When you talk about leaders in the human resources profession, tops on the list is Libby Sartain. She is best known in the HR world for her roles as Chief Human Resources Officer for Southwest Airlines and Yahoo! Inc. where she developed the employment brand strategies that helped grow the business. Both Yahoo and Southwest were listed on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to work for during her tenure.
Oh, and let me just add one more thing. Libby is a former board chair for the Society for Human Resource Management. She’s the real deal – business savvy, HR smart, and volunteer leader.
I had the pleasure of meeting Libby several years ago, when we both worked in the airline industry. She’s always impressed me with smarts and her willingness to share her knowledge. So I was delighted when she accepted my interview invite.
1) Your blog, Brand for Talent, focuses on the employer brand. How can we help our organizations understand that branding today isn’t the same as branding ten years ago?
More than a decade ago, Marketers began to realize that branding was a lot more than slogans, taglines, and selling products. A few companies had risen above advertising to realize that their brand had a lot more to do with what they stood for than what they sold. Legendary brands connected customers to a “big idea”. And the connection made wasn’t just functional, but also emotional.
Over the last decade, as social media became mainstream, marketers realized that they could no longer control brand messaging. In fact, they realized that you were only as good as each and every worker, supplier, or partner who had anything to do with delivering the brand promise at each point of interaction with a customer.
So, branding moved from the outside-in to the inside-out. The best brands made sure that everyone who delivered the brand promise at every touch point understood the brand promise and their role in delivering it. In these companies; Marketing, HR, and Corp Comm attached at the hip to work with business operations to ensure a branded experience inside and out.
The concept of employer branding isn’t just about messaging to your workers. It is about creating both an emotional and functional connection between the brand and the worker. It is about making an internal brand promise to an organization’s most important customer, the workers. Mark Schumann and I define it as “how a business builds and packages its identity, origins and values, and what it promises to deliver to emotionally connect employees so that they, in turn, deliver what the business promises to customers.”
HR in many ways is the new marketing. So we need to help our organizations understand how to move beyond employee engagement to creating brand ambassadors at every level.
2) You’ve worked at some of the most iconic brands of our time – Mary Kay Cosmetics, Southwest Airlines and Yahoo!. Can you share with readers your philosophy regarding the role human resources plays in the company?
The primary role for HR is to ensure that the business succeeds by having the right workforce in the right places at the right time. There is so much more involved including strategic workforce planning and talent management, the right rewards and recognition, flexibility to add and delete workers according to business requirements. And, ensuring a culture that inspires and leads to a higher performance than the competition.
Mary Kay, Southwest and Yahoo understood the importance of an inspired workforce in the very early days. They connected workers to the customers and drove higher levels of performance by focusing on workers’ values individually and collectively. I was very lucky to be part of delivering innovative HR programming that helped foster high growth in these companies while maintaining our unique workplace cultures for which we became well-known.
3) As a human resources professional, I’m always interested to know if I worked for you what would you expect from me?
Before I ever hired you I would want to make sure that there was a good match between your values and the organization’s values, whether or not you would fit in. I expect you to be about the business first, and to understand and enjoy the business we are in. I would want you to know your stuff…whether an area of HR specialization or a broad generalist background. I would want to see your education and background demonstrating your commitment to HR. Bringing in and fostering top talent would have to be a top priority even if your role wasn’t directly related to hiring or retention. I expect you to be customer service driven with workers as the number one customer. I expect you to appreciate the magnitude of your role in HR, with a sense of duty for the responsibility entrusted in you. I expect you to be solutions oriented and would give extra credit for innovative ideas.
4) Here at HR Bartender, we do serious work but try not to take ourselves too seriously. So my last question is what’s your favorite drink (adult or not)?
I admit, I am a wino. I like most reds and whites (no white zin or sweet wines) with Pinot as my favorite grape.
It’s no wonder with her proven success in talent management that Libby was named one of the Top 100 Influencers by John Sumser’s Two Color Hat and Human Resources Executive named her one of the 25 most powerful women in HR.
You can read more about Libby’s philosophies and commentary on HR and branding at her blog and in her books. She’s the co-author of HR from the Heart: Inspiring Stories and Strategies for Building the People Side of Great Business, Brand from the Inside: Eight Essentials to Connect Your Employees to Your Business, and Brand for Talent: Eight Essentials to Make Your Talent As Famous As Your Brand. She’s also active on Twitter, so be sure to follow her there.
Thanks to Libby for the interview. The next glass of wine is on me! Cheers.