown Estate has given its own people something to believe in.


Sarah Baxter, Employee engagement Manager – BMW

BMW’s case study is about how people helped to create the solution, rather than top down, encouraging more collaboration, the opportunity to be themselves at work, as part of the BMW family.

Sarah explained that the business was going through a lot of change all at one time – structure, moving offices, encouraging greater collaboration.

They decided this was a good point to develop a different internal employer brand from the eternal brand. Why change?

“A couple of years before we tried to launch values and we failed, had great learning about how not to do it. We got senior people together and asked them about values and then launched them: and no-one could remember them!”

“We found people wanted more dynamism and fun in the workplace. The attributes that had served us well 80s and 90s might become an Achilles Heel now.

 We see how fast the world is changing, Interconnectivity at a pace we could not have predicted. The Millennial generation is having a big impact, younger people want to connect differently, not rely on hierarchy, they are energised by making it up themselves, having more flexibility.”

At the same time BMW created a new environment – and that has helped bring about a culture change. Bringing people together from three separate locations onto a new campus, they took advantage of mixing people together and encouraging a sense of movement between them.

The process involved people in setting out what the company could achieve, and what people wanted to change, in the new environment.

The feedback enriched the strategy that had already highlighted key areas for attention. “Inspired by our products, people wanted to be able to shape our future”

People wanted to be more individual, the company wanted to greater diversity – not just about gender or heritage, but also diversity of thinking. So an important goal was to encourage people to bring their whole self to work.

The company wanted, to increase innovation, to make it a culture of learning, at a faster pace; people wanted to feel more opportunity for creativity in the day to day workplace.

BMW knew an engaged employee is more likely to give discretionary effort. Employees wanted to create a sense of community – not just a ‘workplace’. The new building creates many spaces for interaction, for different kinds of meetings, for easy-interchange between people who may not previously have had the chance to get together. This has already helped to foster a stronger sense of belonging – and to fast-track innovation, cross-fertilisation of ideas, solve problems, forge new alliances.

“People are more likely to enjoy what they’re doing if they can shape what they’re doing. The company was passionate to make the most of the talent that we have, by including everybody and encouraging collaboration.”

Another key strategic goal: “Everything we do should ultimately help the customer”

The spirit of the new culture, the emotional connection of a more individualised organization, the physical change to the new environment, and the focus on supporting customers – all came together in the theme

“What moves you”

Sarah shared a great example of the move from a traditional ‘controlling’ culture to a more ‘empowering’ one.

“We ripped up 60-page long dress code policy and told people to come dressed in whatever way is appropriate for their audience that day: to be themselves

Managers have had to learn how to lead in a very different way

Sarah added a practical note of caution that there’s no easy outcomes with culture

“Just because we’ve done this doesn’t mean the culture has changed… we’re constantly looking at this”

Communicate Magazine webinar

If you’re looking to reshape your culture for this generation, we’d love to be involved. Give us a call to chat through where to start.