Rashomon Effect: Why your employer branding team needs a back office
As an explicit EVP or in incidental anecdotes, your employer brand exists. People talk about their experiences inside and outside the organization. Let’s start there and see what happens to the story you want to tell.
The story of your organization operates at, if not more, 3 levels. The first level is the actual story – what goes on – what the actual employee experience is. The second is the one you tell a group of people. And the third is the story this group tells everybody else who’s interested or just willing to listen.
At each level, the human mind - the sense making machine – gives meaning to the story. It could mean something completely different to different people at different levels of story. And once this happens at three levels, you end up with different versions, usually worse.
You would think it is the experience and personal history of the individual reacting to the stimulus. There’s more.
The Rashomon Effect, named after a 1950 Japanese movie ‘Rashomon’, implies that different people experience the same phenomenon or event in different, even contradictory ways. It is not only a difference in perception that leads to a different interpretation, but also a difference in motivations and sense making mechanisms. This combined with an absence of evidence throws the entire narrative open to be challenged.
The film is about three strangers who together take shelter from rain. One of them narrates three testimonies about a crime. Each witness places a different person as the culprit. This happens not only because they witnessed the crime differently, but also because each of them had different motivations. For each witness, guilty was the one who had transgressed against their personal ideology. And the three strangers would interpret the three testimonies driven by their motivations.
In the words of the director Akira Kurosawa,
“The testimonies were the event interpreted by each witness’s pride.”
The first level is the actual happening of the crime; the second is the witness’s testimonies; the third is the narrations of the three testimonies. You get the three levels, right?
Let’s consider an analogous scenario – three friends meet over dinner and slowly the small talk graduates to someone narrating his/her version of the story.
This narrative will be as close to the EVP on your careers page, as the EVP is to the actual experience. By the third level of story, there may exist conflicting narratives. These conflicts would have arisen at some point because people witnessed an event in conflict with your narrative.
At some point in time, employer branding dissociated itself from the actual employee experience and became a storytelling machine. The story without evidence remains open to variations and interpretations.
What needs to be acknowledged is that a self-told story will always be more powerful than an external one. These self-told versions build up, as proxies for the truth, based on categories that already exist in our minds and exemplars that are readily visible. You can tie-in multiple cognitive biases here – selective perception, self-serving bias, attribution bias, availability heuristic. Once the narrative is formed, it can only be challenged by evidence.
The only way thus to establish a strong employer brand is by consistently delivering on your EVP – consistent through time and through all pockets of the organization.
- Is any amount of social media engagement going to trump a terrible personal experience narrated by a close friend? Almost never.
- Is a powerful positive personal experience heard up close going to compensate for an absence of overwhelming online engagement? Usually always.
Simple message - don’t overplay. Overperform! Look Again
The first step you’d usually get right - looking at what’s working well far as employee experience goes. Step two, look at whether all of it is even desirable.
Statements like – “You’ll do something new” or “We hardly work. Actually, we love it so much, it just doesn't seem like work.” are bound to get you “Yeah. Right!” responses.
Third, once you hit a crisp hard-hitting narrative, a disproportionate amount of effort needs to be put into ensuring that it does in fact work.