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Culture Drives Employment Brand
 

By Dori Meinert  2/1/2013

Orlando, Fla.—Regeneron Pharmaceuticals may not be the right place for everyone. It says so right on the company’s website.

“We like being different,” said Ross Grossman, Regeneron’s vice president of human resources, who outlined the company’s culture-driven recruitment campaign as part of a “smarter workforce” track at IBM’s annual conference for clients, held here Jan. 28-30, 2013.

New York-based Regeneron had just 650 employees when it entered into a substantial collaboration with Sanofi to develop new drugs. Grossman was tasked with hiring 350 employees, mostly scientists for the company’s research-and-development division, in only a few months.

That’s a tough task given that top scientists are hard to recruit. They tend to stay with the same company for years to see through to completion the results from the particular scientific programs with which they have been affiliated.

 “We were pretty well known in scientific circles, so, in small numbers at least, for a scientist job we just had to say we had an opening, and it had been easy to fill the position,” Grossman noted in an online case study about the hiring initiative. But, he added, the large-scale hiring project required the company to rethink its entire recruitment process, placing particular emphasis on the hiring of scientists.

At the same time, Regeneron’s leaders wanted to ensure that the rapid growth didn’t change what made the biotech company special: a passion for science. Therefore, Grossman solicited help in 2007 from consultants at Kenexa, which was acquired by IBM in December 2012.

Kenexa conducted a cultural assessment of Regeneron, and then its consultants helped Regeneron develop a plan to recruit and hire scientists who also exhibited that passion for their work and who would fit well into the organization’s culture. What they learned from the cultural audit was eventually used to hone the company’s overall employment brand and shape the development of its recruitment campaign, which emphasized five things every prospective employee should know about the company before signing on with it. (A list of questions to address during a cultural audit or needs assessment can be found in SHRM Online’s Tools & Templates section.)

“The ‘Regeneron 5’ defines what it means to work and be successful within our walls,” the website states. “At Regeneron, we have worked hard to develop and foster our culture. Any good Regeneron employee should not only understand our culture but thrive in it.”

The five attributes are:

Science drives our business, and passion drives our science.

We are a select team.

You will be challenged every day.

“That’s the way we’ve always done it” is the wrong answer.

We won’t let bureaucracy block good ideas.

The company advertised on websites that scientists were known to frequent. But would-be applicants were cautioned: Don’t apply if you’re content to be the smartest person in the room.

The strategy proved wildly successful, Grossman said. The hiring goals were met, enabling the company to fulfill its agreement with Sanofi and continue growing by more than 1,000 employees in subsequent years. In addition, turnover—at 6 percent to 7 percent—remains lower than the industry average.

“If you look at our career site, if you come into our buildings, go into our orientation, go almost anywhere on our campus, you see the Regeneron 5 everywhere,” Grossman pointed out in the case study.

Living the Employment Brand

Kenexa research has shown that organizational culture and employee engagement drive business performance, said Bill Erickson, Kenexa’s consultancy practice leader, during the same conference session. The key is to find what matters most to employees and integrate that into the employment brand and workplace culture.

“What can managers do that makes employees want to work harder, stay longer and care more?” Erickson asked.

Nebraska-based outdoor-equipment retailer Cabela’s has found that strengthening the company’s culture helps improve employee retention and engagement and, ultimately, sales. The company commissioned Kenexa to perform a cultural assessment in 2009, after a new chief executive officer came on board. The assessment revealed that the people who work at Cabela’s view it as more of a calling than a job. As one employee noted on the assessment, “I was born to work here.”

Kenexa helped the company identify what gave Cabela’s 15,000 workers pride—namely, their love of the outdoors and their desire to teach others to respect nature. So the retailer applied the same branding principles it uses to attract and retain customers to attract and retain top employees and adopted a set of values it dubs “The Nature of Cabela’s,” which describes the culture the company envisions. It also produced a “field journal” designed to help managers conduct team cultural workshops to communicate the values statements and how they relate to each employee.

The subsequent recruitment marketing campaign, “Born to Work Here,” is intended to appeal to potential job applicants’ love of nature. The company’s career site includes testimonials from current employees and a cultural-fit quiz, to more accurately identify the candidates who were “born” to work at Cabela’s.

The changes have been dramatic. “We went from a rules-based company to a values-based company,” said Charles Baldwin, its chief administrative officer and former chief human resources officer, during the presentation.

The culture improvements have had a positive business impact. One year after rolling out “The Nature of Cabela’s,” overall engagement scores rose 5 percent, according to an online case study about Cabela’s published by Kenexa. Engagement scores have improved in each of the past three years, and turnover is down to about 30 percent from almost 50 percent in 2008.

And the company’s more engaged workers have helped increase sales, Baldwin observed. In fact, its retail stores that rank in the top 50 percent of engagement have sales-per-labor-hour figures that are 9.3 percent greater than stores in the bottom half, according to Kenexa.

“We sell fun; we don’t sell toilet paper,” said Baldwin. Cabela’s employees “want to be part of something that’s bigger.”

Dori Meinert is a senior writer for HR Magazine.

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