How to Apply Design Thinking to Employer Brand

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

The employer brand team at Ritchie Bros faces many of the same challenges as other companies, including brand awareness, workplace diversity, and more. However, it tackles them in a unique way: with design thinking.

In building an EVP for Ritchie Bros, an online auction platform for heavy equipment, Employer Brand Specialist Thomas Reneau drew from his experience with design thinking firm IDEO. Reneau saw an opportunity to marry this innovative perspective with the company’s employer brand strategy and, in the process, enhanced the Ritchie Bros’ voice, values, and culture.

What is Design Thinking?

A more traditional approach to EVP might assume your team is already crystal-clear on what your company offers to candidates and what your ideal candidate is looking for. A design thinking approach to EVP, however, flips that on its head.

Design thinking encourages continually asking questions, rather than assuming your employer brand team already has all the data it needs. Design thinking highlights the difference between saying, “We need to attract this specific demographic,” and turning to current employees from that demographic to ask, “Why did you choose to work here?”

“Think of it as reverse engineering,” says Reneau. “We need to enable the team to attract the right candidates.”

Empathy and comfort with vulnerability are critical to this approach. When asking a colleague, “How does it feel to be in your shoes?” employer brand teams must be ready for honest and personal answers. They’re also responsible for creating channels and nurturing relationships where that kind of trust is possible.

Design Thinking in Action

Reneau’s team was put to the test when the company received a mandate to increase employee gender diversity by 30 percent. To do that, the employer brand team needed to attract more female candidates to a male-dominated industry.

Rather than spend lengthy brainstorming sessions theorizing on why a female jobseeker might want to work for a company like Ritchie Bros, the employer brand team did something else: They asked the women who already worked there. Employees poured out their stories in response to the question “Why are you working for Ritchie Bros?,” and the She Moves the World campaign was born.

The employer brand team used highly targeted ads and social media content, with a focus on LinkedIn, to share the testimonies and media that came out of their research. “From a mandate came a movement,” says Reneau, and Ritchie Bros increased its gender diversity by 42 percent, exceeding its initial goal.

The campaign had a more qualitative impact, as well. “Not only were we able to attract the right candidate and raise awareness of what we do, but also internally, from a culture standpoint, we burst siloes,” says Reneau. In providing Ritchie Bros employees a mic, he says, the team uncovered new superpowers and learned more about each other as people.

How to Deploy Design Thinking as an Employer Brand Leader

Internal sponsorship and stakeholder engagement, Reneau has learned, is essential to successful employer branding. While building the Ritchie Bros EVP, Reneau recognized that his employer brand team had a unique advantage in being at the intersection of marketing and HR: The team’s cross-departmental relationships meant they knew how to get everyone talking.

The employer brand team gathered their CMO, CHRO, and VP of Diversity around the same table for a conversation. In the process, these organizational leaders recognized their common purpose and pathways to achieving their shared goals. Just as it did with She Moves the World, this design thinking approach unearthed new perspectives and further empowered the employer brand team.

Reneau also cautions leadership about rushing toward execution. Listening takes time. Employer brand teams must be willing to admit, “We don’t know,” scrap hypotheses, and course-correct. For Reneau, potentially radical questions like, “What if we changed platforms? What if we changed our advertising strategy, or didn’t advertise at all?” are all on the table with design thinking.

Though nontraditional, implementing a design thinking approach shouldn’t feel like reinventing the wheel. “Most companies have the ingredients,” Reneau says. “It’s up to us, in employer branding, to learn how to cook.”

To follow Thomas Reneau’s work in employer brand, connect with him on LinkedIn. To get started on your EVP, get in touch with us. We’ll help you identify the values and culture you want to create in your company.


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