Article originally published in Finland's, "The Opinion Leader" - this is an updated version.
Why is employer branding vital for corporations?
Employer branding is vital for corporations for a number of reasons. The increasing global shortage of talent driven by the ageing population, increased mobility of workers (especially generation Y’s (born between 1980 and 2000), migration, declining fertility rates, technological advances and an increase in culture diversity in organisations are some of the reasons when employer branding is now high on the leadership agenda.
Your employer brand can be defined as “the image of your organization as a ‘great place to work’ in the minds of current employees and key stakeholders in the external market (active and passive candidates, clients, customers and other key stakeholders).”
The art and science of employer branding is about ensuring that your people brand aligns with your consumer brand. In terms of brand management an aspirational goal for an organisation should be that the marketing messages are reflected by the actions of all of the people at all levels of the business at all times in order to deliver the employer brand promise.
Increasingly candidates and employees are thinking far more seriously about aligning their values to an organisation’s values, and so during the recruitment phase they will also look at what an organisation can offer them as well as what they can offer an organisation. The messages given through recruitment advertising and the recruitment and induction stages often have lasting effects on how an individual might view a company.
Employer branding is not about smart advertising – the best recruitment advertising is pointless if the communication inside the organisation is disconnected or the time to hire is slow due to bureaucratic processes.
In an increasingly competitive economic and business climate companies must focus their collective efforts on developing their employer brand if they are to attract, engage and retain talent better than their competitors. No longer should the firm’s employer brand strategy be the sole responsibility of the HR department. A successful employer brand program must be sponsored by the CEO or Managing Director and should demand a high level of visibility in the company’s strategic plan. Employer branding should be viewed from the top as a ‘whole of business strategy’ for the management of people and managers at all levels must be engaged in the process.
What are some of the challenges in building a strong employer brand?
The biggest challenge in employer branding is ownership. As it is often not clear who should sponsor it, the responsibility can fall down the middle between marketing, corporate communications, and HR. To succeed, it needs an integrated process linking all departments and with endorsement from the highest level within the organisation. As an aspirational goal it also needs a pragmatic approach to achieve it.
The biggest obstacles HR often face when trying to implement changes include clarity, resources and capability. Employer brand projects can be very complex more so if a company has a globally dispersed workforce that operates across diverse cultures. Having the appropriate resources including both personnel and funding available is going to require a greater understanding at Board and Shareholder level for companies to accept that the labour market is only going to get tougher and that an increased level of investment must be allocated towards Employer Branding initiatives.
There is also a need for an increased capability for HR to build a business case for employer branding and to demonstrate a return on investment. HR personnel need to understand the future needs of the organisation and put forward a compelling business case for enhancing the company’s employer brand to attract and retain talent and build an engaged workforce. Research has shown conclusively that an engaged workforce delivers stronger financial returns and shareholder value.
What makes a good employer?
Globally there is a trend for companies to focus on the role of the employee in driving business performance, just like the role of superior products and services (consumer branding) in driving revenue. With the shift in demand/supply of talent these individuals have a higher worth (and expectations) in the labour market and can freely choose who they work for. I have found that from top tier to bottom tier companies they are all saying the same thing – “it’s so hard to find good staff these days,” so this would suggest that it’s becoming increasingly competitive to attract and retain talent (at all levels) and it creates a flow on effect once the cream of talent is taken up by the companies that best fit the needs (total employment package including tangible – pay, career development, etc and intangible elements – caring for their environment, family friendly, etc) of the target candidate.
Consistency in the delivery of the employer brand is very important. The companies who really live by their employer brand are those who consistently deliver through their people, products, premises and processes, a level of service excellence that is consistent, 24/7, 365 days a year.
Leading employers understand the key motivators for staff that drive performance and engagement. They conduct employee research at least once per year and act on the responses. They collect information at all stages of the employment lifecycle and make changes accordingly. The best employers develop an employer brand community which includes stakeholders from inside and outside the company. An employer value proposition that is clearly understood across all stakeholder groups and is relevant and compelling ensures a consistent delivery of the key messages around, ‘what the company is like to work for.”
The best employers also use integrated communication touch points to deliver the employment promise messages. These touch points include online (career website, blogs, social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, virtual sites such as Second Life and online careers fairs. Offline touch points include press advertising, company presentations, recruitment and induction processes and community events. The employment promise is being delivered along all of these channels and the message needs to manage carefully to ensure it aligns with the image the company wants to build with the target audience.
Which corporations are the "Opinion Leaders" of Employer Branding? What is the connection between the companies (why do they focus on employer branding?)
Good employers have the employer branding high on the corporate agenda and include it as part of their strategic plan. Companies like Starbucks, Sodexo, SAS, Philips and Google put employees at the centre of their business strategy and drive improved business performance through engaging their employees to deliver a truly memorable customer experience. This is why these companies are regularly talked about in the press and need to rely less on paid advertising due to the high level of employee advocacy and market endorsement that exists.
What facts should an employee find out of employers when selecting a job?
Candidates should take time to find out as much information as they can about what it would be like to work for the organisation and not rely solely on an opinion formed from a job advertisement. Advancements in technology now allow candidates to gather information about organisations much quicker than previous generations.
Company career websites e.g. UnitedHealth Group, profiles on virtual sites such as Second Life e.g. IBM and networking sites such as Facebook e.g. BASF, Twitter e.g. Starbucks, YouTube e.g. Dell and LinkedIn e.g. Vestas Wind Systems all provide avenues for candidates to find out more about employers and the people that work there. Company blogs are also an excellent avenue for candidates to understand how they may fit in or whether the culture or the work environment would work to engage and retain them. Candidates are also taking the time to track down people who currently work at the firm to get a ‘real life’ understanding of what the company’s like to work for. There is nothing more powerful than an endorsement by a current employee.
For graduates, internships also provide an excellent way for candidates to learn more about what it’s like inside the company and provide a low risk opportunity for both the employee and employer to discover whether the job match is best for both parties.
Candidates should also seek the following information about the employer during their job search process:
- The location of the work site – is it close to public transport? – Is there free parking? How long will it take me to get to work?
- What are the career development opportunities?
- Does the company pay market rate or above salaries?
- Who are the type of people who work at the firm and their backgrounds, interests, etc?
- What is the culture of the organisation? Does the organisation foster an innovative culture? What level of training and development does it offer employees?
- Does the employer offer flexible work practices? Can I work from home if the nature of the task is better suited to being away from the office? If I need time off for study is this supported by the organisation?
- If I’m thinking about starting a family - Does the organisation have a maternity leave policy?
Do you know any Finnish companies that have a good employer brand? What do you think of Nokia for example?
Nokia is a good example of a company that sells its employment promise very well to the target audience it is trying to engage and recruit. Nokia use competitions to engage their target audience. The Mobile Rules competition invited business plans from applicants that ‘will shake up the mobile world.’ The initiative was an excellent way to discover new talent or identify passive candidates that Nokia may wish to recruit.
Nokia promotes its employment experience as:
A flat, networked organization, as well as speed and flexibility in decision-making, characterize the Nokia Way of working. Equal opportunities and openness towards people and new ideas are also key elements we want to nourish. Nokia is straightforward when dealing with customers and suppliers and always looks for innovative ways of creating and introducing products and solutions to the market.
We provide individuals with a platform for personal growth in a challenging environment with a clear vision, goals and shared management principles - the Nokia Way. The Nokia Way brings together talented individuals who share these principles, and therefore share success.” It is a compelling brand statement that will raise the expectations of the candidate but also communicates a company that has a clear vision about how what it offers in the employment experience.
Nokia also use employee testimonials and employee blogs to provide an insight into what it’s like to work for the company.
What is the role of career website in building a strong employer brand?
Developments in internet technologies have been rapid and is assisting employers to attract the best minds in the marketplace for talent and are also providing candidates with an opportunity to learn more about the ‘inside’ of the organisation.
The use of the internet for activities central to the employment experience has shifted the paradigm of the traditional recruitment process. The recruitment process is now being supported by online RSS feeds, podcasting, blogs, video, social media integration, real time chat, IM, virtual meetings and e-recruitment technology platforms with integrated applicant tracking systems.
The global reach of the internet provides candidates with an opportunity to learn more about prospective employers, their policies and their practices more than even before.
In most cases the information on careers sites was simply a replica of the "about us" section of the main corporate website. It is becoming increasingly important for companies to effectively communicate the employer value propositions to their target audiences in order to improve the perception (and realities!) of their company as a great place to work. With the global reach of the internet companies are fast realising the benefits an effective careers website has in communicating their employer brand to their target audience. Wet Feet research found that about half of job seekers became more interested in working for a company after visiting its web site, while approximately one in four refused to consider a company based on their visit.
A well designed careers website will not only deliver process and sourcing cost savings it will also improve candidate quality and opportunity cost savings by reducing the time of unfilled positions through a higher quality, targeted recruiting process.
The career website must be a communications vehicle and process enabler and the development process should begin with defining the objectives, scope and resources available to build the site. The careers website will evolve as the company tracks and measures the success of the platform in its recruitment initiatives.
Your career website should also provide links to allow visitors to interact with you on your social media platforms. Sodexo is a great example of a global best practice company that leverages social media channels to build their talent pool and go further than most companies by making it a key focus of their talent acquisition strategy by actively participating in discussions across the numerous channels they have established such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
The success of your careers site should be measured by the number of unique visitor to your site, quality of candidates who are posting, conversion rates and the effectiveness of the application process.
In your experience what are the main areas organisations need to focus on to improve their desirability as an employer to new employees?
The main areas include:
- Companies need to ensure the employment experience across the employee lifecycle matches with the perception of the experience from the outside. The employer brand promise communicated through integrated communicated initiatives must provide a realistic view of what a new hire can expect from the employment experience from hire to retire.
- Organisations need to ensure they have a fully integrated online and offline communication plan using channels that deliver compelling and relevant messages about the employment offering to the target audience. The Phillips career website provides an excellent example of a company that has a clear talent acquisition strategy supported by online communication initiatives. The site at www.philips.com provides excellent insights into what it’s like to work at Philips.
- Companies need to nurture a culture that leads to an engaged workforce in order to build brand ambassadors from the inside. A word of mouth referral by an existing employee is a true source of competitive advantage not to mention the savings in recruitment and turnover costs.
- Fostering a culture that supports learning and development. The rapid rate of change in the business environment means employees need to provide a supportive environment for skill build and capability development in order to attract and retain talent.
- We conducted benchmark studies in Australia, New Zealand, Asia and the Middle East using the EBI Employer Brand Attributes IndexTM to determine the key employer brand drivers in companies in these markets. We found that a lot more work needs to be done on building leadership capability to improve employees perception of their organisation’s desirability as an employer. Leadership ranked as one of the lowest influences on the employer brand in Australian and New Zealand companies.
And some final thoughts
In the increasingly difficult labour market for attracting and retaining talent, organisations need to apply brand management thinking and techniques to this issue of creating meaning and relevance to current and future employees. Employer branding is one such strategy that ensures the organisation is able to attract, engage and retain the building blocks of what is now recognised as a firm’s source of greatest competitive advantage – its human capital.
Have you read Brett's new book "Employer Brand Leadership - A Global Perspective?" For full details please visit the publisher's website click here>
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