Employer Brands In Truly Cosmopolitan Markets

Posted on 23rd July, 2009

I happen to live in London but I work all over the world.


London is a fairly cosmopolitan place, and that’s one reason I choose to live here.


And many of us here in London talk about, and work on, employer brands. We do this because we make a clear connection between engaged employees and organisational effectiveness. And we didn’t need Macleod’s specious statement of the bleedin’ obvious to tell us. We already knew about the vital importance of recruiting the best people into organisations to begin with, and then – crucially – holding on to them, keeping them motivated and enthused.


But are those of us in this field actually having this conversation in the right place? Or could our efforts be better spent elsewhere?


Because whilst London is indeed cosmopolitan, most businesses here still have a distinctly ‘English’ or ‘British’ feel to them. This has its pros and cons (see posts below) but my point is that in countries where there is some kind of overarching national identity – even if we Brits aren’t sure of what that is – employers don’t have to work so hard on their 'brand'.


In a place where most people will have plenty of common denominators or reference points (UK - football, Marmite, bacon sandwiches, conker fights and the like; US – baseball, Oreos, trips to the mall etc) whilst employer brand is of course desirable and doubtless gives a competitive edge, one might question whether it is strictly necessary.


Contrast this with the responsibility of employers in those markets which rely even more heavily on expatriate labour. They are truly, genuinely cosmopolitan in a way that London still is not: the Dubais, the Singapores and the like.


The absence of a greater sense of employer indentity in such places leads not to a default to water-cooler conversations about the topics set out above, or even their local equivalents - there simply isn’t sufficient commonality of interest.


Instead, in these organisations the more natural default is into damaging, fragmentary sub-groups centred on class, nationality, ethnic or tribal origins and so on. Unlike Macleod, I do not need to spell out the grave danger this represents to business.


It is equally clear, however, where organisations recognise this issue but deal with it clumsily - by taking a nannyish, cookie-cutter approach to every person, doing any job, in any location - then the same fragmentation and disenchantment arises, albeit for different reasons.


Effective employer branding is an art, not a science and it’s not dissimilar to nation-building.


So I look at the businesses that have done this well and see that they understand how to glue people into their organisations in an individuated sense. A sense of common purpose set around some very basic but heartfelt ‘big picture’ themes, yet allowing for sufficient space for each individual to express themselves fully and meaningfully.


If my nation-building hypothesis is correct, then I guess you could call this the American model…….


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