Could your employer brand cross borders?

By Lotte Jones, Creative Projects



The Drum Network article

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December 17, 2019 | 12 min read

As a company with over 300,000 staff globally, having an employer brand that unifies its people is a bigger challenge for Nestlé than it is for most. We caught up with James McFadzean, who leads Nestlé's recruitment marketing and employer branding efforts in the Middle East and Africa, to discuss the considerations for an international attraction techniques, the future of diversity and building employer brand advocates internally.

Nestle header

You moved from London to the Middle East and now work on the Middle East and Africa. What are the key differences in the job markets between the West and the East?

The market here in the Middle East and Africa is younger. We’re not as advanced yet with things with things like employer branding and EVPs. A lot of it is building the foundations of a very practical and usable recruitment process. The way we measure success is the same but it's going back to basics here, starting from scratch and thinking, "how can we treat our employees like consumers? What does that need to look like so we can then start going into the whole story telling piece"

Something else that surprised me is that youth unemployment in the Middle East is higher than anywhere else in the world. 29% of all people under 30 are unemployed. How can you possibly capture the hearts and minds of such a massive population where the need to work, or the desire to work, may not be aligned to your organisation’s values or what it is you're offering.

How does attraction work when you're trying to overcome those challenges?

It takes much longer to launch attraction campaigns because the research we need to do is much deeper. We could never deal with 30% of the population at any one time, especially in places where there’s such a cultural mix of people from different countries, different beliefs, different career aspirations. We spend a lot of time speaking to our target markets and asking them what their barriers to employment look like.

It’s also quite different to the UK as the vast majority wants to work for the public sector. You get shortened working hours, great benefits for you and your family, lots of holiday days and interesting work. In comparison, the private sector is driven by profit and we need to make money to sustain our growth, so there's quite a lot of fear around moving into the private sector, especially for people who are originally from Middle Eastern countries. We try to inspire people with the incredible work we do. Whether that's around innovations or the products that everyone everyone knows and loves like KitKat or Nespresso, or whether that's initiatives we run for communities or the planet.

How do you manage localised initiatives for global brands?

We've got over 330,000 employees with colleagues in almost every country and we've got more than 2,000 brands. If you try to give everyone the same experience, the same message, no matter who you are, no matter where you are, it's pretty difficult. We try to have a global direction of travel, but very much localised according to our laws, our customs, and what we have to offer. We changed the way that we structured as an organisation to help this.

With an organisation that has so much international mobility, we need to make sure that there is a spirit and a set of values which is completely visible across all our offices while still being able to deal with the local challenges.

We set up four global hubs where we could collectively agree what Nestlé stands for and what we want to promise all employees - regardless of whether they're going into a factory in Togo or an office in San Francisco.

Are there any people outside of talent or HR that you call upon as advocates to support the work and drum up enthusiasm about working for Nestlé?

Absolutely. We've got 330,000 employees but we’ve got a relatively small talent team and employer brand team. We could never meet the number of people we needed to if it was just left to us alone. So, we started an advocacy project to collate all the incredible things going on in the business. We select about 50 people from key markets who can then act as advocates across social media. If we have a great factory manager from Senegal celebrating automation that we're doing in our factories in Africa, that's likely to hit a lot more relevant people. If I shared the same content (with my rather small network in Senegal) can I confidently speak about the best automation practice? No. I can share the article, but my perspective wouldn't add much weight. That's something that's been working well.

Are these advocates volunteers or are they selected because of how passionate they are?

We nominate people for a variety of reasons. Some people are key influencers within their respective specialties. If we have someone who is a specialist in maternal nutrition we’d be missing a trick not getting them involved. Otherwise if I know that I've got a real shortage of a certain nationality or demographic, then I will pick that person to be one of our advocates because I know that they’ll have strong networks.

What do you mean by diversity 2.0?

I think we are all well versed in the protective characteristics which we need to ensure are represented within our business, such as age, ethnicity, gender and disability status. In the UK, there is a focus on social mobility, looking at more contextualised ways of thinking about how people have achieved what they've achieved.

We're data-driven here. As a recruitment marketer, I think the perception can be that my job is to take fancy pictures and create some lovely videos. And don't get me wrong - I do that. But I also spend an awful lot of time working with dashboards about real-time data, looking at the different segmentations of who we currently have in our business.

We look at our data and cut it in so many different ways. It’s easy to look at the data and although everything might look good with balanced and fair with gender representation, when you delve deeper and see there are pockets of people that are under or over represented it takes your gender diversity to the next level, to ensure parity across the business.

With a company the size of Nestlé, with over 330,000 employees globally, how do you balance developing your existing staff with bringing new people into the organisation?

I'd say 50% of my work is about our talent plans for current employees. We ask them to think about where they could go next and how can we support that through learning and development, encouraging them to change roles, departments, countries every two to three years. This is because A) it makes them a lot more well rounded and it gets them to understand the global context of our business, and B) it makes sure that we retain our staff. There are constantly positions in completely different markets and completely different functions.

I think there's a big misconception that the Middle East is dominated by what you'd traditionally call "Westerners". I am one of a handful of British people we have in the whole of Nestlé Middle East - that's 17,000 staff. We believe that we can best serve our consumers by using people who are also consumers in this market. The KitKat tastes completely different here and we need to hire people who have grown up in this region. Local talent reflect local customs - they have an awareness of local consumer behaviour and how we can tailor our strategy to support that.

What are the focuses for you in employer branding over the next year?

A big area of focus for me and my team is nationalisation. One of the reasons I wanted to come to the Middle East is because employer branding is quite young, but the market is so fast and dynamic. Laws and rules change overnight. Within the year I've been here, the law has changed numerous times to say that a bigger proportion of the workforce has to be from that country - businesses that are behind that quota face heavy fines every month.

Youth is also a massive focus for us - there's a real challenge in this region with getting young people into work. We launched a new programme in the Middle East last year intending to impact 50,000 young people by next year, either giving them a job or making them more employable. We don't have a youth outreach team - the programme is run by the likes of me and my colleagues across HR, talent and comms. We partner with like-minded organizations across the region, emphasising that hands on experience is equally important as academic knowledge.

How is the programme going?

It's going really well. In terms of hires, our numbers are up. In terms of people impacted, we are looking at smarter ways to impact a lot more young people a lot quicker. How can we leverage technology? How can we make sure that we are going to things where we can add real value? How can we scale up a physical event to host 2,000 students? How can we then create impact beyond the 2,000 people within the room?

And it's not just at schools and universities. It's in supermarkets. It's in public spaces. Yes, there'll be a lot of wastage, but if we tell someone's parents, grandparents, cousins, teacher and the message makes its way through to the people who need to hear it, then that's not a waste. It's just outside the usual classroom scenarios, so it feels a little bit more real and authentic.

Where does this problem of youth unemployment stem from? How do you work with this as an FMCG company?

It's unemployment and particularly in Africa, it’s underemployment. Almost half of the young people in Africa have either no job or a job which keeps them under the bread line. I'm welcoming these types of candidates into Nestlé - a lot of our business in Central and West Africa is about accessibility of our product to people from all economic backgrounds.

People who have that lived experience know exactly how to bring our goods to market. In the UK, you see beautiful confectionary displays of the latest flavour of KitKat. In Africa, it's about how we can sell single cups of coffee from a street vendor.

It's a very different skill set, it's a very different market and it's a very different challenge. We believe that young people are the key to drive us to make better decisions and to be more innovative.

Nestlé has over 150 years of history behind it but markets like the Middle East and Africa depend on young people. We don't have a structured graduate programme where we attract them in from their second year internship. We have to think of more creative ways that we can win the hearts and minds and find the best people who can drive us in the business.

Do you have any advice for a company growing operations in the Middle East or Africa?

There’s a really big focus on entrepreneurship. Think about how you can get people to use their enterprising skills, ideas and passions to improve organisations. The reason that unemployment looks high in the Middle East is that there are a lot of people doing things in family-owned companies, or startups.

Think about ways in which you can lean on innovation - innovation challenges, competitions, ways of hearing issues from young people while also telling them we're looking for new talent to join our organisation.

There's a huge potential for engaging through social media. Saudi Arabia is the biggest market for Snapchat in terms of users per population - if you're not using social platforms then you're not talking to anyone in a meaningful way. We've recently launched a social campaign across Saudi, creating meaningful content across Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. It's been hugely successful in terms of reach.

There are challenges. Society is so different from the UK and you have to be aware of traditions. There is a conflict between people wanting to explore the rest of the world, and the government putting things in place such as national workforce quotas. You need to find ways to ensure that the boldest and best of your talent isn't leaving - the only way to do this is to empower them to drive the change in their home countries. The promise of building a legacy is a really powerful proposition.

Interview with Will Cooper and James McFadzean, article by Lotte Jones, partner at Wiser.


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Wiser is an award-winning creative & recruitment company combining culture and performance to change the way people think about work.It's a home for people who...

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