HRExaminer Radio

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HRExaminer Radio

Guest: Lexi Gordon: Lead Consultant & Project Manager, exaqueo
Episode: 160
Air Date: March 16, 2016


Lexi Gordon, Lead Consultant and Project Manager for exaqueo, offers clients her experience in strategy and change management consulting, marketing and branding, and project management. She built a foundation in traditional consulting from Deloitte and ICF International and developed an understanding of the effects of organizational change during her time with The Clearing, a strategy and culture consulting firm. There, she mastered her group facilitation skills. She also has deep experience on the inside working in industry. Specifically, Lexi developed employer and consumer brands and marketing strategy for both Marriott International and Rich Products Corporation. Lexi has engaged with bitcoin gold trading sites ranging from startups to mature organizations, including the World Bank, International Finance Corporation, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Proctor & Gamble, PL360 Beverages, MedSolutions, GEICO, Four Seasons, Verizon, and more. She has a knack for fusing the creative with the analytical from her liberal arts degree at Hamilton College and her MBA from Vanderbilt University. Originally from Buffalo, NY, Lexi lives in Bethesda, MD with her husband, daughter, and dog. She also serves on the Board of Directors for Jobs Have Priority, a local non-profit linking the homeless with sustainable employment.


Audio MP3





Begin transcript

John Sumser: Good morning. Welcome to HR Examiner Radio. I’m your host, John Sumser. We’re coming to you today live from beautiful, downtown Occidental. Last week it was sunshiny here and they took it away from us.


  Today, we’re going to be talking with Lexi Gordon, who’s a Lead Consultant over at Susan LaMotte’s exaqueo which is an employment brand and strategy consulting operation.


  Good morning, Lexi. How are you?


Lexi Gordon: Good morning, I’m doing fine over here in Washington, DC.


John Sumser: Why don’t you take a moment and introduce yourself to the audience, please.


Lexi Gordon: Okay, sure. I’m Lexi Gordon, as I mentioned I live in the Washington, DC area. I grew up in Buffalo, New York so this tease of warm and cold weather is getting to me. I appreciate the southern warmth that we get here. I’m a Lead Consultant and Project Manager for exaqueo.


John Sumser: What does a Lead Consultant and Project Manager do?


Lexi Gordon: I wear two hats. I make sure as a Project Manager that we are doing what we need to do according to the plan of work for our clients. I also consult in the work. I go into the content and provide my expertise in employer brand and branding and marketing.


John Sumser: How did you end up doing this?


Lexi Gordon: I started out doing broad management consulting and had the interest in working in marketing and brands. I went to grad school for that and when I was looking for jobs out of grad school… I was meeting with alumni from my school, I stumbled upon Susan LaMott, who’s also alum from my grad school. She was actually looking for someone for her team in HR in a hospitality company. I just so happened to meet those requirements. They were looking for someone who did not have an HR background. I interviewed, I went through the process and she brought me in.


  That was my introduction to HR and I haven’t looked back. It’s been really cool to see that intersection of people and marketing and brand and how that plays into the work place.


John Sumser: Tell me a little bit about employment branding. What does that mean to you? What do you think employment branding is?


Lexi Gordon: Employment branding is making sure you deliver on the promise that you make to candidates. It doesn’t just end at the recruitment phase, it includes the recruitment phase. You also have to make sure that what you’re saying at that point and what people are seeing out in the market is true.


  Employment branding to me is the full lifecycle from recruitment to delivery, even to people who have left your company. What’s that experience like? Are you Keeping in touch with them? They could be potential employees, potential referrals from employees. It really pulls through from to the full employment experience from recruitment to alumni to me.


John Sumser: You said something interesting there. You said that, “Employment branding is about making sure that what you say is true.”


  Is that roughly what you said? [crosstalk 00:04:18]


  How do you do that?


Lexi Gordon: Our approach is that you ground your employer brand in truth and in research. You have to find out what makes you unique. Who are you? What makes you different from your competitors and how do you communicate that out to the world? You can’t just approach your brand and say, “Well, this is what we think that we are.” You really need to get to the heart of it and talk to employees. What is it that they see happening in your workplace? What makes you different? You need to ground it in truth and what reality is.


  That starts with talking to employees. Understanding what their experience is like. Seeing where those commonalities are across the board because various levels, various demographics… What’s that common thread that’s there that’s holding your brand together? Then, communicating out that truth. The good, the bad, the ugly to the world.


  Not every place is the right place to work for everyone. You want to find the right people that will take the good with the bad and make sure you’re really being authentic in how you communicate it.


John Sumser: What’s the current job and what does a day look like for you?


Lexi Gordon: My day can be anywhere from a client call… I’m on the phone with them a lot. I could also be doing a focus group, I could be doing interviews, working on digging into the research that we’ve collected from employees and developing out the foundation for a brand. Looking for those commonalities that you see across the board.


  My day could be a variety of different things. From meetings to traveling into our clients worlds and into their offices, and meeting with their employees.


John Sumser: You work for exaqueo. What is exaqueo and what does a client engagement look like with exaqueo.


Lexi Gordon: We are a workforce consultancy. We do everything custom for our clients. The name of our company comes from a Latin phrase that in translations means “on equal footing”.


  Our belief is that everyone deserves to be on equal footing. We help our clients come to that and be on equal footing with their competitors by finding out what’s different about them. Our approach for our clients is to be custom because no client is the same. We want to make sure that we pull out what makes them different. That’s in essence who we are.


  A typical engagement would involve working with a client who might be starting out from scratch with no foundation of an employee brand. Obviously they exist, so they have some brand presence. They might not have formalized it, so we might work with them to talk to their employees through focus groups, through interview, surveys to get to know their company. Find out what makes them unique and help them pull that through to their brand and the foundation of their brand and execute on it… Pulling that through to recruitment, through the employment experience. That could be one type of engagement, where we are starting from scratch.


  Other engagements might be, they’ve got an established brand. They’ve already got the foundational pieces. We might help them pull that through to the campus experience. They’ve got what their foundation is but they might need to translate that into the campus audience so we might do research for them in that area.


  Our clients come to the table at different stages in their employment brand.


John Sumser: You use the term, “pull that through” a lot. What does that mean?


Lexi Gordon: That means making sure that that experience is consistent at every touch point.


  Let’s take a hotel for example, from the consumer standpoint. Let’s take the Ritz-Carlton who’s known for a luxury experience. If you walk into a Ritz-Carlton, even if you’re on their website booking your ticket, you get the sense from the photography that it’s a luxurious experience. When you show up at their hotel, you’re expecting that luxurious experience. Everything from your check-in to checking your bag, to going into the room and smelling and using the mini-bar, to the check-out to the follow on the experience when they ask you for your feedback. You’ve now pulled through that luxurious experience of every touch point that you experience as a customer.


  When we are looking at employer brand, it’s pulling through that full experience that you might have as a candidate or an employee. Just by going to your site and searching your career website, I’m getting a sense of who you are from that. I have this expectation. You’re a friendly workplace or you’re a start-up or you’re not, or an established company. When I go into your office, when I go in to interview, I’m expecting something based on what I’ve experienced online.


John Sumser: So what you’re saying is you can extend the promise of the brand into reality? I’m imagining the house keeping staff at Ritz-Carlton and wondering exactly how you extend a luxurious experience to them.


Lexi Gordon: That’s a good transition to how that might work with the employment brand.


  How you might extend that would be through the special touches that they might do in your hotel room.


John Sumser: No, for them. You said employment branding is extending the brand experience to the employee and to the candidate. I’m interested in how you extend [crosstalk 00:12:02] into the experience of the employees and the people who would be looking for these jobs.


Lexi Gordon: That gets at that difference between consumer and employee brand. In that example, maybe luxury is not the employer brand in that case. For that particular employer, maybe their value proposition to their employees are different from what they are promising their consumers.


  What’s valuable to those employees is that that organization will always be a path for you no matter what that might be. There’s an opportunity for promotion or an opportunity to move around to different locations. There’s that distinction between what’s a value proposition to customers and that might be different from what the employment experience might be.


John Sumser: Consumer brand and employment brand are observably different. How do you go through the process of getting from, “We don’t know what it is,” to having a clear picture of it?


Lexi Gordon: We start out with our client on what data they’ve collected already. It might be engagement data. It might be data around retention. We get a sense of what the current state is. We would talk to them about who are the people in the organization they want to replicate? Who are the high potential people that we should be talking to? They’re the people that we want to base this off of.


  We collect who those people might be and then we conduct focus groups, asking a variety of questions. From who they are as people with this belief that you bring your whole self to work. Who you are outside of work influences who you are inside of work.


  We collect that information… That’s usually not data that companies collect and it plays into who the brand is. If your employees are all people who have families and work-life balance is really important to them, then that is an important piece of your employer brand.


  We might collect information around why people stay, why people leave, what’s important to them when they’re looking for a job, how they look for jobs… We collect all this data around their employees.


  We do leadership interviews as well. We talk to leadership about their perspective and what their experience is. That might be different from the average employee. We look at all this data across the board. Find out what those common themes are and we pull that through into the employee value proposition. What are all the things that you could possibly hang your hat on? That’s what we believe the employee value proposition is.


  From there, we pull out the fewest, most important things you would want to hang your hat on that make you different from your competitors, that you want to base your brand off of. That’s how we build the brand. That’s the foundational aspect of what we do for our clients.


John Sumser: Does that go as far as media planning and media purchasing? Do you do that much of the branding process?


Lexi Gordon: That might be part of the execution. When we established who they are, that would be part of the pull through. Let’s say they want to do a flash campaign or they’re targeting a particular segment… Needing to fill a lot of IT positions. We would do recommendations… “Here’s what your foundational brand is. Here’s how you pull that through when you’re communicating to this audience.” That might involve media play to make it known that this is what we stand for.


  Google is a great example of using media for their employer brand. They’re always in the news about what their employment experience is like and what makes them different. They’re always in the news. That’s a good example of strong media play.


John Sumser: If you design brand strategy… Help a company articulate the plan around messaging and distribution of that set of messages, why do you think you’re not a recruitment advertising agency?


Lexi Gordon: Because of what I mentioned earlier in terms of pulling it through to the full employment experience. There is definitely a recruitment aspect of it and we help clients determine what that strategy is as it relates to recruitment. We might also pull it through to the employment experience.


  There might be a piece about branding the way that you communicate benefits and highlighting certain things that are aligned with your brand that maybe you weren’t doing before.


  For example, say it’s a healthcare company and they really want to pull through the health component of their benefits because that’s a really foundational piece of their brand. We would help them do that. It’s more than just recruitment, it’s pulling it through to the full experience [crosstalk 00:18:28].


John Sumser: Maybe I didn’t ask the questions well. It seems to me that you’re an advertising agency. A recruitment advertising agency. You provide the range of services that advertising agencies provide. Have you thought about it that way? I don’t mean to ambush you here, but have you thought about the business as if it were an advertising agency?


Lexi Gordon: We don’t think of ourselves as an advertising agency only because there’s the research component of what we do.


John Sumser: Are you kidding? That’s all advertising is, is research.


Lexi Gordon: I mean there’s similarities for sure, but I think we pull it through to the overall strategic direction of the company. I mentioned earlier about collecting data from the company to get the current state. It’s usually connected to their broader strategy in some way.


  I see what you’re saying and there are some similarities, but no. We haven’t thought of ourselves in that way. We’re more focused on the employer brand. I don’t know how else to describe it.


  To answer your questions more directly, we have not thought of ourselves that way and I don’t see that we are.


John Sumser: Okay. What’s the target customer look like at exaqueo?


Lexi Gordon: It could really be anyone because any company who has employees we could touch. We’ve worked with non-profits, we’ve worked with large fortune 50 companies, we’ve worked with [inaudible 00:20:21]. Anyone who employs people, which is most companies, pretty much all companies, could be our client. Everyone has something unique that they need to share about their employment experience and we help pull that through.


John Sumser: Do you go as far in the work as building talent pipelines? The step after… You said it’s a workforce consultancy, so you probably do. Is that in your portfolio?


Lexi Gordon: That’s not something we have done in the past. No, we don’t go that far down the workforce path. It’s more focused on the foundational pieces of building the employment experience.


John Sumser: Got it. Why don’t you talk about that a little bit. What is the employment experience and how do you help illuminate it?


Lexi Gordon: Something that’s really important is being authentic and talking about the reality of the employment experience. A lot of times, if you were to look at 10 or 15 different careers websites, you’d see that they all look pretty similar. They’re all saying very similar things. “We’re a great place to work. We do this, that, and the other.” They’re all pretty fluffy and sound the same. We help our clients really find that uniqueness that is not the same to everyone else. Everyone says they have a great place to work, they treat their employees well, etc. etc.


  What really makes it different? What’s the good and the bad? You want to balance it out. When you say everything’s great and fantastic people know that that’s not true. There’s pros and cons to every job and every company. We help our clients understand what is good and bad about working for their company. How they can balance that when communicating out to the world. What the value is of working for their company.


  For example, let’s take a really high company where people are working really hard. There’s that reality of it. You don’t want to sugarcoat it. If you do and they come in and it’s really fast-paced and they’re working long hours, they’re going to say, “This isn’t what you told me it was like, so I’m going to leave.”


  We help them understand what that good and bad is and help them then communication it in a way that isn’t totally negating the experience. You don’t want to say, “It sucks to work here, so I’m not going to work here.” We share a way that can illuminate the good and bad and draw in the right people.


John Sumser: That must be hard to do sometimes.


Lexi Gordon: It is. I’ll give you an example… In our early talks with a client, there was a really foundational component to their company. It was a belief that their founder lived on and something that they really valued. Something that we were going to test if that was really true in the experience of the employee. It was a value that they used to live by.


  In the early days they said, “Wow, we would be really surprised if that did not come out.” Sure enough, it didn’t really come out in our interviews and our focus groups. We had to have a really hard conversation saying, “This thing that you think is really important in your company, is not really as important as you think it is.”


  The employers assured that and we got hard data to say that this is true. It actually opened up a really neat conversation to witness and they really thought about, “Should we be hanging our hat on this? Should we be using this as a foundational value to our company?”


  It was a hard thing to reveal because we knew that they would be really surprised. They actually took it to heart and had some high level conversations around whether or not they should move that forward or leave it behind.


John Sumser: What did they decide?


Lexi Gordon: It’s still in progress, but I think they were leaning towards bringing it out in a different way. Maybe it’s not as much a part of their employment experience but more a part of their customer experience. It did inspire some action to happen and to stray away from it when they talk about their employment experience.


John Sumser: That’s interesting. So you’re really talking about employment brand as something that can be managed. Just like a brand with rigor and discipline and that it’s possible for an organization to see those two facets of itself and communicate differently down each channel.


  That’s an interesting idea. Do you think that’s true?


Lexi Gordon: I do. I think it really forces companies to choose what they’re doing with their HR strategy. Everyone wants to show up on these big ranking lists, the fortune best places to work. That impacts your brand, in a lot of ways. People see you on that list and they’re aware of you. It creates an awareness of your company as a good place to work. The list from a resource perspective, internally, can be really intensive and are they really true? You don’t know. But, it forces you to really think about, “Where is my brand present? Are those the places I want it to be present? How can I best portray our company as a place to work?” Anywhere from being present on those lists to being in the media.


  That’s an example and I use this example because we’ve had this discussion with a client around does it make sense to be on this list given the strength of their brand reputation? Should they be wasting their time and resources on that when they could be influencing in other ways? It really does have an impact in that way.


John Sumser: Great. Well, we have run through our time for today. Is there anything I should have asked you?


Lexi Gordon: We believe in that whole self model of asking questions around who people are as people. What values they have. What they do outside of work for fun. So maybe some questions around that side of work or a side of the job as well.


John Sumser: I’ll try to remember that next time. Would you take a moment and introduce yourself again? Tell people how to get ahold of you?


Lexi Gordon: I’m Lexi Gordon. I’m a Lead Consultant and Project Manager at exaqueo. You can reach me at Lexi, L-E-X-I, at exaqueo dot com.


John Sumser: Thanks so much for being here today, Lexi.


  You’ve been listening to HR Examiner Radio and we’ve been talking with Lexi Gordon who’s a Lead Consultant and Project Manager at exaqueo.


  Thanks again Lexi for being here. And thanks everybody for tuning in today.


Lexi Gordon: Thank you.


John Sumser: Appreciate it, bye now.


Lexi Gordon: Bye.

End transcript

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