Ways We Work: Your workplace is a product, and it has a brand

by Craig Bryant

Craig Bryant, Founder and CEO of Kin, and Emily Powers, Director of Operations and Finance at Fresh Tilled Soil, have joined forces to uncover the mysteries of the modern workplace. The following is the seventh chapter of an eight-part series featuring some of the greatest debates, struggles, and solutions surrounding how we work. Check out the entire series here.

I’m really proud of the three unique and memorable brands we’ve built. Our We Are Mammoth, Kin, and DoneDone brands are aesthetically pleasing to be sure, but what makes them truly valuable are the solid products backing ’em up. A good looking logo is nothing if the product it sells doesn’t live up to the promise. There’s another brand I’m just as proud of – the brand our employees say is inclusive, collaborative, and seasoned. It’s our employer brand – the image our team members connote when describing their experience working at our companies.

Employer branding is “the term used to describe an organization’s reputation as an employer.” These brands generally don’t have logos – but that doesn’t mean we don’t experience them. Every aspect of successful hiring and retention depends on a company’s ability to uphold a sturdy employer brand through a well-designed workplace.

The Product

I view our workplace as a product just like Kin or DoneDone. It can be designed, measured, and even sold. We even have a product team consisting of our company founders and operations team. There is feedback, iteration, and ultimately, new versions of our product rolled out at a regular clip.

Our workplace product has failed employees in the past, and that’s cost us. Likewise, since our workplace is mostly virtual, it’s certainly not a product for everyone…some folks need a physical work community to succeed.

Our workplace product is everything an employee experiences, from payroll and mentoring programs to our quarterly company summits and compensation reviews.

I think you get my point. Everything in our businesses can be viewed as a product, and the workplace where our employees thrive is amongst the most important on the list.

Our Customers

Every person that interacts with our workplace is a customer interacting with our employer brand and product. Our employees consume our everyday workplace – our managerial structure, people operations, and client projects. If they aren’t happy, well, they’ll shop elsewhere.

Job candidates are also important customers. Even if someone doesn’t make it to a first round interview, we still want them walking away from our company having had a positive experience via our hiring team’s feedback and responsiveness.

People leaving the company are also consuming a service of ours. It’s important to be mindful that someone going to work at another firm is carrying our name forward with them. Exit interviews are opportunities to create a lasting and, hopefully positive, experience.

The Brand

All of our workplace customers carry around an enduring impression of our product. If we do it well, they become brand evangelists. When they talk to friends and family, they’re spreading the word about our company. When they’re moving on to another job, they’ll be talking about their experience with us. Every story they share counts.

None of this is to say that our brand always leaves a good taste in everyone’s mouth. We haven’t always done a good job communicating with job candidates, for example. We’ve also parted ways with a couple coworkers on awkward terms. Regardless, with every undesirable experience, we’ve tried to improve upon so it doesn’t happen again. Brands aren’t static – they need upkeep.

The Upkeep (and measurement)

The best way to ensure our workplace brand stays healthy is to build a good company to work for. To do that, we need feedback and iteration. In the past several months, for example, we’ve seen new coworkers flourish under a beta mentoring program. Based on their feedback, the program has become a fundamental part of our organizational design. As an example of iteration, we’ve taken a couple of approaches to management over the years. We began really flat, but learned that day to day support and guidance are not only critical but desirable to a majority of our employees’ sense of well being.

In the same respect, we don’t cling to changes that don’t get adopted. Just like with software, if our hypothesis about a certain feature doesn’t prove out, it doesn’t make sense to keep it around. Improve it or remove it.

People are our biggest asset

We don’t have a warehouse full of inventory. The biggest line item in our expenses is our payroll. Our people are the most important thing our company has going for it. Given the competitiveness of our industry, it’s imperative our employees view our company as a desirable place to work – from the projects they do, the way they’re treated and supported, to the peers they help hire and mentor. If we screw that aspect of it up, well, there’s no talent to build and maintain all the other brands I’m so proud of after ten years. A great looking brand with nobody behind it is nothing but a picture hanging on the wall in an empty building.

If you build it they will come

Our companies aren’t static. Like any business, they have their ups and downs, and to be frank, a lot of the times the volatility is beyond our control. There are recessions, clients going out of business, and competitors appearing seemingly from nowhere. However, we have almost total control over the organization that our people come to work at everyday, and we know that building a good company to work for establishes the platform from which our businesses will continue to succeed for years to come.

About Fresh Tilled Soil

Fresh Tilled Soil is a Boston-based user interface and experience design firm focused on human centered digital design