Britta Larsen’s early career goal was not to become “HR.” Like a lot of people, she held a stereotype against HR that wasn’t entirely positive. But in her late 20’s, the founders of her company recognized her unique ‘human’ talents: her natural influence, mentorship skills, and ability to create a great culture at their start-up creative agency. Without any formal HR training (she ironically kept a copy of HR for Dummies on her desk), she forged her own path to become what some now consider the ‘Anti-HR’ authority (or “HR guru”) for creative companies.
With her background in advertising and branding, Britta quickly realized that ‘Good HR is Good PR.’ That every moment—from an employee’s first contact, beyond their last day—matters. Not only for the individual, and for internal culture, but for a company’s reputation, brand and ambitions. That’s why her current practice focuses on making work ‘work better’ by improving the employee journey, from candidates to alumni.
Britta shares with us some insights and best practices that founders and leaders can leverage to improve their internal ‘employer brand,’ with or without an ‘HR’ department.
Interviewing is storytelling
Not everyone you interview is someone you’ll want to hire. But everyone you interview will tell at least 5 people (including their parents) about their interview experience. So remember, it’s not just you evaluating a candidate, this is a PR moment for you and your brand.
For your part, focus on sharing the company’s origin, mission, and ambitions. You’re selling a specific role, so be enthusiastic about its opportunities and perks. But also be clear about expectations and honest about challenges. You want to see what solutions they’d propose. I always include details of my personal journey, because it gives me a chance to crack a joke and put the candidate at ease.
Instead of bombarding a candidate with questions or using their resume as an outline, I ask them to tell me their story (“I’ve just given you a monologue, now I’d love to hear yours.”) Getting them to share their journey in their own way is incredibly revealing of their experience, as well as their strengths and values. If they’re excited (and knowledgeable) about the company and opportunity, they’ll also be speaking to how they could contribute to your team well before you get to specific questions.
An offer letter is more than a contract
One of my major HR pet peeves is that most offer letters come directly from a lawyer, and it shows. From the tiny default type to the heavy legalese, it puts a candidate on guard the moment they open it up.
Yes, the offer letter needs to include legal language. But it’s also an invitation. You want someone to be excited when they open it! It should begin with a salutation, visually look like your brand (logo, fonts, etc.), and include an introduction (mission, their role, etc.).
There are a lot of details in an offer letter, between the role, reporting structure, responsibilities, compensation, benefits, PTO, and mandatory paperwork like NDA, at-will-employment, I9, and more. Make the elements easy to take in—bullet points are not to be underestimated. You’d be surprised what a difference a proper offer letter makes. When I consult with clients who don’t use a great format, I inevitably face more questions and less enthusiasm. So I always recommend updates.
I really can’t emphasize this next point enough: there should be NO surprises in the offer letter, and offer letters should always be offered verbally prior to sending. I always call to walk through the details, deliver the exciting news, and pre-explain everything that’s going to be in the offer letter (including salary) and head off any points of negotiation and questions.
If an employer fumbles at this stage (by low-balling, or “sneaking in” new information) you’ll not only lose a great candidate, it may leave them with a bad taste in their mouth, ultimately affecting your reputation. On the other hand, when I’ve been properly ‘courting’ the candidate up to the point of an offer, I often get a verbal acceptance right then and there on the phone. Hearing an excited candidate accept an awesome opportunity is one of the great perks of the job. You’ve hired an employee and gained a brand ambassador.
You only get one chance at a first day/week
An employee’s first day/week is everything. The candidate is now an employee, and they are hopeful, excited and willing. That first week is key in having their experience meet their expectations of your employer brand.
On “day one,” be ready for them! The basics count: email activated, desk set up, and drawers neatly supplied. (A classy move is to have their business cards printed and ready at their desk. Doable if you order the day they accept the job.) Fill their calendar for the day: a tour of the office, team one-on-ones, orientation with finance, set up with IT. Even if it’s designating time for filling out paperwork, exploring the server, reviewing recent presentations. Make sure they’re not sitting around waiting or thrown into a project meeting before they even know where the restroom is. They should leave day one feeling as good as when they arrived.
Make yourself available throughout that first week for check-ins and on-boarding meetings. It’s always fascinating to me that by week four, the expectation is that a new person is up to speed and doing the job. Ensure the first week(s) are packed with information, meetings and knowledge so the new employee feels informed and engaged. By the end of the first month, their first impression is set. Are they still believers?
Performance reviews are essential and unnecessary
Reviews are paradoxical. On one hand, they’re absolutely necessary if you want your employees to thrive and grow. It’s so important to create space for a two-way dialog on performance, expectations and goals. But…that kind of structured feedback and communication shouldn’t hinge on a formal annual review process. It should be happening much more frequently.
For that reason, I suggest quarterly informal two-way reviews. They can be less from the ‘typical’ annual review process (which traditionally involves lots of forms, ranking systems, peer reviews, and anxiety.) Instead, focus on recent wins/challenges and tangible goals for the next 90 days. It’s much more motivating and allows you to have performance discussions independent of compensation discussions.
Just, don’t skip it. Feedback is a form of employee recognition and appreciation. Withholding it (or even the perception that it’s withheld) can damage your employer brand.
No one forgets their last day
As surely as an employee has a first day, they will have a last, and they’ll carry their experiences and stories with them to their last day — on earth. So treat that last day with just as much care and respect as the first.
This goes for resignation and terminations alike. It’s possible to terminate an employee with empathy and dignity, while safeguarding the remaining employees and your reputation. (We have a playbook on how to treat terminations).
When an employee decides to leave your company, give them a send off and celebrate their achievements. Think of it as “graduating.” They’re now “alumni.” If they had a good experience, they will continue to be a brand ambassador (and will not be tempted to tell all on glassdoor.)
For help with HR tools, templates, and playbooks, Britta is offering exclusive rates for HEYMAMA members, including 1-hour, 3-hour, and 1-day packages. www.itsbritta.co.