Say you're one of the companies on this year's Inc. 5000 list and you're already in fast-growth mode...but you need to grow faster. Either because your competitive advantage is continually being challenged, you need to meet investor expectations or perhaps more simply, you just want to keep growing and building something great.

We all know (our company has made the list the last five years) how challenging it is to define your brand in a crowded marketplace. You can have a lot of successes and still be a small fish in a big pond. There's always going to be behemoths to take on or deep-seated consumer behavior to uproot. You certainly need to build a brand and an awareness that your customers can see, feel, understand and experience.

But there's another brand that many companies, especially small ones don't always think about. Your employer brand. What even is an employer brand and why should you care?

Your employer brand is the image that you create for your employees. It is the defining principles for how employees know why they do what they do. It's not the flowery language on a webpage and a ping-pong table in the break room. According to PR giant Edelman's Andrew Collett, it is "all about the hearts and minds" of your employees. The employer brand creates a value proposition for your employees so that they can get behind the work they do, knowing that their contributions are going toward a company that aligns with their values, work styles, and needs.

Creating an employer brand is the hard part. Mostly because it is driven by you as a leader and the employees in the company, but it must go beyond people. The employer brand must match the characteristics of your public brand and it needs to be baked into the culture of the organization.

Think about how disingenuous it would be for a company to tout how innovative it is for its clients and the world as a whole and then have a working culture that would stifle employee ideas and contributions. It wouldn't work, but too often this actually happens. This kind of misalignment can only exist for so long before frustrated employees quit and talented prospects stop trying to work there. With innovation at a fever pitch and the war for talent high, if employees see a disconnect, they'll take their talents to another firm that actually did reward innovation.

So first and foremost, you need to understand how to translate the brand you have in the public eye into the workplace. For us, it was as simple as saying that because we promote the concept of cognitive diversity, where every one of us has unique preferences that drive the way they operate, we then hire for cognitive diversity. We hold our staff meetings in ways that honor all modes of thinking and behavior. We encourage collaboration with those who think differently. And guess what? Our employees not only get it...they now can't even think about working without thinking about Emergenetics. The brand we extend to the world is mirrored in the ways we work.

Secondly, you need to bake your employer brand into the company's culture. This now has to do with using the data at your disposal to understand how culture is affected by your workers and their perceptions and feelings. There are really incredible tools at your disposal to carefully track how well your employees understand the employer brand characteristics and how that is playing out in their work. Being able to take frequent pulse checks, using new services like tinyHR mean that you can see employee feedback in real-time. Using transparent tools like BetterWorks to set clear goals that everyone can understand, work toward and accomplish. Finally, using managerial techniques like coaching and 1-1 reviews can ensure that your employer brand is coming across correctly and effectively and that employees feel valued and aligned in their work.

Creating an employer brand isn't something that a lot of growing companies are actively thinking about, but it is critical. Let me know what your employer brands are about as I always love to learn how companies are maximizing the employer-employee connection.

Published on: Oct 29, 2015