How Vodafone Builds a Global Employer Brand

WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg

How do you build a global employer brand for 120,000, in 26 different countries? We recently had a chat with Catalina Schveninger of British telecoms giant Vodafone.

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

Who are you and what you do?

I’m global head of employer brand and resourcing for Vodafone. I’m working with 26 countries to make sure that they are at their best in all things – employer brand, social recruitment, and resourcing practices.

Vodafone is a British company starting out 30 years ago in Berkshire. We are the first company to send an SMS and to make a first call via the GSM network. We’ve evolved from being a predominantly European consumer lead network company to being unified communications, business to business, and a global leader in machine to machine in the internet of things. We’re in 26 countries, and doing business through our network of partners, with about 120,000 employees. We’re the second largest international telecom in the world after China Telecom in terms of numbers of subscribers, as well as revenue.

What are Vodafone’s talent challenges as a global company?

Vodafone gained organic growth due to where this industry is right now, but also through a lot of acquisitions. Challenges come from integrating, creating one culture across, but still being very respectful of our local roots. Our CEO is a big believer in “acquire companies and let them do what they’re good at, also be very respectful of local customs, local culture.”

In that perspective, from an employer brand, and from an HR practice perspective, we are a federated company. The way we work is we spot best practices, we pilot different things, and then we co-create to work together with markets. So we are very different from more centralized companies where let’s say, staff strategy is fabricated at the centre and then is rolled out everywhere. That’s what makes the challenges, but also makes us more interesting, and gives us an opportunity to really look at things critically from a global perspective. For example, when you roll out an employer brand you look at, “Will it work, will it be relevant to our employees in the front line in India, as much as for our B2B folks in Germany?”. My colleagues across the world are more talented than me, and know their customer and candidate base much better. They helped us shape that.

Our culture is extremely dynamic. We’ve transformed ourselves, we’re ever evolving. From a footprint business model perspective, becoming now the gigabit company as well. And we’ve been on an amazing journey with the employer brand. I think we’ve defined what our employer brand was three years ago, and now we’re actually working together with our colleagues in marketing to see if we can refresh it to see if it’s still current, if it still connects and talks to the hearts and minds of our candidates and customers. It’s actually great timing with your podcast because right now we are reviving the employer brand.

As a global company, does your employer brand change in different places?

The core of it doesn’t. Jeff Bezos once said, “The brand is not what you say it is, it’s what they say it is.” When you’re at Glassdoor and they talk about you, the words that they use to describe your brand is what your brand is. A couple of years ago we decided to research that. We felt that we had a very strong consumer brand, we’re Britain’s most valuable brand, we are in the top 20 most valuable global brands. However, we felt like our message was not clear enough. And we also felt there was an opportunity to get a bit more consistency globally.

So we did some extensive research with over 40,000 people. Our employees across all markets, across all levels of the organizations, some customers, candidates, focus groups. We listened to what they said, and bottled those words and came up with eight proof-points to talk about what we call “The Two-Way Deal.” The give and the get, that describes our culture and how it is like to work at Vodafone, why people should bother working here, and why they should stay. We put that into very simple words, with mostly quotes of our people. We believe that captures the spirit.

Interestingly enough, when we were doing this analysis and research, we realized that those proof points resonated with everybody. Although from the beginning we thought we would have a hard time finding common themes, we realized that the culture is very strong, and across the board, there are very prominent things that our employees used to describe what it is like to work. For example, we realized that there’s two sides of the coin; we are at our best when you’re at yours. One part of that deal is, we are an industry leading company, empowering people to do amazing things that shape the world. We do a lot in terms of mobile for good from our M-Pesa mobile banking solution in Kenya, to the work the foundation does. People felt very proud to be associated with a company that does a lot of good. We are truly a company that invests, especially in senior management, but also in the grant space. We have a global program for graduates, and we have global mobility for our most senior people. I believe about 70% plus of our senior leaders have been to at least two international assignments with Vodafone. These were the focal points that our employees brought up.

And also exceptional work with exceptional people. People felt proud that they get the opportunity to work with very smart people, be it in technology, sales, or IOT.

We found these eight proof points, in terms of when we are at our best as a company, and when you are at yours. We bottle that spirit, ways of working, and the culture of how it is like to work here. We’ve been building content and further detail proof points for the last three years, and it worked very well. In countries where we didn’t have a good employer brand presence, we’re now winning awards.

Our own employees have started using these claims in their own content, that’s the ultimate test when people feel, “This is not cheesy, this is not corporate. I can actually use these words when I post on my Facebook profile and be proud of doing amazing things at Vodafone”. So beyond all the great awards, and external recognition, ultimately when our own employees become brand ambassadors, this is when we have a winning brand.

Its been three years, and we’ve learned a lot. It was the first time we had developed and communicated an employer brand proposition across all our markets. Usually English-speaking companies have to translate their content, but the claim didn’t get translated, people felt it’s fine to use it in English. Like with, ‘Power to You’. It doesn’t get translated. We were worried that there would be requests of localizations translations, but there wasn’t. Driving that global consistency.

Your Glassdoor score is 3.6 out of 5, any comment?

Glassdoor is one source of great feedback from both our employees and candidates, we’re looking at Glassdoor on a regular basis. It’s interesting that it differs from country. Our recruitment model is extremely decentralized, so everybody is left to their own devices, as long as they follow global policies and the global employer brand. You can see that on Glassdoor as well. In countries like Germany and the Netherlands we have a good positioning, we’re there in the best employers of Glassdoor. In other countries maybe less. I’m not getting defensive, but Glassdoor is not that prominent in all the markets we are in so you only see a part of the story.

It’s always work in progress, and specifically in my role, I always look at “how is our candidate experience?” Because no matter how polished your content is, and how amazing your LinkedIn page looks like, and your website, ultimately, the candidate experience that drives that engagement and drives that Glassdoor rating. We have a large team of recruiters, there are lots of hiring managers involved in the process, lots of touch points where you can either give a fantastic experience to people, or you can improve. So this is something that we have in focus, and we’re doing a lot of work around improving customer and candidate experience.

What other companies do you think are doing employer brand right?

  • L’Oréal have a great execution in terms of being consistent with their consumer brand. Also, their digital innovation is fantastic.
  • Heineken is another brand that I admire a lot. I think Alfonso and the team there did a fantastic job, if you look at their latest campaign. They always come with innovative, creative, unexpected ways of bringing the brand to life and executing it.
  • If I look at Google and Facebook and so forth, they’re user-generated. It feels like the brand department doesn’t really need to do much because, their employees are telling the story. So that’s a great sign that your brand is really strong.
  • Also Dyson. Who would have expected that a white goods, consumer company would be so cutting edge now, and will have such a strong brand in terms of technology and innovation.

What do you think is next for employer brand in general?

I think we people in the employer brand space will make ourselves redundant soon, because the power will be with the audience. If you look at the new technology, or Facebook Live, Instagram stories, they are great examples of where employer brand execution evolves. Partially because of where social media is going, but particularly because people feel strong about having a voice. And they’re not shying away from sharing the good, the bad and the ugly.

I think in a couple of years it will be about driving hero stories. But it will be our own employees, and hopefully candidates as well, that will do the work and the engagement. The same with social sourcing, if you give the tools to the hiring managers, ultimately, hiring managers will do the job, both recruiting and telling the story of the brand.

It’s not a grim story, I think it’s a positive one, and it’s partially because a lot of smart people in employer brand are becoming stronger marketers and using marketing techniques to engage fantastic content with their followers.

If you look at what we’re doing now, most of us do two things. Strategy in terms of connecting the dots and having these key narratives of telling the story of why people would join you, and why people would stay. But then a lot of our efforts are around recruitment marketing, how we’re targeting and engaging with the candidates that we’re all fighting for. If you look to digital software engineer, this space is so crowded right now, so how do you stand out, how do you put yourself out there as a preferred brand and attract this talent?

That bit is evolving so much because of all the social trends and because of programmatic, and all the methodology that’s deployed from marketing into HR.

Maybe the strategic space will stay as central storytellers, and the rest will be done simply by employees. Look at the federal programs, everybody’s deploying them. So our own people are the best brand ambassadors. They attract other people, they tell the stories. We won’t need huge teams of recruitment marketers to do this.

Connect with Catalina on Twitter at @CSchveninger.


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