Does Your Brand Contradict Your Message to Job Candidates?
Written by Dr. Stephen A. Laser
How ironic it is when the brands and images companies try to promote fly in the face of the messages they send to prospective job applicants. Organizations spend thousands—in some cases, millions—of dollars to promote these images to the public in the hopes that their efforts will translate into greater revenues. While companies are to be commended for promoting their brands, all of their attempts at improving their image can be negated by sending mixed message to the people who are seeking job openings at their places of employment.
Many organizations have mission statements setting forth the values the company supports along with the kind of corporate culture the company is seeking to convey. But what happens when those mission statements contradict reality? For example, how many companies speak of treating their associates as individuals who will be treated fairly and equally, without distinctions being made between people at different levels in the organization? Yet, when the prospective job applicant pulls into the company parking lot for his or her initial job interview, they observe a parking space hierarchy. And those that are held apart for the executive team contain luxury cars far more costly and expensive than what populates the rest of the lot.
Another example can be found in the common company’s claim to be “customer-centric.” Even beneath the buzzwords and business-speak, customers and clients are the lifeblood of any business. But what does it say about that image of customer service when a poor job applicant is left sitting in the lobby or waiting area for an hour or more before anyone comes out to greet them for their day of on-site interviews? Even if the candidate meets with prospective colleagues as scheduled, how many organizations touting a “passion for delighting their customers” don’t even have the common courtesy to notify the applicant about his or her job status after the person has spent valuable time meeting with representatives at the company? What does it take to send a simple email or make a quick phone call to let an applicant know where he or she stands in the hiring process? Companies should know that a dissatisfied job applicant can become a disgruntled customer.
If every mention of the term “team-oriented” were worth a dollar, one might be able to retire after reviewing a stack of business marketing brochures. Just like “strong customer service orientation”, “teamwork” is another overused buzzword. Many of the so-called team-focused organizations still implement compensation systems that primarily reward individual performance with little leeway to reward the group for its overall contribution to the success of a project. In many instances, this situation is changing, but before a company touts itself as team-oriented, it might make sure it is not sending mixed messages.
There are obviously other glaring examples of the contrast between what is promoted to the public as part of a company’s image and the realities of corporate life. Employee development is quite frequently pushed to potential new hires as a reason for signing on with the company. But in today’s economic environment, with cost-cutting and austerity dominating boardroom discussions, tuition reimbursement programs have become a thing of the past. Hence, it will be hard for those individuals who want to finish their college degrees or seek a master’s or advanced degree to enhance their job skills.
It is important to pay attention to the potential for mixed messages. Although there is no doubt that high unemployment rates have made the job market a buyer’s (or employer’s) market, excellent job candidates will always be worth pursuing. Moreover, nothing lasts forever, so when the economy improves and hiring demand picks up steam, the organizations that have their corporate images and values in alignment with their day-to-day ways of doing business will be the most triumphant.
About the Author: Stephen A. Laser, PhD has over 30 years of experience as a business psychologist. He founded and manages a Chicago-based consulting firm specializing in advising clients on hiring employees. Over the past 10 years, Dr. Laser has been a guest speaker to various groups of unemployed individuals, typically over the age of 40, and previously taught university courses in business psychology. Dr. Laser is the author of Out-of-Work and Over-40: Practical Advice for Surviving Unemployment and Finding a Job.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.