Employer Branding: A President’s Perspective on a Top-Down, Bottom-Up Approach for Deeper Employee Engagement

Ryan Rieches talks with client Jason Chau, President of Emtek, about the importance, power, and pride of Employer Branding and Employee Engagement.


Episode Transcript

Welcome to Expert Opinion, the branding business forum, where leaders share their views, insights, and experiences from the world of B2B branding. And now, here’s your host.

Ryan: Welcome to Expert Opinion. I’m Ryan Rieches and today’s show is focused on the topic of employer branding and employee engagement. A movement that is gaining a lot of momentum over the last few years. And today’s guest is Jason Chau, CEO of Emtek, an industry leader in upscale door and cabinet hardware. Jason, welcome to Expert Opinion. Thanks for being our guest today.

Jason: Oh, thanks Ryan for having me. Glad to be on the show.

Ryan: Well for the benefit of our listeners, here’s a little background of our relationship. BrandingBusiness had the opportunity to work with Jason and his leadership team and evolve Emtek’s customer-focus brand, which injected new energy and differentiation into the brand promise and image. Now with that success, it was time to focus on the internal brand and clarify the value proposition for the existing team, celebrating Emtek’s unique culture, and retaining and attracting the best and brightest employees.

So for our listeners, if you’re interested or considering an internal or employer branding program, I think you’ll find some great insights from Jason’s comments. We’ve done this quite a few times over the last 20 years. We’re passionate about building employer brands. And our experience tells us that for a company to realize success, there must be a passionate leader who involves their cross-functional leadership team. Well Jason, you’re that leader and so I’m curious, what were you hoping to get out of this employer branding initiative?

Jason: You mentioned the word passionate. I am indeed very passionate about this project. And the question you asked is what did I expect to get out of this project? It was an interesting time. I believe that we started this about a year or so ago. It’s after we did an external branding refresh record, and it was still during the time of the pandemic. You probably know in our industry or in many industries that we face significant challenges in terms of recruitment or in terms of retaining talent, so we are hopeful that through this, I call exercise, or employer branding initiative that we’re able to really identify ourselves better to hopefully (with the outcome of the project) not just only attract more new employees, but also the ability to retain them. So to achieve the goal of minimizing turnover. That was what we intended to get out of the initiative.

Ryan: Oh fantastic. Well you mentioned the passionate component of this, to be able to get the information that we needed to help us guide the recommendations around an employer branding value proposition. We very much believe in an inclusive process. And I know you do as well. We call both top-down, in other words, employees expect leadership to provide top down direction. But also bottom-up in the sense that leadership, it really finds value in being able to get input from the rest of the organization from all different departments.

In terms of the process, I really like how we included your leadership team. We developed employee surveys, leadership surveys, focus groups, all, of course, leading to the input we needed in order to rewrite and evolve and develop the guiding statements, the value proposition, developing a name to package this entire initiative around. And ultimately leading to, of course, all the communication materials and website and then a very important component, the training of your management team. So this became their value proposition, not an outside firm.

So, Jason, as you mentioned, we spent almost a year together developing this and rolling it out, and together with your leadership team, everybody was completely bought in. We would have workshops where I think that we had 10 to 12 people and religiously everyone showed up. You’ve now shared it with all your employees. So maybe you can just share with us just a little bit of your view of the process and what your experience was of going through that process.

Jason: When we started, I actually didn’t know what to expect. But I think that we got the process pretty much to what was needed, I would call it. And you mentioned the top-down, I think it is extremely important. We got all the leadership or executive team to buy in, and they’re all passionate and believe in the process or the need of doing that, which I think we are fortunate that all the leaders are pretty much on board, and they were all very passionate, excited when we started. We all felt like the direction was the right one.

In terms of the involvement of the employees, I personally believe this employee-brand process must truly reflect our brand, with our real culture, the values, and also the work environment of the organization. So you mentioned the word inclusion, and that’s really, really important to us. Even though internally we might know, we sense that, but through the process when we engage employees and doing this interview and breaking it down to different workshops, that is really a good thing for the employer, for us, to signal. We’re not just talking about inclusion, but we’re actually acting on it. So, to me, that process from the top-down or the bottom-up truly reflects what we are as an organization.

Ryan: And can I just build upon that? Both the process and then components of that is that in order for this thing to really work, and it must feel authentic, and it can’t be manufactured, we like to say that we build it from within. And really, that information that we gain from the employees of how they view Emtek as an employer of choice is really, really important. As we spoke, you and your leadership team set direction, but it’s really your employees who are day-to-day living the brand. And in many cases, that’s the ultimate result. And just speaking about the employees, one thing that stood out for me in the process was the incredible pride the employees take in their work, the craftsmanship behind it. And I think it really was a bit of a driving force on how we developed your brand purpose or your why statement was how the employees relate and live that brand promise.

We developed it, but we didn’t really share it with everybody yet. But through the process, we started to test it with the employees. And as you know, your brand purpose statement is combining function and fashion to personalize a house into a home. And we found that the employees’ eyes lit up because they found that’s what I do. I find tremendous value in doing just that. And when they see products in their friends’ homes and those type of things, they just get excited about it. So maybe you can just share your viewpoint on how these statements of purpose, vision, mission and values are utilized at Emtek.

Jason: Well that’s a good point. I think when you talked about purpose, mission and value before we went into the workshop, most of the people probably had some idea. Again, we never formalized it before. Through this process, we started with the external branding, but we brought those external branding; purpose, vision, mission values, to that internal branding. And now when we talk about and discuss this, one of the things that I think is important to me is how important these things are. And at the same time, it’s not just about the leadership, it’s really about the whole organization.

So we’re able to spread the word and talk about really why. What’s the purpose of the company? And in this case, we are a premium door hardware company. So why do we exist? So, the why is really what resonates when you mention authenticity and the pride. Once we state the why, however obvious it is, it really serves a big function there. And at the same time, you mentioned vision, mission, and value. To me, as we learn that it is basically about the vision, really where the direction of the company would be. And usually, with the direction of the company that is clearly set and clearly stated, it can help to inspire and motivate employees. Because now they know better of where the share goes and they would inspire better teamwork towards that goal.

So I think setting that vision is very important. And the mission is about how we achieve it. How we do it. Now again, we might have some idea (some of the leadership or managers), but once we state, basically, I call the four pillars of the mission statement. Now it’s clearer, so we’re a company about design, about providing the best user experience and also more personalized options and delivering in a shorter time. These are the four things that we clearly stated that define the success or the principle of the mission to achieve our vision. So, to have them line up like that in a simple statement, it also helps. That helps not just with defining the company, but also bringing the sense of belonging and commitment to the employee.

So overall, I will call it to better identify what the employer brand is with the purpose, vision, and mission statements. And also, I’m missing the part about value. The value is how the people’s behavior will be like to help achieve the purpose, vision, and mission. And all it is about is getting the authenticity, knowing who we are and having that identity to the people who don’t know what we stand for in a process and that outcome would increase motivation, engaging more employees. Certainly improve the trust, in a lot of cases, loyalty.

So, when you mentioned the word pride, we have a lot of employees here who have a long tenure. Some of them easily over 10 years. And a sense of pride in the past has just come to the office, come to the factory, work on a day-to-day basis. But after we do this, when we talk and interview with them now, they have an even clearer signal, a clearer idea of why they’re so proud of the company. I think it’s really good, really helpful for us as an organization to be successful in the long haul.

Ryan: Well fantastic. As you mentioned, each of those statements have their own unique purpose and they’re written in nice, short, concise ways so they can be memorable. And each one together tells a much bigger story. And what we find is that the employees really find tremendous value in hearing these statements because then they understand where the company’s going, how they fit in, how they can have an impact, and it starts to become much clearer for them. And one thing we also learned through the research was the longevity, as you mentioned. And that so many of the newer employees were referred to the organization by their friends or their family members who are already employees, which says a lot. Because if you don’t like the place you work, you’re not going to refer your family or friends. And it was just fantastic to see the kind of family atmosphere that you’ve developed at Emtek.

And well kind of speaking on that, after we developed Emtek’s unique story and the statements we just spoke of, it was time to bring it to life in the communication materials, posters, video, credo card where everyone has this card that tells what the values are, what the guiding statements are. And in that process of developing the materials, we recommended using your actual team members in the photo shoot and video shoot rather than stock photos. And we find that that creates a much more authentic representation of the brand. And once again, brought forth that pride associated with being featured. So now that that’s been completed and the materials are out there, what kind of comments have you been receiving either from leadership and/or other team members?

Jason: Well Ryan, nothing but positive. I think the idea of using “real employees” instead of models, we all believe the authenticity or how important that is. It really adds to the authentic representation of our workforce. So, when our employees look at the posters and videos and print material that have their peers on it or themselves in it, they just feel much more related to what’s going on. It’s not about some stock photos or some other people, third party sending us a message, but actually, we are in this environment. So I think that’s very positive. And also we have excellent direction and excellent logistics of producing these items. I mean Ryan, nothing but positive comments or feedback towards every one of the deliverables that we’ve seen so far. So it’s very positive.

Ryan: Good and as you know, we developed a theme, a name of the program to tie it together. So all communications that the employees receive know it’s related to this initiative of employee communications for the existing employees, as well as for the new employees. And that theme was titled Emtek, Better Together. And that was unveiled at your launch event recently. You kindly gave away t-shirts and other swag items and so forth. Maybe you could just talk a little bit about the launch event and the kind of comments you got back from the employees at that event.

Jason: We have an annual picnic event almost every year…it’s called the annual picnic event. Obviously, it’s on an annual basis with the exception of during the pandemic for the known reason. And this year, which just happened a couple months ago, we had the opportunity to integrate the employer brand launch with the picnic. Again, it was a very successful event. We had over a thousand people with their associates and their family members joining the picnic and joining the launch. The atmosphere was great. It’s really good to see all of the employees from different departments or from different functions and assuming different roles come together. Not in an office setting, not in the factory setting, but in a lot more relaxed setting.

A lot of them were able to see the banners and the posters with the new branding of Emtek and also the message Better Together. We had live music, we had a raffle and lawn games on that day. The atmosphere was great. The chance of people getting to know each other and together knowing what the employee or an employer brand stands for. I think that was a very effective and engaging event. Our team did an excellent job organizing it, and the launch timing could not have been better.

Ryan: Well, it sounds like a great event, and we always recommend to make it a big deal, make a big deal about the launch. But as we know, an event comes and goes, but the key to success here of an initiative like this is continuity, consistent and constant communications and also for the leaders to live the values. So how do you keep this program alive?

Jason: Back to the original intent, we do need to call on the leadership team to start. And as you mentioned, it’s not just starting and forgetting about it a few months later. It is important that we continue to share the belief that is good for employees and also good for the company. I think what’s probably important is the spirit of that need to continue. But in terms of the actual mechanism to keep it alive, we do believe that we need to have a regular reveal, regular updates of the brand messages within different departments in the organization. Probably most of these messages or I should say training centers would be organized by HR function. But it’s also important for the managers of different departments to understand the need and how important it is that we continue to reveal and continue to spread the word of these brand messages.

Ryan: I think that’s great feedback for others listening. So now that it’s been, as you mentioned, took almost a year through the process because it was so inclusive and took a while to launch it, of course as well. Now that it’s been out there, I’m just curious as CEO, the leader of this, how does it make you feel?

Jason: Well, I feel great. I feel very proud. I also feel from my communications standpoint internally and also externally to customers, to vendors, now I can always go back to this vision, mission and value statements. Or I can share stories around this. So it’s actually a lot more effective communication for myself personally. And also I think the employees, as I said earlier, they feel a lot more engaged. They feel like there’s a lot clearer direction of the company. They have nothing but positive things to say about this initiative.

Ryan: Well, I only have one final question for you, Jason. And that is if you could offer advice to another CEO who’s listening or their leadership team on this topic of employer branding, what advice would you offer?

Jason: I would say do it faster. Do it earlier than later. And I would say also the key is authenticity, as we mentioned. Also for the leader of the organization or the CEO, it is very important that you or any CEO believe in it. Believe and be passionate about this thing. It’s not some program or some sales program, really care about the employee, the people, and truly care about the direction of the company. So I would say believing and authenticity are most important. I encourage all CEOs listening to this and believing in this branding message. Just go sooner than later, because you will soon feel the impact and how effective this initiative’s going to be.

Ryan: I think that’s terrific advice, Jason. Yeah, as we spoke earlier, we are typically brought on to help an organization focus on their external brand. In other words, to drive growth in the organization. But one of the greatest, I guess, discoveries is the value that our clients find as it relates now to bringing the brand internally because the employees are typically the greatest contributor or detractor of the brand. And most customers experience the brand through the employees. So, getting them aligned and excited is a terrific outcome. We really appreciate the opportunity to work with you and your team on this and wish you great and continued success.

Jason: We also appreciate you Ryan, and your company’s help and facilitation during the process. I have nothing but positive outcomes we learned from this process. So thank you.

Ryan: Thank you so much, Jason. Well, that concludes our show for today. This is Ryan Rieches and you’ve been listening to another edition of Expert Opinion. A BrandingBusiness forum where thought leaders share their point of view. If you’d like to listen to past shows or read our blog series, visit brandingbusiness.com. Until our next show, grow your business by living your brand promise.