Archive for April, 2013

Attracting and retaining the employees who are a good ‘fit’ has become as important as the skills and professional experience presented on the CVs of prospective employees. Many organizations are investing time and resources to develop compelling reasons why potential employees should work for them. Corporate values, benefits packages and special incentives are communicated in job descriptions, hiring advertisements and on career portals.

The term “employer brand” has become almost a buzzword in the language of HR professionals, brand specialists and marketers.

But what really is the employer brand?
In a nutshell, the employer brand defines what the company offers to its employees. It’s the identity of the company as an employer. More specifically, the employer brand conveys the reasons why the organization is a great place to work and sets expectations for employees’ experience throughout his or her career.

A good example of a company with a strong employer brand is Google. Google is renowned as a great place to work because the company offers a fun, energetic place to work that encourages new ideas and innovation. An astounding number of prospective employees from around the world know this and want to participate in Google’s international internship programme and apply for jobs in their Silicon-Valley operations. According to global employer branding firm Universum’s global talent attraction index “The World’s Most Attractive Employers 2012”, Google has retained the top position in both categories — business and engineering — for the fourth year in a row.

The BIG picture
Defining and communicating the employer brand to attract prospective employees is only one element that contributes to business success. A well-defined and well- managed employer brand has a much bigger role to play than attracting and recruiting employees. It is important for employers to understand that the definition and on-going management of the employer brand should not be treated as an after-thought or delegated to the Human Resources department.

To be meaningful and effective, all business leaders and people managers in the organization must buy in to the definition of the employer brand and understand its alignment with the business brand. Businesses cannot be successful unless employees see the connection between the roles they are expected to play in the business plan of the company. This, in my view, is the BIG picture.

Connecting the business brand and employer brand
One reason why companies fail to retain top talent is because employees don’t see the relevance of their role in the overall mission of the company. Far too often companies attempt to develop an employer brand without any reference to the mission and business brand of the company. The business brand gives expression to the mission of the organization so that it is perceived as having a competitive advantage. The aim of a well-defined business brand is to create interest and engagement among its target clients and to win their business and loyalty in the long-term. Companies do this by establishing a brand promise – what customers can expect when they do business with the company.

Like the business brand, the employer brand must aim to give the organization a competitive advantage by defining what employees can expect when they join the organization. Employees generally expect that their employer will enable them to successfully contribute to the delivery of the company’s business brand promise.

Google is able to attract employees who are a good fit because the company establishes a clear connection between its business brand promise and employer brand promise. Google’s brand promise is to provide access to the world’s information in one click – making simplicity out of complexity. Google succinctly weaves its business brand promise into its employer brand so that prospective employees join the company expecting that they will be enabled to solve complex problems every day to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible to Google users. And this is done in a fun, energetic, innovative work environment.

Defining the employer brand
The process of defining the employer brand is not dissimilar to the process of defining the business brand. Key steps include:

Clear understanding of the corporate goals and business strategy of the organization – develop a definition of the employee profiles required to execute the strategy

Qualitative and quantitative data gathering – on the internal experience of employees and external perceptions of the organization – its values, culture, image, performance management and rewards

Gap assessment and opportunity identification – comparison of strengths, weaknesses and differentiators with those of competing organizations

Understand target audiences – an understanding of the needs and values of the target recruits and existing employees

Connections – matching the organization’s values with those of the target employee audiences and constructing a clear definition of the employer brand.

Giving expression to the employer brand clearly requires the combined use of Marketing and Human Resource expertise to determine the appropriate messages and ensure that there is an obvious connection between the employer and business brands and that they are both aligned with the overall strategy and vision of the organization.

For example, an innovative company that chooses to base its business brand on its customer-centric focus, would do well in its employer brand definition to highlight its people-focused culture – how it enables its employees to develop their talents and encourage customer-focused innovations.

What’s more important….bringing the employer brand to life
Defining the business brand is a very important starting point. What’s even more important is bringing the employer brand to life by ensuring that employees are equipped to deliver the business brand in a workplace that is truly a great place to work.

 • Equip employees – for on-going employee training and development programmes, Marketing can and should be regarded as an important contributor to help non-Marketing staff understand and perform their tasks in ways that support the marketing strategy (e.g. cross selling and up-selling) and brand identity (e.g. style of communication).

Manage the employer and business brands in tandem – Human Resources must involve Marketing in the on-going management of the employer brand. When there are changes to business strategies and adjustments are made to the business brand, the employer brand must also be evolved and communicated to employees.

Communicate constantly– business leaders and managers must commit to an on-going programme of internal, bi-directional communication activities so that employees embrace the essence of the business brand and enthusiastically promote it.

A final word
To be successful, the communication of the employer brand should be genuine, persuasive, differentiated. The employer brand must be internally embraced, positioned appropriately to external audiences and most importantly, be consistently delivered by the organization during recruitment and on-boarding activities and throughout the employee’s career. In this age where social media platforms are accessible, it is very easy for potential employees to validate whether or not organizations are in fact being true to their employer brand and business brand.

See the BIG picture. Focus on what’s important.


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Consider this question: Whose needs must be met first for businesses to succeed – the shareholder, the employee or the customer?

For some people, the answer is clear cut, a no-brainer. Others will reply, “it depends” as the answer will be found in the most compelling case made by any of the three stakeholders. For me, the answer is obvious—it’s the employee. When it comes to creating the conditions for business success, the needs of the employee must always come first. Customers and shareholders ultimately benefit from the contribution of employees who either make or break the success of the business.

This way of thinking is quite similar to the philosophy of Herb Kelleher, former CEO of Southwest Airlines, a company that was consistently successful while its competitors endured bankruptcies and losses. Building a strong corporate culture that emphasized good, fair treatment of employees and making work fun has been the hallmark of Kelleher’s tenure and legacy. Southwest employees are treated well. They love their jobs and it shows in the way they treat their customers.

Treating employees well leads to “greater discretionary effort” – another way of defining employee engagement. Greater discretionary effort means that employees go way beyond their job description. Gallup reported that 71% of American employees are not engaged in their jobs. The Canadian Human Resource Centre reported that 75% of employees in this country are not engaged. The Centre estimates that unhappy, disengaged employees cost the economy $350 billion annually in lost productivity. No one can deny that low employee engagement adversely impacts productivity, innovation and business success. It’s time for companies to think differently about the ways in which they can instill and nurture an engaged workforce.

A new way of thinking
What if employers were to treat employees as customers? This is an idea worthy of consideration. If a company found that 70% of its customers were not engaged or loyal to its brand, this would certainly be cause for alarm and action. The high level of disengagement would certainly not augur well for the future success of the company. The marketing department would be mandated to immediately gather customer feedback, identify and understand the underlying causes of disengagement and dissatisfaction. Steps would be taken to communicate and engage with customers, in ways that build understanding and trust. Resources would be found to remedy deficiencies in product quality and service delivery.

Yet this is not the case with employees.

If employers were to see their employees as customers, they would take a similar approach to redress the adverse results revealed from employee engagement surveys. Correctly applying marketing principles and models would positively impact the outcome of internal communications efforts, the ways in which training and organizational development needs are met and the design of benefits plans and compensation programmes.

Taking steps in the right direction
Finding out what employees think, their values, preferred communication channels and styles are essential components in the development and delivery of every kind of employee programme. The following suggestions on how employers may treat employees as customers are similar to the way in which successful companies uncover customer needs and respond to customer concerns.

  • Listen, act and measure. Survey employees often to uncover sources of satisfaction and challenge to the way they do their jobs. Take action to respond to survey results. Measure satisfaction and engagement and track year-over-year progress.
  • Segment and adapt. Identify demographic groups and treat each group as a market segment in the same way that marketing does with the organization’s clients. Segmentation should guide the format of various programs and initiatives – e.g. the use of
    internal communication channels, the range of options in benefits plans and socially responsible activities.
  • Treat employees as adults. Empower employees to make decisions that meet their needs – e.g. provide sufficient information to support the selection of options for their benefit and pension plans.
  • Communicate clearly and often. Provide access to communication channels that allow for open and transparent communication and ensure that any promised follow-up action is taken and communicated. Town hall style meetings with senior executives provide forums for explaining in-depth the reason for changes in policies and programmes that impact employees.
  • Give employees reasons to be loyal. For example, implement career development programmes and encourage learning and innovation. Keep employees informed about the role they play in the company’s success and reward fairly those whose contribution impacts the achievement of corporate goals.

This post was published on Your Workplace, 3 April 2013.

See the BIG picture.  Focus on what’s important.


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