Learning & Development Asia 2024 Singapore
human resources online

Perception vs reality: Ensuring employer branding reflects what you want

Jerene Ang analyses how organisations, including Amgen, Circles.Life, and PayPal Innovation Lab, put together an employer brand that accurately reflects their core values and culture.

We often say, “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but in HR it is the companies who have to pay careful attention to their covers because job seekers are increasingly making decisions on how attractive the cover is before choosing to open the book.

The internet has become the job seeker’s bible for information on a company’s policies and perks, employee satisfaction, and so on. Simply put, job seekers only choose to apply for a position at an organisation when they like what they see on first glance.

Employer branding has thus become prominent as organisations scramble to put across their best brand image to get more “quality” applications, as well as project the right brand image for future talent.

As companies realise the importance of aligning their employer value proposition (EVP) with their mission and vision, core values and HR/talent strategy, we analyse how organisations, including Amgen, Circles.Life, and PayPal Innovation Lab, put together an employer brand that accurately reflects their core values and culture.

Projecting an accurate image

Getting potential employees to perceive the organisation in good light is not enough. The perception also has to equal the reality to avoid candidates being disappointed after joining.

Unfortunately, not many organisations have this aspect covered. According to 2017 research by Weber Shandwick, in partnership with KRC Research, only 19% of 1,902 employees across 19 markets worldwide perceived a strong match between how their employer represents itself and what they experience working there.

To ensure employees don’t face this disappointment, Alexander Nicolaus, Head of People & Culture at Circles.Life, reveals the telco creates content that highlights its workplace culture in an authentic way so candidates and prospects get a realistic preview of what it’s like to work there.

We also make it a point to invite them to our events and sharing sessions, allowing them to get first-hand insights into our set-up and approaches, and ensure that each interview process is transparent and translates our mission and values accurately.
- Alexander Nicolaus, Head of People & Culture at Circles.Life
During the various stages of interviews, the candidate will be introduced to potential colleagues and recruiters who will share about the company in detail. This not only builds the foundation for a strong team and good productivity, but also ensures the candidate has a clear impression of what the company stands for before joining.

Additionally, to ensure perception and reality are constantly aligned, the telco has a dedicated HR business partner (from the people and culture team) for each department.

“This person will check in every week with each individual for open discussions where anyone can come down and clarify or share feedback regarding work culture or their role/performance,” he adds.

Another way to ensure perception equates to reality is to benchmark the company culture against the global standard of a great workplace, says Jessica Simpson, Human Resources Director at Amgen Singapore Manufacturing.

This helps the multinational biopharmaceutical company gain insights on employees’ perceptions of the workplace, compare results to key benchmarks and work on areas of improvement.

These findings have greatly empowered our leaders, managers and employees to take tangible steps toward becoming champions of positive culture change, of which we have seen significant increases in our overall employee engagement and experience ratings.
- Jessica Simpson, Human Resources Director at Amgen Singapore Manufacturing
Apart from that, the firm uses skip-level meetings which allow higher level leadership more than one step down the chain of command to hear and dialogue directly with employees from all levels in a safe and productive environment. It also has an employee engagement committee called Amgen Leads, which helps Amgen keep abreast of the pulse of the company.

CASE STUDY: Circles.Life


Enhancing the employer brand inside and out

To help you formulate new employer branding initiatives, Human Resources dives into how Circles.Life, Asia’s first fully digital telco and consumer company, communicates its employer brand externally while reinforcing it internally.

Circles.Life bases its employer branding approach on its six organisational values, one of which is to “keep on learning, keep on growing”. This is applied internally and externally. “Internally we have several programmes that go with our mission to create a great place to work,” Alexander Nicolaus, Head of People & Culture at Circles.Life (pictured) says.

One example is the telco’s Wednesday lunch and learn where it invites external speakers to share knowledge on topics such as entrepreneurship, marketing or tech insights over a buffet lunch.

There are two objectives to this – inspire Circles.Lifers (employees at Circles.Life) to keep on learning and to create a stronger bond during our free company-wide buffet lunch.
- Alexander Nicolaus, Head of People & Culture at Circles.Life
Another programme is the “ideathon” which allows everyone to submit ideas under three categories – office/work culture, telco products and ecosystem products (non-telco). The ideas will then be voted on by everyone and the winning idea will be executed.

“This creates an entrepreneurial spirit within everyone and rewards passionate Circles.Lifers for their creative ideas, tying back to the value of ‘be bold, dare to innovate’,” he says.

Externally, one of Circles.Life’s missions is to lead innovation in the digital services. This is brought to life through several platforms – talk events, campus workshops and LinkedIn/Medium.

On the objectives of these platforms, he says: “They help us share our knowledge with others and inspire them to be part of our journey. For instance, our talk events or workshops are not always held outside the office, but also in our office. We sometimes invite people to attend the events/workshops in our office, so they can get to know our culture and our people better.”

Monthly talk events for internal and external audiences

Zooming in on the monthly talk events, he reveals the events were first launched in partnership with Found8, a co-working space in Singapore.

“It made sense for us to pilot the project by partnering with a company that already has the database," he says.

We started by having one event each month, inviting their members and non-members to attend our talks on topics like product, tech, data science, marketing and entrepreneurship.
- Alexander Nicolaus, Head of People & Culture at Circles.Life
“We did this for six months in a row, which resulted in bigger brand exposure. Once we knew the process and how to connect to our target audience, we expanded the partnership to others as well.”

The talks are communicated to internal and external audiences. Circles.Life reaches out to Circles.Lifers via Workplace (Facebook), Slack, and email to get people interested in sharing their stories and becoming speakers for future events.

“Meanwhile, most of our top management is very receptive of this initiative as it helps to enhance our brand and allows Circles.Lifers to inspire others through knowledge-sharing.”At the same time, LinkedIn, Eventbrite and Found8 are some of the external channels used to promote the talks to get people interested in attending.

“Through these channels, we reach out to budding entrepreneurs, job seekers and students keen on joining our team to create new products,” he says. These help Circles.Life get repeat audiences in other events and receive interest from potential employees.

Overcoming challenges: Keeping things in context for the audience

However, the journey wasn’t all smooth sailing. A key challenge faced was finding the right topic that the target audience could relate to.  “As a tech company, our topics revolve around products, start-up culture and tech. For the mass audience, such topics have to be curated to be understandable without being too technical.”

To solve this, the team worked with its engineers to create a talk that covers a non-technical side that is still easy to understand for the audience.

At the same time, it was tough encouraging Circles.Lifers to participate in talks and ideathons when they were busy with their own work.

The key to overcoming this was to use a personal approach.

Sit down with each one and explain the benefits for them and the company. We always need to explain how it will impact the company and their personal growth. Another approach is to give a reward of appreciation for their participation.
- Alexander Nicolaus, Head of People & Culture at Circles.Life

Measuring success

When it comes to measuring the success of such initiatives, Nicolaus reveals Circles.Life makes use of a monthly pulse check as well as an employee net promoter score as an accurate indicator of the way the brand is perceived by employees.

Externally, success is measured via the number of repeat attendees, potential hires and the amount and quality of engagement (discussion and Q&A) during the events and workshops. At the same time, the telco examines data from LinkedIn/Medium with regards to the number of reach and engagement as well as applicants received after the content is posted online.

Over at biopharmaceutical company Amgen Singapore Manufacturing, Simpson says success in employer branding is measured in three key ways – quality of hires, employee engagement, and social engagement.

The quality of our hires helps us determine whether the employees we are attracting are aligned with Amgen’s values, mission and culture to ensure continued success in the business.
- Jessica Simpson, Human Resources Director at Amgen Singapore Manufacturing
In terms of social engagement, with Millennials and Gen Zs fast becoming the bulk of the workforce, to ensure the firm is reaching these populations on the right channels, Amgen looks out for a constant increase in social media followers, as well as rates of engagement on platforms such as LinkedIn.

Whereas, for the PayPal Innovation Lab, having been established with the goal of democratising financial services and empowering people and businesses to join and thrive in the global economy, a key measure of success is “an external indicator that we have helped create for a more vibrant innovation ecosystem in Singapore and Southeast Asia and inculcated a strong culture of innovation from within PayPal,” says Jerry Tso, Director of PayPal Singapore’s Development Center, who leads the Innovation Lab’s initiatives, including talent recruitment and employer branding.

Another way the centre helps to create a vibrant ecosystem is a unique “kids in tech” initiative, whereby children of the employees are introduced to design-thinking methodology and mobile development fundamentals over a three-day boot camp. This is done with a hope to inspire children from a young age to have an interest in and passion for technology and innovation. “Our commitment to cultivating the next generation of technology talent is one key aspect of our employer branding initiatives,” Tso says.

Clearly, employer branding comes in various shapes, sizes and forms – what’s most important is to identify what values and messaging your organisation stands for, and then find the right platform to communicate that over a sustained basis.

Photo / 123RF

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