Brand Building

Taking your audience with you: thought leadership as a co-learning experience

Yuki Kho, project lead for Homerun's venture The Art of Work on why you can start thought leadership sooner than you think.

Thought leadership is the technique of leveraging company expertise as a marketing strategy. But expertise is not the only thing you can leverage. There is one other lesser-known resource in your company’s treasure trove: passion. And passion can come in very handy if you are a smaller company without the experience of an industry expert.

A brand is so much more than it’s outward appearance, without good hiring and strong internal culture, customers can smell inauthenticity from a mile off. No amount of Facebook ads can fix that. 

Homerun’s thought leadership project The Art of Work has leveraged their passion for learning about recruitment. Although they are fast becoming experts in the field, as a young company they still had a lot to learn about the industry.

Their genuine curiosity about hiring practices lead them to start their thought leadership project: an online magazine for companies with similar interests. This resonated with an array of people wanting to join them in their learning curve and, hopefully, emerge as co-experts.

Beautifully designed and well curated, The Art of Work’s ability to stay transparent and passionate about their journey of discovery has been a win-win for both the project and its audience. 

Done right, thought leadership can make your brand awareness and respect soar. Below we have spoken to Art of Work’s project lead Yuki Kho about her experience with thought leadership so far. 

Tell us about The Art of Work

When we started we weren’t recruitment experts but we really wanted to know more about the topic- and we could sense that our customers did too. Every time we went looking for HR and recruitment information we would stumble upon lots of these boring recruitment blogs. They were ugly and although most of what they said was correct, they weren’t very sexy. 

So we thought: what if we take everything we are learning right now and pour it into a magazine that’s accessible to people like you and me? Something that actually sparks curiosity about what it is to be a good employer and how to take care of your people.

So The Art of Work was born. We explore company culture, office rituals, and hiring at design- minded companies all over the world. 

How do you select companies to interview?

We always say aim for the moon. We try to talk to our role models: companies we think are really interesting in what they do. Like Bakken & Bæck, the way they take care of their employees and the office rituals they have are super interesting. So we went to talk to them. 

Bakken & Bæck harvest honey. They have a beehive on top of their office in Oslo because they really believe that they need to have a ritual that takes them away from their screens. They have their own digital studio and there’s a lot of screen time on the job. So they run the beehive together and once a year their close connections receive a pot of their honey which tastes amazing. I think that’s such a fun and beautiful way of connecting your employees. 

Who else is on your hitlist of companies with interesting hiring processes to talk to?

Well a personal favourite of mine is Emily Weiss, the CEO of of Glossier Inc, a big lifestyle and makeup brand in the States. I think it’s amazing how fast she has built such a big company that is super inclusive. Men, women and everyone in between are using their products. 

She’s really young, she was featured in Forbes 30 under 30 when she was 29. Her whole approach of disrupting an industry that usually targeted women with very cliched beauty standards is really cool. We really believe in diversity and inclusion should be a fundamental part of any successful company so Glossier is a perfect example of that.

With The Art of Work, we not only have a blog, but we also do a series of interviews and have a biweekly newsletter where we share everything we read. We never stop learning more about this topic, so every time we find a nice read - or someone forwards us a nice article- we collect it into our newsletter which gets sent out every 2 weeks. It’s a great way to keep a conversation going with our audience. 

We also host events around topics we think are interesting like diversity and inclusion, company culture, how to attract talent, and recruitment in general. Lasty, we make guides. They’re really hands on as we wanted to create something of value you can really learn from, just like we learned from these topics. We take you step by step through how you should structure your hiring process and how you can make your company more inclusive.

Things changing so much in recruitment. What’s the most dramatic change you’ve seen in the industry since starting your thought leadership project?

People are now aware of the fact that they should spend more time and attention on their people. Recruitment always had a bad name. People thought ‘Ugh, I have to read all these applications and track them all with an excel sheet’. But now people finally understand there are solutions that outsource that work for them. This way they can actually take the time to hire well and hire better. People are also more aware of their responsibilities and how to hire more inclusively.

When I started three years ago, the concept of ‘cultural fit’ was very popular, the idea that you would hire someone that would fit into your culture. Now we’ve seen that that idea is so outdated. In that scenario you would just hire someone that looks exactly the same: how are you going to be diverse if you do that? We now use ‘value fit’ instead.

What is the boundary between cultural fit and diversity?

If you really are an inclusive company, everyone can bring their whole self to work. And I think if you hire someone that completely doesn’t fit into your company culture, then you’ve done something wrong in the hiring process. Because you always need to check some of the boxes: that’s why we always say use a scorecard. Come up with values that you think are important and see if they match that scorecard, instead of thinking ‘hey we get along, I can have a beer with you.’ Change always comes slower than you want. But I hope in 5 years it’s completely normal to give your employees unconscious bias training. 

When do you think is a good time for a company to start thought leadership (if at all)?

You can start thought leadership when you have something to tell people. That differs from company to company, but I think you can start right away as long as you are honest about what you are offering.

You should be clear about whether you are taking people along in your learning curve or whether you are a real expert explaining lessons learned. I think that if you are transparent about what your intention is and what your level of expertise is you can definitely start.

Curating helpful knowledge from community can be powerful. I think the concept that your audience can grow with you is super interesting. When I started at Homerun three years ago I didn’t know anything about recruitment. If I had started a blog back then, where I shared my lessons learned week to week, I think it would have been fun for a lot of people in HR and recruitment to grow alongside me. 

What are the benefits you have seen from the thought leadership project The Art of Work?

People have a much clearer idea about what we stand for now. That we are not just making a hiring tool but that we really want to change the world. We want to make sure everyone finds a job that they are actually happy with. This has really helped us to consolidate who we are and who we aren’t so that we attract the companies we want to have as customers.

You can start thought leadership when you have something to tell people... You should be clear about whether you are taking people along in your learning curve or whether you are a real expert explaining lessons learned. I think that if you are transparent about what your intention is and what your level of expertise is you can definitely start.

We always say we want to have customers who want to do good in the world. And not customers who would be in conflict with universal declaration of human rights. We’d rather have companies we look up to. Hopefully that shines through in The Art of Work. 

What are the challenges of thought leadership?

Building up your own audience from scratch is hard. Also, with thought leadership in particular,  it can be hard to measure the impact on your revenue. But as long as you’re ok with the fact that it’s a long term investment it’s fine. But if you are looking for quick wins then this might not be the right choice for you. 

Are there any unifying themes in the interviews you’ve been doing?

So many companies are struggling with the fact that you can always do better. That you can always do more for your people or your potential employees. But it’s sometimes hard to find the time because these things are a long term investment. Especially when you are in an agency and you get paid by the hour: it’s hard to make time to get your processes right, so you hear a lot of people say ‘I want to change, but when do I make time for it?’

How do you think people make time for change?

Well, I think once you’re really aware of the long term advantages of hiring right - e.g. if you have a structured hiring process you attract more diverse talent- you will just do it. When your company is more inclusive it also means you attract a bigger customer base as you’re more attractive to different types of people. 

Once you have more perspectives in your team you will make better products and people will stay longer because they can learn from more types of people. Once people are aware of these advantages they always start. Because it’s not a matter of if but when you should start concentrating on good hiring. Because right now, if you don’t invest in winning the war on talent, you are going to lose it. 

Why do you think there’s such high turnover with this generation? Regularly switching jobs seems to be the norm.

I think that with social media, our attention spans have become so short that we lose interest in our jobs quicker. We are bored so easily that we quickly move on to the next exciting thing. It would be good for people to work somewhere for at least 6 years, so they get to know all the different phases of work. It’s like romantic relationships: sometimes they’re fun and sometimes you have to work hard because you are going through life’s struggles. The same applies to your job. As long as you have successfully been through all of those stages it’s fine to make the switch. But I think you have to have experienced that lifecycle at least once. 

Because it’s not a matter of if but when you should start concentrating on good hiring. Because right now, if you don’t invest in winning the war on talent, you are going to lose it. 

Gen Z, the next generation, is going to become our new workforce before we know it. But they have a very different set of expectations. How can we keep them?

Purpose is going to be really important. What I have noticed now, especially on social media, is that people are getting more aware of all the stuff thats going wrong in our world. The increase in populism, climate change, the global forced migration crisis. All the big stuff. People want to feel that they can make an impact with their job. And as long as you can show them how they are making an impact, they can feel satisfied. The new generation is going to choose purpose over paychecks. They don’t want another nice car or so many perks, they want to feel valuable. 

A good example is Patagonia’s maternity policy, which you recently featured in the Art of Work newsletter. 

Yes, there are so many jobs where its super hard to return as a parent, like consultancy where you do crazy hours. Patagonia shows you can do good while actually being profitable. I think they’re the perfect example of the fact that if you trust your employees and take care of them, they will be loyal to you. 

How do you think you can teach a company to trust its employees?

Just do it. And if things go wrong, talk about why and encourage everyone to be transparent. Implement retrospectives where you share what’s going well and what’s going wrong. 

Show people the advantages of trust. If you are old fashioned for too long people will leave and you will not be able to find new talent to replace them. So eventually, you have to make the change. 

You really need role models in a company. I wish role models were bottom up but it’s also top down. If the founder is always working and has a bad work life balance, that will be how their employees work. 

Yuki Kho Project lead, The Art of Work