Employee Branding That Rocks

January 26, 2012 | 478 Views

Employee Branding That Rocks

Jim Knight

Founder/Owner | Knight Speaker

How you attract, hire, train, develop and treat your front-line employees is commonly known as the one true strategy to provide great guest service.  In lieu of managers doing all of the work themselves, a specific culture must be created and fostered to secure commitment from the employees to stick around and deliver the desired service.  This takes time and a lot of work.

This interactive session was designed to highlight best practices to create and maintain a strong internal employee culture.  Knowing that Generation Y and the Millenials are the talent pool with which our industry is made, there are some key strategies that can be used to tap into and develop that workforce. 

Because of its successes – publicly and internally - the visceral backdrop of Hard Rock International is used as a platform to discuss ways to create, maintain or revive a desired employee environment, regardless of the current state of the state.

Some of Hard Rock’s practices may seem a bit too irreverent and unpredictable for your particular company, but the fundamentals – both theoretical and practical – are instructionally sound.

What is Employee branding?

I define this as the process by which employees internalize the desired brand image and are motivated to project that image to the guests. It is the organization’s responsibility to create buy-in by internally marketing the brand. Great brands get everyone to sing off the same song sheet. It gets people to do what you want them to do, that they might not have done on their own. You’ve got to teach people and storytell to them in such a way that they feel like they are committed to the brand. It’s all about internally marketing the brand to the employee first. But a lot of things have to occur for the experience to go right.

We are all pretty good at marketing to the consumer, but you need to do the same thing for the internal brand as well. I think that employee branding is becoming more important, especially in today’s climate where looking for low cost initiatives is important. You have to look at things internally, and branding is where you can start. Employee branding put me on the map, both in my own company and in hospitality.

These days, every business has a traffic problem. You have to convince people to walk in the door. The only way to do that is to give them a positive guest experience. And the positive guest experiences come from the employees. You have to always ask yourself the question: Did we hire the right person?

But to some degree, if I’m trying to train and develop a wrong hire, all the training in the world isn’t going to help that person.  I’m not in favor of taking jobs from people, but if I get the weak link in my experience as a guest, that ruins the brand, particularly if it’s the first time they’ve ever been to a Hard Rock.

I believe people fall into three categories: the don’t know people, the can’t do people and the don’t care people. If they’re a “don’t know”, that’s great because that person is easy to educate. But if they’re a can’t do, boy that’s really tough. If the can’t do person is a good employee, we need to put them in a role where they can be successful. They that don’t care, unfortunately, those are people I don’t care about.  They drag down the brand.

Here’s a quote I got from a fellow CHART member this week.

“It’s not about mimicking the exact steps shown here, rather it’s the ‘ah ha’ moments for each of you to apply to your specific culture.” Kate Shehan

Hopefully, there will be something I offer you that you can use in your own companies.

The Employee Life Cycle

There are several stages in the employee life cycle: Recruiting, Interviewing, Selecting, Training, Developing, Incenting, Retaining and Separating. Things have changed over the last two decades. Twenty years ago, employees showed up, did the job, went home and were happy to have a job. They tolerated old school attitudes. Ten years ago they started keeping an eye open for a better job, started standing up for their rights and responded well to those who just said, “thank you.”

Today, they want it all. They bail at the drop of a hat, usually because of weak leadership. Their  attorney’s phone number is on speed dial, because they are standing up for their rights.  Today’s employees are loyal only to those who inspire and develop with compassion.

Here’s the makeup of today’s new generation of employees:

This is one reason we use visual storytelling to train our new hires. I tell them first about the dudes who started Hard Rock. They were different sorts. Isaac Tigrett had a long beard, wore all black, sported silver chains and long hair. Peter Morton, the son of well-known restaurateur Arnie Morton, was the other partner and he had the restaurant technical knowledge. They opened in a posh part of London where there was a strict division of classes.  Yet, they ignored the class division, making it accessible to everyone.

Their mission: “To spread the spirit of Rock ‘n Roll by creating authentic experiences that rock.” Many thought it wasn’t going to last. But there’s something about the spirit of how it came to be that makes it successful to this day.

How We Teach Employee Branding

To teach our branding, we first of all created a brand book. It’s a hard-cover book that costs $40 per copy. Not everyone gets the book, but it’s available at every property. We right away tell employees how we are a premium specialty experience.  We do this through providing a premium specialty piece of collateral.

We paid attention to the fonts we use. We now only use two fonts in the whole company. Every manual, website and menu uses only those two fonts. We also look for real photography, nothing canned. We want our photos to be raw and as organic as possible. We also honed in on one logo. There used to be 100 varieties of our logo, now there’s only five approved versions,  recognizable all over the world. And, we did some positioning to figure out how our brand fits into the whole of guest experiences.

We spent a lot of time on visual identity. The colors we use came from developing our own color palate. We cleaned up our interiors. All of our buildings are different, and that comes with some challenges, but we pulled elements out of our different properties to create a consistent color palate.

The first level of employee branding is recruitment. Who do we need? We clearly defined a profile. We want storytellers, people who are musicians or musicians at heart, tour guides, performers, people who are creative and spontaneous and willing to do something unplanned and memorable simply to add to the experience, and people who are authentically personable.

So where do I recruit? In music stores, coffee houses, tattoo and piercing shops, local concerts, theme parks, improv acting schools and social networking sites like Facebook. Our recruiting ads say things like:

For our training materials we looked at comic books and borrowed a lot of that style. We use photos and graphics. We have less text and words, more pictures. We are generous with white space. This kind of learning is especially great for those with learning disabilities and whose first language is not English.  The content in our materials reflects the brand image. And, we always include a notes area if the training book is serving as a workbook.

I can teach someone how to bus a table in one page, but I’d rather take eight pages in a comic book format to keep their attention. As I mentioned before, our employee handbook is in the same font and colors as all other Hard Rock printed materials. External approaches, but used internally.  We also have pocket-size job aids to help employees remember details.

Even our validation materials are different. We do our tests in the form of Jeopardy, or Mix and Match with images so that they retain information better. We also do Fill in the Blanks. You still have to study, but it’s a more visual way to learn.

We use video to teach our mission, mottos and values, brand identity, guest service and philanthropy. We have what we call “sound checks” which include preshift meeting templates in a power point format modified at each restaurant. We have all 52 weeks of the year themed and produced in advance which are posted weekly in the employee area.

We instill in every employee the internal position statement: to give people authentic experiences that rock. Our differentiator is Rock after all. We emphasize all that Rock means:

In our world, to execute the brand means the Menu, the Merchandise, the Music, the Memorabilia (and it has to be authentic) and even the Monuments (the buildings themselves). The merchandise is 40-45% of café sales, but it’s 90% of our profit. However, we tried to sell the merchandise separately, or have only the restaurant without the merchandise, but we found out that neither work on their own.  The restaurant needs the merchandise, the merchandise needs the restaurant. A symbiotic relationship exists between the two.

The amplifier is service…for us, we call it Kick-Ass Service. Our servers consciously read each guest, search for opportunities to seize the moment to provide personalized experiences. The result is a strong memory for our guests…and that builds raving fans. Raving fans create money.

The last part of what we do is philanthropy, something our founders were committed to. They believed in Love All-Serve All, All is One and Save the Planet. We also emphasize that our employees should Take Time to Be Kind. For many, this makes the job bigger than the paycheck.


  1. Utilize the same brand guidelines internally as you would for the consumer.
  2. Create content in the language in which people dream.
  3. Identity is instrumental—people will commit to a cause bigger than themselves.

*** To see Jim Knight's full session presented at the CHART Conference in Portland, visit the Resources/Educational Webcasts on the CHART Website.  http://www.chart.org

CHART Community Discussion

Leave a comment

Allowed tags: <b><i><br>Add a new comment:

Comments (0)