Susan Strayer LaMotte, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member

Susan Strayer LaMotte, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member

While I was raised as an Episcopalian, as a kid I went to so many Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, I still know the prayer over the wine by heart. (Just ask.) I found the Jewish faith fascinating, especially when I heard one certain phrase: “the tribe.”

“Member of the tribe” is an Urban Dictionary reference.  A book called Cool Jew references itself as “The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe.” There’s a co-working space in Philadelphia with “Jewish roots” called Tribe Commons. In fact, the use of the word “tribe” to describe Jews is so overused, there’s a post devoted to reminding Jews they aren’t an actual tribe.

What does tribe really mean?  Belonging, community, being a part of something.  That’s what it feels like to be a member of the tribe.

In the years I’ve been researching, reading, writing and creating employer brands, the most overused phrase has to be “employer value proposition.” The promise, the offer of what you’ll experience once you become part of the organization.  And where employer brands fall apart is in not delivering on that promise. You join the tribe and POOF. It’s like taking your blindfold off in a Febreze commercial.

An employer brand is nothing without culture. And culture is the delivery of the promise.  That’s where the tribe comes in.

When asked what culture is, I use the word tribe. A functioning tribe has rules to join, rules to leave, and rules that keep the tribe running smoothly. Take modern American Indian tribes. They still run by tribal councils, and have rules to enroll and dis-enroll in the tribe. They have traditions, symbols and ways of being that are different and may even seem strange or odd to non-members. But members of the tribe relish in them. They belong.

And that’s how we really need to think about employer brand. We need to start with culture. What defines our tribe? What are the elements that make us who we are? The more honest you are the b—it helps people self-select out.

I look at the chants Wal-Mart employees do and think they’re really hokey. I’d never do them. It doesn’t make them wrong or silly. It just means that I wouldn’t fit in that tribe. Every tribe has values, too.  For example, the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation values the promotion of education. But how does that happen in the tribe?

One of the exercises we help clients with is through something we call “work rules.” Think conch shell from Lord of Flies. It’s a way to make what a company values real and hold employees accountable.  For example, let’s say, customer service is a value. Great. But what does that really mean? The work rule helps to define the kind of customer service that’s valued. Is it about developing deep customer relationships and taking the time to solve a problem? Or is it about quick turnaround and immediate service that’s fast and helpful? Two different types of service means two different kinds of employees. And two different tribes.

It also means different hiring strategies. The way service is provided at Zappos and The Ritz-Carlton is different, and that means the employees have to be different.

Re-enter employer brand. When you live your cultural values and you can clearly define the rules of the tribe, the employer brand isn’t just a promise or a proposition. It’s a clear definition, and introduction, and a gateway to the tribe.

Do you feel special? Do you feel like you’re a part of a community? Are you a member of a tribe? If you don’t have the feeling, candidates won’t.  Your brand isn’t a mask—it’s a glimpse into what it means to have joined.

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