106 seconds with Amy Sawbridge, Employer Brand and Employee Experience Consultant
After ten years as part of the Virgin Group, Amy now works freelance with companies to help them define what their brand stands for as an employer and embed that through their employee experience. She’s passionate about the need to create consistent and authentic experiences, bridging the gap that often exists between the People function and Brand & Marketing.
Throughout her career Amy has worked with iconic brands, across sectors ranging from aviation, fashion, healthcare, telecoms, banking and non-profit. Whilst at Virgin, she led the Employee Experience function as part of the Global Brand team and worked with the People teams in all the Virgin companies across the globe. She was responsible for developing Virgin’s point of view on all things People and Culture. This encompassed all aspects of the employee experience throughout the employee lifecycle, culture, engagement, diversity and inclusion, and employee communications.
Since working freelance, she’s had the great privilege to work with other iconic brands on opportunities such as implementing a new employer brand function, creating a business-wide vision, developing a diversity & inclusion strategy, as well as mentoring a team to set an ambitious People Strategy.
You most recently worked for one of the world’s most famous brands. What was that like?
It was truly the making of me professionally. I had the most amazing ten years working for Virgin. It was a brand that I always aspired to work for & I couldn’t believe my luck when I got the job working for Virgin Mobile as it was just becoming part of Virgin Media. After four years, I was even luckier to then move on to Virgin Group, where I had the great privilege to work with all of the Virgin companies globally on anything relating to People & Culture.
The thing that I loved the most about Virgin was the ability to be myself at work, whilst at the same time feeling very much part of a like-minded team. I also thrived in the environment of informality, freedom, dedication, and sense that anything could happen. It’s important to clarify though that we all worked really hard, it wasn’t a cushy number. We always pushed ourselves to deliver to the highest standard, often without the same level of resources as some of our sector competitors.
What were some of your highlights at Virgin?
I’m happy to say that there are a number, but the ultimate highlight for me is the successful delivery of the initiative to define (& enable our companies to embed) our People Promise (others may refer to this as their employee value proposition or employer brand). For us it was about the ‘deal’ that we had with our employees (current & future) of what they could expect of us & what we expected of them. It was the first time in the brand’s 48-year history that we’d managed to define it & it was so well adopted by the Virgin companies – that’s the best endorsement of delivering something of value.
Another highlight was defining our leadership philosophy, as well as our over-arching approach to Diversity & Inclusion. Both of which are significant in terms of delivering value to the Virgin brand & ensuring that we’re behaving in ways that are consistent with people’s expectations of the brand.
What makes the world of employer branding so interesting for you?
I’ve been fortunate to work for employers who understand that by treating their employees like human beings, they stand to create a positive working environment that will in turn deliver a great experience for its customers, ultimately making the organisation more successful. Thankfully this is becoming increasingly prevalent & creates a great platform for organisations to tell a more authentic & compelling narrative about who they are.
So for me, employer branding is the thing that you do after you’ve got your employee experience right, & all being well, your employees will happily be your ambassadors, telling people about their great experience on your behalf. Employer branding is not some fictional story of who you are to attract new talent to join you. If you do that, all you’re doing is creating other issues for yourself further down the line.
I’m also very excited about the potential for employer brand to become the ultimate driver & predictor of brand equity. Products & wrap-around services often converge, whereas the person that you’re doing business with will always be unique & carry a significant influence on your affinity with & loyalty to the brand.
Where do you think employers could improve their employer brand experience?
Well it links back to the previous question. I’m not a comms expert, so I’m not going to advocate the latest means by which to tell your story. I believe that the best way for employers to improve their employer brand experience is by taking time to fully understand exactly what it is in the first place. Don’t get caught up in the hype & copy what others are doing, or be blinkered about the realities of your culture, or design something entirely new that isn’t yet felt by your employees. Your employer brand should help people make the right choice about working for you (both prospective & existing employees), which is potentially as likely to discourage as encourage people. The culture that (hopefully!) makes you successful, won’t have ubiquitous appeal. At Virgin we knew that we could be a challenging place to work if you valued structure, process & predictability. Whereas thriving in those ways of working would be absolutely essential elsewhere.
Who do you think is getting it right?
I think that a number of start-up organisations are absolutely nailing this, because it’s their people & culture that is enabling them to continue to succeed & grow, & they’re colouring in a blank canvas.
That said, I love some of Heineken’s recent work (https://goplaces.theheinekencompany.com/en-gb/agegate), as well as L’Oreal & Lego…
And where would you most like to go on holiday?
Hmmm…always a difficult question! I think I’d probably say the Galapagos Islands. I studied Anthropology at university, so to have the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Darwin at the point at which he had some of his most momentous inspiration, would be a true joy.