To get a Canadian perspective on the world of employer branding, we sat down with Estela Vazquez Perez to understand the approach she has taken to help maintain The Royal Bank of Canada’s high-performance culture.
Have a listen to our chat below or read on if you want a full summary of our conversation, and don’t forget to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Estela Vazquez Perez and I’m the Director of Employment Brand. This the center of expertise at Royal Bank of Canada. In short, I partnered with the business to solve talent problems related to attraction and retention, specifically using marketing information technology and change management. That’s kind of a broad way to put it.
What attracted you to RBC?
My personal intention is to actually change brands to create positive features, and when I immigrated to Canada, I always felt, “Well, wouldn’t it be great to get into the financial industry and make change within?” because they are the ones who have the biggest impact in the economy and the way the country moves. So that’s how I got into financial services. But then, the Royal Bank of Canada is the most valuable brand in Canada named by the Brand Finance Institute. So what is better than managing the most valuable brand in the country? That’s a very attractive proposition for me and the impact that this company has.
What is RBC, and what’s the corporate culture like?
We are 80,000 employees in 32 countries and we have 60 million clients roughly around the world and several businesses. So everything is spread out; wealth management, capital market, insurance and obviously, the big personal and commercial banking business here in Canada. We also have other brands in the United States, so it’s very spread out. This business really does bring good opportunities and the culture is that you can actually build a career through them. So you get into one business, you can jump into one or another, and it’s like having several companies within one umbrella, which is an opportunity for everybody.
Regarding our culture, I think it’s a very optimistic culture, and it is very collaborative. This is high performance in all aspects. Everybody kind of ‘spins the wheels’ on each other but we are optimistic about the future, and we really believe we can lead the way. So I guess that makes it is a good way of looking at things. We look for people with a drive to help shape the future of financial services and that’s another way of being here. We have fantastic collaboration and it’s very distinctive from other cultures I’ve seen.
Do you think having “Canada” in the name of the company has any effect?
I do, the values are pretty strong and I guess when you say our brand is RBC, we go under that umbrella, but still our legal name is “Royal Bank of Canada,” and that carries a little bit of an expectation when you say that. So this is a Canadian Bank, you expect certain things and certain behaviors where our country is all about inclusion and that is expected in companies that carry the name. So I think this will be the first soft positive expectation that we are very happy to fulfill.
So in this fantastic company, what could possibly be your talent challenges?
When I took the job I was thinking, “Well, you know, I’m seeing these stats and the grass is green, so what are we going to fix?” The challenge was about sustaining high performance and engaging people. You can’t sleep and hope that everything continues. So, personally, day to day, I need to work on differentiating the organization. That’s a hard thing to do because we have very strong banks in Canada. So, in terms of differentiating, we need to have a good way of communicating and having a clear vision of the future, and also compelling career propositions.
So that was a challenge for me and with that being said, the job gets very interesting when you can bring this to life through people’s beliefs and presenting that value proposition. Specifically with talent challenges, like many, it’s about attracting and retaining tech talent, that would be number one. Two would be including youth in the conversation of co-creating the future and the last one, if you split from youth or tech talent just in general, we need to hire people with the right attitude. I’m trying to move beyond what skill set you to need to work in a company. Everybody’s getting ready for that and developing the skills, but finding the right attitude is tough. It’s hard to select.
So, those are my three focus areas for now. Key challenges that just don’t go away and I think they’re going to be stronger. This is not just for the future of this company, but this is for the future of Canada in general, the world, right?
How does your work with employment brand address these challenges?
Multiple ways but I’ll mention three. One that I’m working on right now is our employment brand content strategy, and this is to show cool things happening at RBC. So, people have these ideas of what the bank is like, but then we show them that we have all these amazing aspects. We are very good at connecting personal aspirations to our collective ambition, and then we’re also transforming culture and driving the future of banking. The greatest technologies sometimes get invented right here and we’re helping people in other parts of the world to keep things safe for our clients.
Although, sometimes just story-telling is not good enough. You have to show people how that happens, for example how a young intern might come in and became a part of this great technology that we now have patented. So, we’re working on that. That’s one part of doing it. Another part is a good strong employee brand platform. So, we design employee experiences to connect hearts and minds so people deepen their understanding of why we are here, why we exist, and why we’re in this company. That’s a good selection tool and, at the same time, an attraction tool. But then we need to connect them to what’s in it for them, to have exceptional experiences that give them a good life, and they can continue to be with us.
The third point will be to amplify the strategy and action in a digital way. This is really about enabling. Enabling marketing communications, change management, human resources, to bring these conversations to life in the digital platforms that are available. You can say maybe your career site, maybe your Instagram account, maybe our Twitter account. So, we have experts managing those channels and I bring that integration to have a story that makes sense and that it’s the same across those channels.
Tell us about your global employer brand platform?
So in order to make sense, if you think of these strong strategies across the organization, in spite of business lines and across the world, you have to ask; how do we bring them together? So we needed a strong employment brand platform which includes our value proposition and our creative expression. This is particularly difficult in a large matrix organization like ours, so we’re going through constant transformation.
I’m actually really proud of the focus we give on humanity. Our core message is, “We believe in people and the power of their dreams. It begins with yours.” And our line is, “Build new futures for you, for our clients and your communities.”
So that’s our proposal. Just join us to build that new future that is gonna be better for all, but it starts with you. Then we have key pillars to demonstrate how we make that happen. This is especially important because it moves your teams from thinking only marketing and communication towards into saying, “Am I delivering the experience that is gonna help me retain this talent?” and that connects to what recruitment say, which is “I’m promising to deliver this when you join us.”
This platform is very sharp in saying, “What is the kind of talent that we need for the future? What is the kind of talent that is gonna take this organization into the future?” So the platform is gonna bring out very pointed personas that we are gonna target and you can opt-in to be one of them or opt-in to develop into being one of them, personas such as a partner, a leader, a maker, an optimist, and we have clear descriptions of them. So I guess this is very important to even the operations of the organization before you go out and story-tell.
Then we needed to know how well are we doing with these stories and how well are we doing with the value proposition, and how people are taking it and is it credible or not? So, aligned to that, we developed an employment brand index to tell us our health and our relationship strength of the relationship with the talent market. So this informs how much you need to invest, either in awareness, in building familiarity or maybe on fixing the experience or even helping people endorse the organization. So it’s a good compass to tell us where we should put our dollars to make the best changes.
How do measure your employer brand?
We use several benchmarks because we also need to use internal benchmarks. We have our employee opinion survey, obviously. We have all their segmented benchmarks but we also use the ones externally. These include Randstad, Universum, LinkedIn, GlassDoor, CEB, and Towers Watson. I guess I just made a commercial for everybody but they are really good partners, and when you put all those benchmarks together, they might make sense within the conversation that each one manages but when you bring it together and you create this powerful index that compares to what’s happening internally, and then you actually have a story, “What happened with this person? Do they know about us?”
You can start from the awareness perspective, how familiar are they with us? Much like the brand index that exists on the consumer side, but we don’t stop at purchasing or applying for a job. That is actually just the beginning. We continue the index all the way through the employee experience, through everything that they encounter here, and then all the way to endorsement. It’s a longer index but it tells you the whole relationship with the talent that we are trying to attract, and retain.
Do you get the same answers from all suppliers?
Well, they make sense, I would say. When you put them together, they all make sense from where they are presenting it. So they have similar attributes that they evaluate and I can normalize. That’s very easy to correlate, to bring it across. But when they have different things, that’s when they add the value right? When some of them are experts at what the students want. Others are experts at how HR should manage the experience. Others are experts on how people are talking about you in the market.
So they have very similar variables to measure, but they measure them in a different way because they have a different intention, so I find that very valuable.
What hard lessons can you share?
I mentioned a couple of things but when I took on this role, I had to bring people onboard and rally them behind this employment brand platform and employee value proposition, but that had not been approved yet. So I had to go into some change management without having the final product. I was able to get everybody ready and eager to be part of the proposal. They understood the value of it and it was a tough exercise. But then I couldn’t release the platform because we were working on our collective ambition as well. So it just made sense to wait for it and create momentum.
My lesson there was fantastic because I had to develop a lot of skills in change management, leadership communication and a lot of mood management. People wanted the employment brand ready and I just couldn’t give it to them. So it was a hard lesson but it helped me grow. The second part of this is you can’t do much if you’re sitting in one single department. So I report to the Human Resources team, which is a very strong and innovative team, but the lesson I learned was to ‘move things’ when I partnered with our Chief HR Officer, our Chief Brand Officer, and our Chief Marketing Officer at every business line. So the success of a great employment brand depends on the strong partnerships beyond HR because we all make this brand and we all have this know-how that we can just collaborate and learn from each other and accelerate each other’s agenda with this. As I said, this organization is great at collaborating so once I understood how to get everyone to collaborate, it got us great results.
Do you pool employer branding budgets with marketing?
Of course, our Chief Marketing Officers are fantastic. They have the know-how. They have great budgeting. They extend their hand when our content strategy is going out. Our cost went down, know-how was transferred, and we accelerated the agenda. This means we are going to be out with our digital content strategy faster than we thought.
In terms of ROI, what results can you share with us?
We have a good position, so I’ll tell you about our results here in Canada:
- Best Workplaces in Canada by the Great Place to Work® Institute
- TOP 100 Employer for Young people, Diversity, and Greenest Employer
- LinkedIn Most In-Demand Employers Index Canada
- Ranked 21st Top Employer Brand by Randstad
Glassdoor has also named us as a great place to work, and named our CEO as one of the top CEOs on their website. He’s very liked and very much approved. That made a big change in some target markets, as we had a tough time with that before. As you can see we have gotten great results, but in terms of my own result and what is my talent; this year we increased our ideal employer ranking with students in technology. That’s one of our big challenges, so advancing 25 points in one year, it’s just so many people being part of this success. It’s tough to say 25 points in financial services for top tech talent.
Finally, we have a 100% index score, and a 100% in LG Plus index score in the USA. So that tells you about the value we place on inclusion and the commitment we have to the values of the country, too. This has given us great awareness in the USA market.
What other companies are doing it right?
I like companies that show what they’re doing. I think if you marry the cool products that you are making with actually taking care of people and talent. I like the way IBM is doing it. They come and show you their products, but at the same time, you can see the calibre of people delivering. They have a very integrated platform, they have a consistent look and feel and they are also showcasing cool products.
We are very interested in new technologies, such artificial intelligence, data scientists, electrics, and all that. Who’s doing a good thing, in my own view, are all these teams in Formula 1 and Formula E. I don’t know if they realize but by driving progress for humankind, they’re making such a big difference and their attracting talent to themselves. Whether or not they have an employee brand strategy, I think they’re doing the right thing with their products and their purpose. Now we just have to learn to balance taking care of talents, anyways I just admire those two companies and industries.
Where is employment brand heading?
Well, I guess people already understand that employment brand is important. So I guess you have to make it real. Human resources need to step up the sponsorship of their employment brand, by increasing budgets and partnerships. I hear a lot of the people on your podcast still kind of justifying why they’re there. So that’s one thing. Human resources really needs to step it up. I mean, the brand teams already understood that employees are their best advocates to bring their products out, but human resources needs to grab that handle.
The other part is that employer branding is not for recruitment only. Employer branding is for cultural transformation and I’ve been driving this transformation for the past 10 years. We really need to move in that wagon. We can’t stay behind hiding in the recruitment teams. If you want to be an employment brand strategist, you really need to go out and advocate for people in the entire organization, not just storytelling about them but clearly establishing and helping drive that transformation.