Grounding your corporate narrative in the real world

How DNV secures the best talent

In a world where oil rigs detonate, tankers run aground and hospitals are unhealthy, the need for higher standards to make the world a safer place has never been greater. Det Norske Veritas [DNV] is a company whose mission is often daunting – to protect lives, property and the environment.

DNV’s 150-year record is impressive. Because of their deep expertise, industry and governmental bodies call on DNV to help develop systems and standards ranging from sustainable shipping and energy production to food and hospital safety. In recent years, the US Government asked for DNV’s help in evaluating the failed blowout preventer from the Deepwater catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. DNV helped prevent a second Exxon Valdez-scale catastrophe in 2009 when a fully laden tanker struck an uncharted rock off the coast of Chile. And in 2010, the European Commission appointed DNV to run an industry-wide knowledge-sharing project on nascent carbon capture technologies.

The battle for talent

Regardless of their outstanding reputation, DNV has faced challenges in attracting the highest caliber engineers as the competition for the best graduates becomes ever fiercer. With over six percent of its employees holding PhDs, DNV prides itself on a high level of engineering excellence. But as an independent foundation, it does not have the recruitment budgets that companies such as Shell or GE wield to attract the best and the brightest. But it does have a secret weapon in the battle for talent.

The Gen Y factor

Much has been made of Generation Y, often referred to as the Millennials, those born in the 1980s and early 90s and now coming into the job market. Their technological savvy, peer-orientation and strong views on work-life balance and self-expression have caused considerable heartburn in corporate HR departments. But perhaps more than any other characteristic, they are looking for companies who walk their talk on corporate social responsibility. This scrutiny has forced organizations to rethink their CSR commitments.

This generation sees their role in the workplace as not just contributing to the company they work for, but to society as a whole.1 In a Harvard Business School report, over 86% say it’s important that their work make a positive impact on the world. “Gen Y workers want an employer who shares their eco-awareness and social consciousness, even down to the details of office energy use.”2

Inevitably this changes the notion of which companies are considered the best to work for. Whereas a large oil company or telecom may have been the employer of choice a decade ago, today Generation Y looks at potential employers through a wider lens.

While in the 21st century every company is expected to operate sustainably, not many companies can say that for 150 years their core business and their commitment to bettering society have been one and the same. This was DNV’s secret weapon to capturing the hearts and minds of Generation Y engineers. My job was to shape and relay their story in a compelling way to the engineers they hoped to recruit. A secondary objective was to show DNV’s vitality and creativity in solving global problems.

The next level

Using this powerful link between DNV’s core business and societal interest, we developed a story around “Holding the world to a higher standard,” and brought it to life through portraits of Gen Y DNV employees. Each young employee had a strong and colorful personal and professional background. By weaving these diverse portraits together across print, online and on-site media, it was possible to demonstrate why DNV attracts dynamic people who care deeply about the impact of what they do.

The lesson for me in shaping the DNV story for this audience was simple. The corporate story stays fresh when it is authentic, aspirational and linked to a higher cause.