Employee engagement

How Siemens got its mojo back

Siemens embarked on a major project to embed an employer brand that imbued all 310,000 employees with an understanding of the business and a vision for the future

What is Siemens? It is not a trick question but rather the quandary that faced the 170-year-old German conglomerate two years ago, when it became apparent that its brand was not well understood in the marketplace.

Siemens no longer produced many of the household products, such as washing machines, for which it had become known, yet had no recognition for its world leading position in wind farms, digital technologies that support businesses in terms of manufacturing, its pre-eminent role in transportation services or even its expertise in surf boards. In part, this is understandable.

Siemens is in the middle of a massive transformation, changing from a ‘maker of things’ to a digital technology provider. But this disconnect between perception and reality was also starting to hurt the business, adversely impacting the marketplace for talent and recruitment while employee engagement levels were dwindling. It was a situation that had to be tackled.

‘There was a general view that Siemens was distant and cold,’ explains Rachel Wilson, head of talent acquisition. ‘We realised that we needed to do something about our brand, elevating it by helping people to understand what we do and the impact we have on society. But how do we represent our brand when we don’t have an easy product to understand?’ The key, she says, was to focus on the ‘big impact on society’ that such products have, ‘whether that is reducing a commute to work, or producing energy at the right place, the right time and the right price’.

How do we represent our brand when we don’t have an easy product to understand?

Siemens’ main brand is called Ingenuity for life, ingenious things that help improve people’s lives, but, while it is viewed as strong, it is built for a B2B marketplace to reassure corporate clients. New York based consultancy R/GA was hired in February 2016, to bring the corporate brand to life for the company’s 351,000 people across 190 countries. It started by interviewing employees across seven markets – the UK, Germany, India, China, Middle East, US and Brazil.

‘They talked to our people and reported back that every single one loved what they were doing. But that they were all probably quite techy, so they didn’t shout about what they were doing. [R/GA] told us that our biggest asset was our people and the ideas that they have and the work that they do, and that we needed to find a way to connect that to people in the outside world,’ says Wilson.

In many respects, Siemens was tackling the same challenges that its competitors were – smart cities, sustainable power generation, the future of transport – but they had been better at promoting such work and, as such, had brands that were more identifiable with it. This reticence, however, reflected a cultural issue within Siemens: the company was not used to ‘bragging’. It had, what R/GA described as a ‘humble, private and closed’ culture. Employees simply got on with the task in hand. In fact, many were not aware of the range of work undertaken by their colleagues either in their local operations or overseas. But R/GA also identified several other opportunities for Siemens to establish its credentials as a unique type of business.

Firstly, there were very few other companies with such a large, diverse and international workforce and, secondly, that there were very few other companies doing such critical work across all industries, rather than sectorally. However, to exploit such strengths, Siemens needed to create a global conversation around which a new employer brand could be harnessed.

The employer brand was to become ‘the people lens for Ingenuity for life’, explains Wilson. ‘It tries to showcase our people and what they do to make the future, and to come up with the ideas, that change people’s lives.’ We Are Future Makers was the global internal launch of the employer brand, which, several months later, is now starting to spill out externally. ‘The We Are Future Makers concept works because it is simple and it really does represent what we are doing at Siemens today.’

‘We decided to tell our story and to connect to people through our people. We picked a person in every market to tell their story. We wanted them to talk about the job that they do but, more importantly, why they do what they do and how they got there,’ says Wilson. ‘We created a series of mini films focusing on our people in a specialist app that we have created, called We Are Future Makers, that we asked all our employees to download on their phones. We shot one person and their story in each of our core markets, and that mini film is done in 360-degree vision. They basically talk to camera.’

We are going to continue to feed it, so that you can always get a feel for Siemens in any country, listening to the employees about what they do but also it’s in their own words

For example, the UK film features Dominic McGee, an apprentice at Siemens, and his story, entitled Anything with wheels. It is a highly personal account of how he got into electronics, reminiscing about how he used to race remote control cars, and learned the basics by taking them apart and putting them back together again. It shows McGee fixing up his bike in his garage, which segues into him at work on the train track going out to fix the train.

‘It is bringing to life the person, but it is done in a digital immersive and engaging way,’ says Wilson. ‘He is doing his hobby on a larger scale. His job is to keep the fleet of trains running.’ The app is an ongoing project.

‘We are going to continue to feed it, so that you can always get a feel for Siemens in any country, listening to the employees about what they do but also it’s in their own words,’ she explains. Rather than force employees to watch the videos in a corporate environment, Siemens distributed branded cardboard viewers, which opened out into glasses, offering a completely immersive experience for the audience.

‘We have been able to get these out to all our offices,’ she adds. ‘People have been able to look up, look down, look around and really get a feel for the work their colleagues are doing across the world.’ The Future Makers’ strategy is all about sparking conversations. But each market is bringing the concept to life in different ways. Within the UK, each of its 60 locations – comprising six major sites, 25 medium sized ones and a mixture of remote ones for field workers – were invited to create the launch that worked for them. Each business essentially nominated a brand ambassador lead, who were then brought together in branding workshops and trained on the concept to date, explaining why the employer brand was important and how it worked with the consumer brand. ‘We explained that this was about a new way of talking to our people and we needed their support with that,’ says Wilson.

It was then up to each of the 70 ambassadors to decide how to roll the concept out on their site. They also participated in weekly calls, where they received official guidance and information, and learned lessons from other events.

‘It had already been activated in China and India by this point, but they have slightly different markets,’ explains Wilson. For example, town hall meetings work in those countries where Siemens has large sites employing thousands of people. ‘In the UK, people have got to want to engage. They won’t turn up to a town hall if they don’t want to. We knew we had to create something that would attract people to come and engage rather than push it onto them. We brought in our local recruitment marketing agency, AIA, and told them we wanted to create something engaging, which meant activities so that somebody would think Oh, yeah. I want to go over there and see that. We wanted to activate the 360-degree stories, but then it was a question of what else we could do so that people were not bored.’

People in the UK won’t turn up to a town hall if they don’t want to. We knew we had to create something that would attract people to come and engage rather than push it onto them.

The answer was digital, which also matched with its ambitions as a leading digital technology provider. But like many engineering and manufacturing companies, Siemens has an ageing population who perhaps are not as adept at social media, say, as their younger colleagues.

‘We wanted them to understand our digital transformation and also to engage a little more on digital,’ she adds. ‘As part of our brand workshops, we did some work on our three key pillars of Siemens’ proposition to employees and new talent. We have really attractive products and services for people to work on; the stuff we do is exciting. Learning, people want to go into a job where they learn new things. And the final one, [from the global brand workshops] it came through as race and inclusion but, for us, it came through as environment. People want to work in an environment that is fun and friendly, but also one that cares about whether they have the right lifestyle, flexibility or parental allowances.’

Siemens UK decided that, rather than take the global template for the brand’s rollout, it would introduce four zones at each site: story, social, conversation and me. For example, Siemens realised that, by people sharing their stories, it had more content to use, so it worked to create a guide on how to share their story on LinkedIn. A bespoke guide, created with the communications department, offered dos and don’ts of what could be shared.

‘We have given them guidelines, and if there is a situation where they think I’m not quite sure. Just ask. Let’s give people permission to get out there: we can rein things in if we need to. Having inertia that prevented people going onto social media actually worked to hinder our progress. ‘If you’re doing exciting work on surf boards, why don’t you tell people on LinkedIn that you’re excited to go to work today and why? It doesn’t have to be formal and expensive. For a bit of fun, we added popcorn in the story zone with the slogan Join the corn-versation,’ says Wilson.

An experienced photographer awaited colleagues in the social zone to ensure their profile images on LinkedIn looked more professional. ‘Our view was that, if people cared about their personal brand, it would exaggerate the employer brand.’ Siemens also launched a LinkedIn banner for colleagues to download on top of their profile. ‘We offered simple things like the top five tips on ‘pimping’ your LinkedIn profile. We had Glassdoor in the zone as well; I was keen that we captured what people thought about Siemens in their own words.’

Since the launch, Siemens UK has seen its Glassdoor ranking move from 3.6 to more than 4.1. ‘Our global agency has a global calendar of employees’ stories. If we feed them through leads, they will interview some of those people to see whether they have an angle to their story which they think would be interesting to read,’ she adds. To date, Siemens UK has had about ‘seven or eight’ that have achieved global status.

‘The ‘me zone’ grew in concept,’ she adds. It started with the question How do we support our people in the workplace? There was information on wellbeing, an abundance of ‘health’ kiosks, masseurs, discussion about work life balance and teams from the employee reward scheme, who discussed flexible benefits, for example. The ‘own your career’ section included fortune cookies and career visual cards. ‘People will own their own careers. They have got to drive that,’ adds Wilson. ‘We have a hard suite of tools, but no matter how many times you broadcast this stuff is available, you’ve got to engage with them and align their interests.’

The results, according to Wilson, has been ‘more stories coming out’. She adds: ‘We are constantly moving baby steps to tell people it is alright to go on social media and certainly, at a global level, this is really starting to take off. We have a 55 per cent increase in visits to our job portal, and a more than 460 per cent increase in unique visitors over the past year. Plus a 67 per cent increase in time spent on our jobs and careers job site. We’ve had 24,000 [external] downloads of our app.’

The final zone was conversation, which is an ongoing project. ‘How do we engage our people in conversations about topics that matter to Siemens and the future of life and society that we live in?’ she asks. The answer: by posing questions, such as Will robots replace our jobs? To join this zone, employees needed to register on an Intranet page for a live stream conversation.

People will own their own careers. They have got to drive that

These Future Talks were styled like Question Time, where a tech journalist moderated a panel, featuring senior executives and employees, and took questions from the virtual floor. The first focused on digitalisation. The second asked if career ladders had lost their relevance while the third asked if diversity groups helped or hindered inclusion. But the Future Talks concept can also be used externally.

For example, Siemens used the template for a debate at Lincoln University, close to its manufacturing site, where it asked What is your degree really worth? This was led by its chief executive Juergen Maier, and included the vice chancellor, a nominated student and the creator of Debut, an app to help the entry level talent market find jobs. It was livestreamed on Facebook. ‘We will continue rolling this for topical debates. In the Conversation Zone at Future Makers, we asked people to vote on which [of four] questions they would like to hear about.’

‘The feedback [for the zones] has been great but we do have challenging sites, and so, on some of our smaller sites we haven’t had big events, because it is not cost effective,’ she says. These sites operated scaled down versions of the event, featuring the story zone plus one other. ‘I think we probably need to revisit our manufacturing sites,’ says Wilson, candidly. ‘Where we have a lot of people who haven’t necessarily managed to come out to visit these events, we still need to pick them up. We are getting cardboard dispensers made up [to distribute Google viewers] for people to take home, to get them more engaged.’

The employer brand was initially rolled out in the key growth markets but is now being launched across the remaining markets. Wilson, for example, now has responsibility for the Nordic markets. ‘We will take what we had here in the UK and repurpose for the Nordics,’ she explains. ‘We are also sharing back what we learn with other countries, and one of my learnings was that we absolutely did the right thing using brand ambassadors because we’re a country with multiple locations where people will only make time if they want to. But each market has been given autonomy by the global employer brand team to roll it out and given a budget to work with. The US is going next, who we work closely with, and they may or may not go with our approach. But we share.’