How To Let Employees Drive Your Employer Brand with Earls Brenda Rigney

| Tags: ,

Earls Kitchen + Bar’s VP of People Operations explains how the company’s employer brand messaging is powered by its employees’ social media activity. Tweet it

“Our People Operations team is more focused on people branding than it is true recruitment.”

That’s Brenda Rigney, VP of People Operations at restaurant chain Earls Kitchen + Bar, talking about the company’s unique approach to talent attraction.

She adds: “The screening, interviewing, hiring, full-cycle recruiting process: we really don’t do that. We don’t even write the job descriptions or the job postings. We are focused on driving employee engagement, training and empowering people managers to lead the hiring process for their business, and then letting our people speak for our people brand.”

How does that work? How does a fast-expanding brand – with 65 stores across Canada and the U.S. and three more in the pipeline – engage its more than 7,000 current employees, encourage them to talk about why they love their jobs, and channel that enthusiasm into an attractive employer brand?

Brenda kindly agreed to a little Q&A …

“You can either run your organization scared and not trusting your employees, or you can run your organization trusting your employees. We chose the latter.”

Tweet it

Why does engaging employees matter when it comes to attracting and recruiting new ones?

People want to know that what a company is saying about the employee experience is true. And who’s the best person to make that case? Actual employees.

Potential candidates want to hear that “the boss is great”, or “the environment here is really flexible”, or “I get to do really cool things at work”. That’s why people show up to their jobs day in and out: to work with great people and do great things.

That’s the level of satisfaction that we want to be able to tap into. To do that, we need to ask employees how they feel every day. Otherwise, whatever we say about our employer branding is just corporate messaging. We want to make sure that when we say this is exactly what the Earls Experience is like, for anyone joining onto our company, that that is actually true.

What are some of the ways you tap into employees?

One of the other things we’ve done is educated our people on how to be social advocates for Earls. They were doing it from a salesmanship standpoint, around food and the guest experience, but now we’re also seeing people Tweeting out: “I love my job,” “I love working with Sarah,” “Bob is an amazing trainer.”

We’re seeing these messages come out because we’ve been encouraging people to do it, and we’ve been training people to do it. We teach them how to use a hashtag, when do you want to tag your restaurant Twitter handle in a post, what are our company sponsored hashtags, when are you free to create your own.

One of the things we started moving towards last year was social brand ambassadors or social leaders. We started pinpointing individuals who were particularly active, offering them coaching and support, saying: “Hey, why don’t you add information to your profile so that people know that you’re actually representing Earls?” Or “Why don’t you run the Earls Wants You Twitter and Instagram accounts for a week and post all the great things that you guys are doing at your store?” And they loved it.

What challenges have you faced trying to engage employees in social advocacy on behalf of Earls’s people brand?

It’s no longer about the candidate walking around with their knapsack loaded up with resumes and they’re just going to pop into every retail and restaurant chain and we’ll be lucky enough to meet them. It’s been a shift. But now what’s started to happen is we’ve got these social advocates out there in the market, our ambassadors, and they’re now giving the training: We just had a newly-promoted head chef running a social recruiting 101 workshop for all the GMs and head chefs in Calgary. He’d previously been a sous-chef at a store in Edmonton. He took all the social advocacy he was doing there to help generate people, and brought it to Calgary, which hadn’t quite yet embraced social recruiting. He’s only been in Calgary for two months, but through all the great work he’s doing, he’s already changing the reality. So the regional director said “I need you to come in and do this seminar.”

Are there any risks in getting such a large group of people – your employees – to speak on your behalf?

We’ve done a lot of research in this area. We talked to everyone from a legal standpoint, social media marketers, communications folks. But at the end of the day, you can either run your organization scared and not trusting your employees, or you can run your organization trusting your employees. We chose the latter. I’d say in the last year and a half, since we’ve been going really gangbusters pushing for social advocacy and training our people to do it, we’ve had, maybe, two comments. And they haven’t been anything major. One was: “I stood all day, my feet are tired, I wish I could have better footwear.” I responded with a link to our recently updated dress code and some suggested vendors. The person responded back and said: “Thank you very much, I didn’t know that was available to me.”

“We’ve got these social advocates out there in the market, our ambassadors, and they’re now giving the training …”

Tweet it

You have a more unusual setup for your recruiting function. You don’t have a centralized recruitment team …

Anybody who is a people manager in the company – whether you have a team of one or a team of one hundred – is responsible for finding, hiring, developing and motivating their own people.

Can you talk a little about why that setup was chosen and how it serves your people strategy?

One of our core values is: “it’s your business”. And that lives large across all aspects of the company. Our GMs know how to run their business. How we hire needs to reflect that. So my team goes and share recruitment and selection best practices. We teach, we train, we get it out to people. We focus on generating conversations about what it’s like to work here. We manage all the social channels and Earls Wants You career site. We look for people talking about us. We look for things that are not necessarily great: for example if there was a candidate experience that didn’t go particularly well, we’ll help manage that, help get the candidate the right information, get things back on track, or apologize if that’s the situation.

Does that mean you don’t work with recruitment agencies?

Just because as a people manager I’m responsible for finding my people, it doesn’t mean I time to have review every single LinkedIn profile and resume out there. In the past I would have been more pro-internal recruitment teams, but now I’m actually more pro-agency. They’re going to focus on that role, talk to the right people, and while we might have to a pay a fee, when it’s done we’ve probably filled the role ten times faster than if we hired one internal recruiter and stacked them with 65 job reqs to keep them busy and they spent all their time trying to keep up with all the different requirements. I used to run really, smart, great recruiting teams. I just find that running an internal team drags the process out, versus calling an expert and getting it done.

“People want to know that what a company is saying about the employee experience is true. And who’s the best person to make that case? Actual employees.”

Tweet it

Is that a model that other organizations should consider adopting?

Well competitively I think it really works for us, so no one should take this on, especially in the restaurant industry [laughs]! In most organizations, HR has morphed into something different than it used to be, but there is still some of that traditional mindset where HR is there to clean up the mess for managers who can’t do their job. At Earls, anyone who manages people is responsible for the entire employment lifecycle: from hiring to firing. If you feel that compensation for your team is not competitive, then you need to make a business case for it. People Operations will help support you by doing compensation surveys and getting you that data, but you need to go to your boss and and explain why it needs to happen. I feel, passionately, this is where organizations need to go. This model allows people in HR who are really good at putting in systems, succession planning, people branding – whatever – to do that, versus putting out fires everywhere.

Connect with Brenda on LinkedIn and Twitter

From an interview with Christian DePape.

Share this article

On Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook