How Salesforce Drives Employer Brand Through Culture

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

Tech companies and corporate culture – do they mix? Uber, Google, Amazon seem to have a few issues.

We decided to speak with Jennifer Johnston who is the Head of Global Employer Branding & Recruitment Marketing at Salesforce.

Have a listen below, keep reading for a summary and be sure to subscribe to the Employer Branding Podcast.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Jennifer Johnson and I am Head of Global Employer Branding for Salesforce. I do all of the brand building and marketing to help Salesforce attract all the great people that drive the success of our company. We hired close to 7,000 people last year. We are growing really fast.

Tell us about the Salesforce culture?

We at Salesforce are just extremely fortunate to have a leadership team that is really as passionate about the kind of culture they’re trying to create as they are about the products we sell and how we go to market, and it was a very intentional culture from day one. Our CEO and the other founders of the company wanted to create a different kind of company, one that was centered around this concept of Ohana which means family in Hawaiian. And what’s really cool about it is, Ohana for us is not just about our employees but it’s also about creating this family feeling amongst our customers, our partners, and in the communities where we live and work.

Another great part of my job is I have the pleasure of talking to our customers about our culture. A lot of people are very curious about our culture and what goes on behind the scenes at Salesforce, and one of the things I always comment on is the tone from the top having a leadership team that really owns the culture. They haven’t abdicated the culture to the head of HR. All of our business leaders take a very strong interest in our culture. Culture is actually the number one goal, not just for the head of HR but for everyone in the company. So that’s really been a distinguishing factor that has helped Salesforce keep such a strong culture. As we’ve grown so quickly, we do make it a very intentional priority. I do really feel that’s a huge part of the secret sauce of the strength of Salesforce. The culture, the leadership buy in and ownership of it.

What are your talent challenges?

We do have a massive inflow of applicants. We have a very attractive employer brand and great reputation for our culture that we think drives this massive amount of interest, but unfortunately, we don’t have a job for everyone. We have a pretty specialized skill set that we’re looking for, both on the tech side and on the sales side, and there are many, many competitors also in the market looking for this skill set, and there really aren’t enough people to fill the jobs of software engineers and software sales people. Obviously with technology being such a core to our world today, these jobs are in very high demand. So just like everybody else, we’re out there having to really go proactively after the people that have the skill sets that we need. While we have a massive inbound flow, in many cases it’s simply not the right applicant, so most of our hiring is done through two sources – employee referrals and through our recruiter reach outs to passive talent.

What is the EVP of Salesforce?

We have a very strong value proposition for our employees, and it falls across three pillars. The first pillar is meaningful work. We have an incredible vision, an incredible mission, and we’re very purpose driven. We are truly looking to help all companies connect with their customers in more engaging ways. On top of that, we have this higher overarching purpose of improving the state of the world and that comes through our one-on-one corporate philanthropy model that many people have heard of. We really want to make it a priority to bring others along and share our success, and that’s very, very powerful.

Part of that same pillar is the ability to get it done. We’re offering our employees the opportunity to use some pretty incredible technologies to do their work. Our employees use our fantastic sales, service and marketing apps that are right from their phone. They’re able to do their business and run their business from their phone, and we get a lot of our work done in a robust employee enterprise social network with a tool called Chatter which is a Salesforce tool as well. That meaningful work and the ability to get it done is a great first pillar.

The second pillar really comes down to culture, the ability to do the work with good people in a good environment, with things like trust, transparency, innovation, customer success. But also the human factors – the ability to give back big equality and also well-being and fun are parts of our culture. Then the third pillar which is just being fairly recognized and rewarded for the work that you do.

We have a culture of continuous feedback that we do by a mobile app where every month, employees get feedback from their managers and also give their managers feedback to help them improve, so that’s very rewarding, you get to hear how you’re doing on a regular basis. You may also have seen Salesforce Trailhead out there in the market. It’s how our customers and developers learn to use our technology, but we also use it with our employees, giving them the ability to really up-level their skills both in terms of how to use our technology but also their professional skills. And we have a really strong culture of internal mobility. There’s always amazing new roles opening up in the company and we really encourage our employees to go after those opportunities that are attractive to them and move around the company.

So, that’s our EVP: meaningful work and the ability to get it done, with good people in a good environment, and being fairly recognized and rewarded for it.

When did you define this EVP?

I started the company five years ago and these things have been here from the start. The meaningful work was really driven by the way the company was set up in terms of both our V2MOM – It means vision, values, methods, obstacles, and metrics, and you can actually search that term on our Salesforce Trailhead and learn more about it. The purpose of our V2MOM process is to make sure every employee understands our vision, how we will get there. The 1-1-1 model of corporate philanthropy was also there right from the start, and the Ohana culture. We were very intentional about creating that family feeling inside the company from day one. Then the final piece has come to be much more prominent over the last five years or so as we’ve gotten more sophisticated in providing that regular feedback, accessibility to learning, and internal mobility. This has been a vision of the value we wanted to deliver for our employees from day one.

How do you communicate your employer brand to prospective candidates?

We’re definitely omnichannel with this message. We do all the standard things, we have a really nice career site, obviously we try to put together really good videos about the experience of working with us. But for me those things are employer branding 1.0, they’re just table stakes. The new ways that we’re communicating this is really focusing on the decision points that candidates have when they’re trying to decide what companies they want to work for. And over the last seven years, it’s really changed.

And so the number one thing people want to know is what your employees have to say about you on review sites like Glassdoor. We’re thinking a lot about making sure our Glassdoor presence is as great as it can be, both from an enhanced profile perspective, putting our story up there. But also making sure we’re delivering on that value proposition inside the company so our employees are leaving those fair and balanced reviews. I like to say you absolutely cannot game that. You have to deliver the experience because they will go and tell the real story out there on the review sites.

We also think a lot about employer awards. You’ll notice Salesforce is on the Fortune 100 Best Companies list and also on the Great Place To Work lists in all of the prominent countries where we operate. We think this is another decision point for candidates, it gives them an objective look at how other companies rank in relation to each other when it comes to creating a great place to work.

The most important part of our strategy for getting our message out there is employee advocacy. Creating an experience that our employees are so enthusiastic about that they’re willing to share it. If you look on social media, just search the hashtag Salesforce Ohana and you will see an incredible flood of our employees just spontaneously and authentically sharing their experiences of working with us. I could never make a better ad campaign than that, I couldn’t pay for it, the number of impressions we get from just that spontaneous advocacy from our employees is astounding. That hashtag was actually used 15,000 times in the last quarter. So you can imagine the power of that, and that really does feed our number one source of hire, which is employee referrals. Our employees are out there putting it on their networks, and their people in their networks are the people we’re actually looking to hire in general because as we know, birds of a feather flock together.

Are there any initiatives that you’re particularly proud of?

I’m really proud of the way that we have doubled down and really focused on candidate experience over the last 18 months or so. Getting great people into the process is obviously key, but what you do once they get there is also very important. We focused on trying to create a candidate experience that’s really about making sure both the hiring team and the candidate have the opportunity to make a good decision and have the information that they need to make a good decision. That comes down to enablement. Putting a lot of effort into enablement on both the candidate side and on the hiring team side.

All of our hiring managers now go to a module that we’ve created, in a very fun and interactive way, to learn how to hire more strategically. That includes talking them through the fact that the tables have turned and that the candidate sitting in front of you might actually have a lot of choices of where they want to work so don’t grill them. Have good etiquette, show up prepared. They have choices and it’s really saying, the table has turned now, they’re teaching them that. Teaching them how to talk authentically about our culture, both the good and the bad of it. There’s always challenges inside every culture so we want that authenticity. Explaining all the amazing things about our culture but also letting them know there are some challenges and these are the kinds of things you will face as a Salesforce employee.

Then on the candidate side, we want them to really get a true picture of what it’s like to work with us. So we encourage them to go to Glassdoor, read those reviews. We encourage them to search that #SalesforceOhana, and just sense the energy of our employees, and feel if it resonates with them, so they can opt in or out of our process. So I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done on candidate experience.

How do you measure ROI on employer brand?

I would love to share one related to our candidate experience initiative because it’s a really cool metric that I’m very excited about. When we started the process, our overall positive interview experience rating score on Glassdoor was about 57%. And when I saw that, I was actually freaked out, but then I ranked it against our peers. That’s a great thing about Glassdoor, you can go and see everyone else’s ratings as well, and we were actually in the middle of the pack for a positive rating. So that score actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. We had many competitors for talent that we were ahead of and we had some that we were behind.

We at Salesforce like to lead the pack so we really put a challenge to ourselves to make great strides, and we put a lot of initiatives in place to do so. I’m proud to report that about 18 months later, we actually moved that score by more than 20 points, which is just phenomenal. We’re actually where we want to be – leading the pack. So, results follow effort, and that was exciting for us.

I think the other great metric that we look at too is Glassdoor. Our overall employee review rating is actually above 4.0 which is our goal. That speaks to the more ongoing work of engaging our employees inside the company. I’m very proud of all of our leaders and managers for delivering on our EVP promise. This earns us the fair and balanced recognition from our employees.

And I think one of the other metrics that I look at that is a very strong indicator of the strength of your employer brand is are your employees advocating for you? So the growth of the #SalesforceOhana hashtag is a good metric. You can search it on Twitter and Instagram to see all the great posts from our employees. And more importantly, are your employees referring candidates from their network who actually get hired at Salesforce? We’re at a greater than 50% employee referral rate for our source of hire, which is right where we want to be.

What’s the internal incentive for a referral?

We have a $2,000 employee referral bonus which is pretty standard in the industry. Definitely don’t think this is the motivation. It’s a pretty minor blip in people’s pocket book. So we really think it’s more about people loving the experience and wanting their friends to share that experience.

What are your top 3 tips for employer brand managers?

That clear and compelling employee value proposition is something that I actually talk about a lot in the industry. A lot of companies lead with just the culture piece when they do their EVP. That’s a very incomplete story, it’s not just about the environment that you work in, the number one thing really is that purpose. So in that value proposition, make sure that you’re talking about what is the meaningful nature of the work that you will be doing. And also rewards, those are the three pieces that I mentioned and are very important. So that clear and compelling EVP that’s comprehensive across purpose, culture, and rewards beyond monetary rewards. The ability to grow and learn in your role, those are also really important to people.

The second piece is just to focus your energy on the top influencers of candidates today. A lot of people are really busy trying to make a really cool career site or they’re hung up on, “We need a culture video.” I don’t think that’s where the bulk of your time and energy should be going. The bulk of your time and energy needs to go to really using review data to influence the importance of creating and delivering on the experience, making sure employees are going to those review sites, that you’ve got your story there alongside those reviews. Putting content on your review profiles and also having your head of HR or your business leaders responding to reviews.

My number one thing is advocacy. How do we get our employees to enthusiastically share our news with their networks and their experiences with their networks?

And then the last piece that I mentioned was just this doubling down on candidate experience. Attracting a whole bunch of people but then having them come in and have a very jarring or weird experience is not a good formula for success. So making sure that when they come in, that we’re really giving them an experience that delivers on that brand that we’ve been selling out in the marketplace.

What would be the number one pitfall?

Lack of authenticity, don’t oversell all the positives. Don’t build a house of cards. It’s totally fine to have reviews that aren’t amazingly positive out there. You don’t want to try to game Glassdoor, don’t try to push your employees there to give positive reviews. You want that balance there so that people are making good decisions. Try to create that well-balanced, authentic brand.

Who else is doing the right things out there?

I’m a big fan of the work that Cisco does in this space. I’m also a big fan of the work that Dell. I think both companies really hit the mark on the authenticity, and the measured approach, not going too over the top, but just really trying to put a consistent drumbeat of authentic connective content out there.

What’s the next big thing for employer brand, for Salesforce and in general?

The biggest thing that I see is employer branding becoming more than just about attracting employees. A few years ago, when we would win awards, we used to just talk to the market, and we’ve really focused more on those inside and celebrating with our employees, trying to get the employee pride and loyalty bounce out of awards too. Not just talking to the outside market, but bringing all of this inside and really looking at the full employee journey, and how we make that brand come to life. How do we deliver on that across the full life cycle through candidate experience to onboarding, all the way to ongoing engagement, loyalty and advocacy and even advocacy beyond to the alumni audience. How do you keep your employees passion even after they leave, and willing to recommend you? So I think the next big thing is really just thinking about brand across that full journey, not just as an attraction tool.

Connect with Jennifer on Twitter @JJJohnstonSF.


Our newsletter is exclusively curated by our CEO, Jörgen Sundberg, for leaders who make decisions about talent. Subscribe for updates on The Employer Branding Podcast, new articles, eBooks, research and events we’re working on.


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