20 Employer branding best practices to focus on in 2016
December 29, 2015
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2015 was a year the employer branding industry took giant leaps forward. Research studies and numerous conferences and were conducted around the world. Vendors across multiple sectors including consulting, HR technology and traditional brand agencies made it a key part of their business development strategy.
2016 has seen the trend continue. Many of the industry's key players and leaders from 36 countries came together in Prague on 28-29 April 2016 for World Employer Branding Day to celebrate employer brand excellence around the world.
The mood and business confidence for 2016 is the best it has been since the GFC in 2008. Colleagues from around the world look to 2016 as a year of innovation, investment and growth.
Business confidence is a leading indicator of economic growth and whilst the forecasts in countries such as China and Russia are well below what has been achieved previously and the first few weeks of 2016 has seen stock markets around the world in the red, there is an air of optimism about growth prospects in 2016.
Employer branding, like many management practices moves in line with economic growth. Investment in people, technology and the supporting systems and processes all benefit from an improved economy.
2016 is also a special year for me personally. It marks the tenth year of my employer branding global tour which commenced in 2007 as a one year project that has turned into an adventure covering more than 50 cities in 33 countries made possible by the exceptional industry support of regional partners.
So where to in 2016 for employer branding? Many companies have evolved from a Tier 5 employer branding company (see image below) and leaders around the world are more open to engage and invest in employer branding. Over the past twelve months there has been significant growth in the number of employer brand leaders appointed to manage the function.
Our research at Employer Brand International over the past seven years shows the role of the employer brand leader is becoming more strategic.
Below are 16 key focus areas to take your employer brand strategy to a new level in 2016!
1. Define the scope, objectives and metrics
There is a tendency to want to rush into employer branding without a clear direction, this is how most projects usually get started. However, be aware, the path of least resistance can end up costing you more in the long term. Companies like Ferrero, adidas Group, L’Oreal, Volvo Cars and Lego have all made significant progress in this area over the past few years by clearly defining the scope of their strategy and establishing metrics to measure return on investment and demonstrate how a strong employer brand creates value.
These companies have also developed dedicated employer brand leadership functions to manage the strategy at a time when most companies still see employer branding as an add-on role to an already overstretched HR or marketing function.
Before you begin your employer branding journey be clear on the scope of your strategy. Questions to consider include:
Will the focus be global, national or regional?
Are we looking at an employer branding project or a holistic employer brand strategy?
How does employer branding fit in to our strategy alongside consumer marketing, HR and communications?
What resources do we have available to invest?
How engaged are our leadership in employer branding?
How will we measure success?
Next you need to define your objectives and establish timelines. I’m amazed as to how much is invested by companies in their strategies without clearly defined objectives or metrics. This was confirmed in our employer branding global trends study when 25 percent of companies said it was too early into their strategy to determine metrics.
2. Don’t underestimate the need for change management
Developing an employer brand strategy will require a degree of change management, the level will depend on organizational size, industry, stage of lifecycle and current employer brand strength.
The key to successful change management is engaging leaders to see the value of the change in the first place. Whilst you may be thinking employer branding, they are likely to be thinking how will this affect me? How much extra work will I have to take on, does this really work?
Use change management strategies in the early stages to overcome initial resistance. It is quite common for leaders to ask, “How is employer brand management any different to HR, talent management or recruitment? Or “How does employer branding impact on share price?”
Be prepared to answer some hard questions.
As defined in figure 1, the key stages of your employer branding change program should include:
Create reasons for change – conduct an employer branding audit
Engage senior leadership – present the business case for employer branding
Develop the strategy – using the insights from the audit, develop the employer brand strategy
Train leaders and build competency – train leaders how to effectively manage the employee experience and recognise and reward performance that is reflective of the employer brand you strive to develop.
Figure 1: Employer branding and change management
The global employer brand leader at Ferrero, one of the world’s largest chocolate producer and confectionery company, focused on gathering internal and external insights from a sample of more than 30,000 employees and external collaborators to assess the strength of their employer brand to address any gaps that could be holding them back. Insights create awareness and force senior leaders to listen to what the market is saying.
Armed with the market insights, the employer brand team were able to engage leadership to invest in an employer brand strategy that is now making a significant contribution to the strong financial performance Ferrero is experiencing in many markets around the world.
3. Train leaders in employer branding
One of the questions Employer Branding College students are tasked with as part of their major assignment for the Level 1 Certificate in Employer Brand Leadership (see figure 2) is: “Write a paper for senior leadership to build the business case for the importance of investing in employer branding. In your paper include supporting research data, case study examples and describe how employer branding delivers value as a strategic concept for talent attraction, engagement and retention."
This task is critical if you are striving for your organization to adopt a strategic approach to employer branding.
If you can’t engage leaders across the business in your strategy it is likely to become a stand-alone project that receives little interest or investment by senior leadership. Ten years ago there was very little information available on employer branding, how to do it or case studies of companies doing it successfully. Fast forward to 2016 and there is a wealth of information on the internet, in books and on community websites that can assist to educate leaders on the value and importance of an employer brand led people strategy.
Figure 2: Employer Branding College Certificate in Employer Brand Leadership Training Program
For the past 10 years leaders have predominantly been exposed to theory and concepts on employer branding. It has only been the past few years where leaders have begun developing the competencies required to become a successful employer brand leader.
Like many other roles, employer brand leadership talent is in short supply. The lead times to fill advertised roles (many for the first time) have been long, especially if the role has a strategic focus. In 2016 more leaders will seek training to build these competencies and not just in develop economies such as USA, UK and Australia where companies have been enrolling leaders to develop their competencies in employer brand leadership.
Recent graduates of the Level 1 Certificate in Employer Brand Leadership have also come from countries such as Brazil, South Africa, Russia, Philippines, Kenya and India which highlights that employer branding is a global issue.
4. Focus on the experience
In 2015 I co-authored a whitepaper with Lisa G. Morris titled, “In employer branding, EXPERIENCE is everything.” We also received contributions around the world from Employer Branding College students and graduates and members of Employer Brand International’s Global Advisory Board.
As a key differentiator for brand experience success, organizations have traditionally focused on the customer experience. However, what’s been missing has been an understanding of the role of the employee in the relationship between organizations, customers and profitability.
Employees are central to the customer experience and organizations must adopt an integrated approach towards brand experience if they are to remain relevant to the needs of customers and the talent that drive these experiences (see figure 3).
Experience goes beyond employee engagement and employee satisfaction before it. How companies interact with employees on a day to day basis impacts on a number of lagging indicators such as staff turnover, disengagement and lack of trust.
In 2016 assess your employee experience and develop strategies to address the gaps to ensure the experience across the employment lifecycle is consistent and aligned with your employer brand strategy.
Employer branding is much bigger than a stand-alone recruiting function. Implemented effectively it can result in transformational results as it has at companies such as L’Oréal, Sodexo and UnitedHealth Group who are now seeing the benefits of their investments in employer branding over the past 5-10 years. Many of the leaders driving the strategy in these companies invested considerable time educating senior leaders about the importance and benefits of employer branding and how it would assist to attract and retain talent necessary for its growth.
In the not too distance future the employee experience will be personalised. Just as we are personalising how we interact with brands on social media we will expect to do so in the workplace.
Socialising the business is high on the agenda of forward thinking organizations and to do this right the communication flow and relevance has to be right. There is still a long way for technology to catch up with the demand for employees (and consumers) for content that is relevant, engaging and inspiring which encourages one to take action.
Companies that start to develop strategies to personalise the candidate and employee experience in 2016 will be at the forefront as the technology improves over the next few years. We are already seeing the impact technology has had on personalising the experience for travellers and diners around the world where choosing highly recommended accommodation or a restaurant that best meets our requirements is now only a few taps away on our Smartphone.
Begin by mapping out the employee experience for each employee by conducting an assessment to understand the key areas to focus on to improve the experience (see figures 4&5).
6. Adopt a lifestyle approach to people management
Life has got increasingly busy for people around the world. It is impacting on birth rates (is all this work killing romance?), the amount of family time parents are spending with their children and the need for employees to work longer hours. The reality if that life is a lot more blended that what it was before technology first appeared in the workplace.
Employees are now on 24/7/365, even when they’re asleep messages can be pushed through waiting for them to retrieve them when they awake. Train leaders how to better manage work flexibility for their people and encourage time off for employees to attend school functions or other important family occasions. You will get a ROI in performance and attitude ten times over.
Empower employees to better manage their time. I know from experience that parenting requires you to reassess your priorities and the best outcome for everyone is where there is a healthy balance between family, work and self.
Flexible work practices (flexible hours or shifts, job share, part-time, work from home, career breaks, etc.) should be about creative ways to keep your workforce engaged and committed - and it should be made available to everyone to meet their differing needs and circumstances.
How balanced is your lifestyle? Rate yourselves on the life wheel in figure 6. In each key pillar rate the score from 0 (not very good) through to 10 (excellent). Follow the line around, creating a circular curve. At the end of rating each pillar colour the bottom part in. The result will be a wheel. Is it smooth and balanced or wobbly with rough edges? 99.9 percent of the time we will all have some bumps in it (see figure 6).
Figure 6: Balance your lifestyle
Ref: D. Hogg
7. Develop a reward and recognition program that actually works
Scientific experiments have long supported the view that people perform better when the reward and recognition is relevant and purposeful. This is why start-ups provide company shares to new employees with the incentive to enjoy big rewards if the company, through their contributions (and others) is successful. Whilst many may argue that we can’t give shares to all our employees, companies are in the prime position to reward and recognise employees in so many ways, many non-financial.
The first step is making reward and recognition part of the company culture and employee experience. Develop strategies and train leaders how to deliver the reward and recognition program. Remember people won’t always remember what you said to them but they will remember how you made them feel.
The Share & Care Program (see figure 7) which is part of the employee benefits program (see figure 8) at L’Oréal is a major breakthrough in the Group’s social history. By 2015, this program (see video 1) will ensure that all employees worldwide have access to the best social benefits possible in 4 areas: social protection (security), care (health), balance (parenthood) and enjoy (quality of life at work).
Diversity is becoming a big focus around the world. In 2016 companies will learn from strategies adopted by companies which have innovated over the past few years (some by choice and some by force) in creating workplaces supportive of diversity. Diversity should not be a stand-alone program but part of the organization strategy to build a successful organisation.
Diversity and inclusion is becoming a high priority for many organisations as their workforces become more diverse and participation rates for women and minority groups is on the rise. However, a successful diversity and inclusion strategy should include all minority groups impacted by age, gender, nationality, culture, religion, background, appearance, intellectual or physical ability or sexual preference and not single out any group for particular focus.
Examining unconscious and conscious bias and the role it plays in workplace decisions may be the key to better understanding why diversity remains a ‘work in progress’. There has been a concerted effort over decades to establish fair and equitable workplaces where diversity and tolerance is ‘the norm’. However, despite these efforts and the investment in time and resources by organisations and specialist commissions, progress in removing the barriers that limit opportunities for certain identified groups' remains largely elusive. It’s time for a new approach.
With leadership support, the Google People Operations team began building a workshop for employees - Unconscious Bias @ Work - to introduce the concept of unconscious bias and its impact (see figure 9). The workshop leaned heavily on external research and internal examples. To date, more than 30,000 Googlers (over half of the company) have participated in the 60-90 minute workshop, making it the largest voluntary learning program at Google. (see video 2).
Figure 9: Unconscious Bias @ Work
9. Implement an employer branding content marketing program
Content is everywhere in 2016. A day doesn’t go past where we are bombarded with emailers, invitations to download whitepapers and requests to subscribe to a service. Whilst these initiatives are usually part of most successful content marketing programs it’s time to innovate in this area.
I’m amazed as to the approach of many experienced global vendors who email people seeking a phone call after they have downloaded one of their whitepapers and subsequently continue to email them until a final (sometimes sixth!) emailer is sent with the message, “I understand from your lack of response to my previous emails that you may not require our service so I am giving you one last opportunity to contact me. If not I won’t contact you again.”
This is sales 101. Actually it wouldn’t even get into the sales 101 playbook in 2016!
Develop and implement an employer branding content marketing program that adopts a long term approach to showcasing what it’s like to work at your company. Consider you are scripting a TV show you want to run for many years by keeping the content relevant, fresh and interesting and not just creating a mini-series!
10. Understand what drives performance
Some cultures are obsessed with metrics. The problem with this is that the more you focus on the hard stuff the less you focus on the soft stuff. Predictive analytics has been a rising topic over the past two years and is forecast to peak in 2016-2017. I subscribe to the mantra, “What gets measured get done.” However one needs perspective! A focus on metrics should not come without a focus on the leading indicators that drive metrics. The intangibles such as the daily mood of employees, market confidence following national tragedies and/or matters in the home life can all have a major impact on business performance. Even weather and time spent travelling to and from work can impact engagement but often is dismissed as, “It’s part of the job.” This is where flexible work practices can assist.
The top factors driving performance may actually be your flexible work practices rather than how many sales calls that are being made. Understand the leading indicators of success. The outdated practice of measuring engagement every year or second year is being replaced by feedback systems that provide leaders with real-time data on employee mood and engagement which allows them to adjust the strategy before it becomes a performance issue that was previously only picked up in the annual employee survey.
Whilst implementing the vast choice of technology at our disposals to measure performance, use these tools to also measure the intangibles and take a systems view of what is driving corporate performance.
In many companies I have come across the main issue that is impacting on successful employer branding is a lack of awareness and competency amongst leaders and how employer branding contributes to the bottom-line. This has a flow on effect to how well the employee experience is managed, how employees engage with customers and how loyalty customers are to your products and services.
11. Encourage leaders to travel
The cost of a four week business trip to Sydney, Shanghai, New York and London to visit and meet leaders driving successful employer branding programs may costs in the vicinity of $6,000-10,000.
Now consider how much you invested in your last failed employer branding program – $30,000, $50,000 or $100,000+. Don’t underestimate the value leaders travelling to countries to experience local culture can have on business performance. This is critical for global employer brand leaders, many who are struggling with the challenges of localizing their employer branding strategy in regional growth markets such as China, Middle East and India.
The demand for competent employer brand leaders will continue at a time when the supply is low. You will need to build the capability within your organisation by identifying leaders with the skills and experiences best suited for the role and develop the areas where there are gaps.
12. Attend employer branding events and build your network
I’ve previously described how
“Your network is your net worth.”
No time is this more important than in 2016. A company or an individual can’t possibly have all the skills, experiences or competencies they need to build a successful company. Networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are simplifying the way people connect from all corners of the world.
With this simplicity comes the dangers of falling into the trap of pitching a product or service in the absence of a connection or relationship with the person. One of the habits that stand out for me in Covey’s 7 habits of highly successful people is, “Seek to understand before being understood.” This is easier said than done! Whilst cold calling will likely always be part of the game look at who is already in your network and can assist you. Aim to develop your network where you have gaps.
The key driver of developing the World Employer Branding Day 2016 concept was to bring together key players in the employer branding global industry to connect them with companies and leaders who would benefit by learning from a diversity of approaches to employer brand management. This network would provide leaders with a life-long network that they could connect with and continue to learn and engage with well beyond the event.
13. Re think the Alumni program
Employer Branding College graduates join the College’s Alumni at the commencement of their studies, not at the end. I always found it odd why you would join an Alumni group after you complete a qualification or leave a workplace. Establishing a culture of connecting and sharing information and best practice between Alumni is more likely to occur if the behaviours are established early. Current employees can also benefit from networking with ex-employees and it will encourage them to do the same when they leave the company.
Our recent employee experience global survey shows the alumni phase of the employment lifecycle provides an opportunity for companies to better engagement with Alumni, A high percentage of employees say they would like to stay in touch with the organisation and/or colleagues when they leave and would consider re-joining my organisation when they leave (the final report will be published in March 2016).
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) refers to its leavers as “graduates”. It helps them to find new jobs, and even to negotiate a good contract with their new managers. Once they have left, they continue getting free strategic advice from the firm’s partners. In return BCG asks alumni to help it recruit new graduates, and to brief them on the state of the industries they are now working in. And of course, it hopes they may send a bit of work in its direction.
Expect to see more companies outside the consulting, engineering and accounting industry launch corporate alumni programs in 2016.
14. Remove inertia
In 2016 rethink whether you actually need more meetings or to CC your next email to everyone. Consider if there is more value in empowering employees to do the job they were employed to do.
Job descriptions are becoming less relevant and whilst I see the legal necessity to have clearly defined roles, the reality is that the successful companies of the future will be those built upon agile organizational structures with low overheads and the ability to respond quickly to market opportunities and/or changes in market conditions.
They will remove any inertia that is likely to slow them down.
From 2017 Australia will no longer manufacture cars. How has the industry responded to this? In short, not quick enough, resulting in high levels of unemployment in the manufacturing sector, displaced workers who may be too old or untrained for new jobs.
The industry blames the government (who have already been financially supporting the major car makers to the tune of 10 billion over the past 10 years) and the government points the finger at industry. Stronger collaboration between the key stakeholders may have resulted in a better outcome. Similarly, Australia is now striving to become more diverse as its reliance on mining exports as the major contributor to GDP is under threat due to the slowdown in the mining industry and China with no turnarounds anytime soon.
15. Be authentic, real and look at employees like family
Let’s face it no one looks forward to spending eight hours at work feeling miserable, including the leader who is making your life miserable. If we took the same compassion, empathy and thinking towards others in the workplace as we do with family members, employee engagement would not be the problem it is today with Gallup reporting less than one third of employees are engaged in their jobs costing $350 billion per year in lost productivity in the US alone.
Train leaders and employees to use some of the soft skills in their interactions with staff that they comfortably display with family members. However, it is important to ensure the right actions are put in place to improve the working environment so staff feel respected, trusted and empowered. If you have to constantly watch over staff to ensure they are performing the job they were hired to do then it’s likely the problem is you are recruiting the wrong people or the environment in which they work is not supporting them to deliver their best.
16. Invest in great technology
The employee engagement industry is worth billions of dollars globally. No wonder there is a rush by start-ups to capture some of their revenue by developing tools that track, measure and report on employee engagement on a real time basis.
Technology is immersing itself in every facet of our lives, from when we take a last look at the phone before we go to sleep and check emails (and Facebook!) when we wake up. It is moving its way into the workplace at a speed most organisations can’t keep up.
Big data has been a huge topic for the past couple of years and 2016 is seen as a big year for HR technology. Dig a little deeper and it’s mainly the vendor industry that is driving this message as they are the ones who stand to benefit the most. Like CRM and ATS systems before them, many which failed to deliver what was promised, let’s hope the same outcomes aren’t experienced with HR Tech.
Let’s hope the technology invested by companies in 2016 makes life less complicated, more manageable and gives employees back some of their time to make better decisions and more importantly inspire them to get out of bed each morning and come to work and be motivated to achieve – this is good for individuals, organisations and society!
Commonwealth Bank of Australia mobile app for employees is an excellent example of a company that has adapted smart technology to make a positive impact on the employee experience (see figure 10). This app brings all employees’ HR, collaboration, administration, and support apps to their phones. Within two weeks of rolling out the app, 20,000 employees had actively adopted it.
Figure 10: Commonwealth Bank of Australia mobile app for employees
17. Innovate the way you manage performance
Companies such as Deloitte, Accenture, Microsoft and GE are changing the way they rate employee performance and are testing new ideas that give them continual feedback and coaching. The focus is on frequent fact based discussions on future performance, not what happened in the previous twelve months. McKinsey reports that relatively easy and inexpensive to build (or to buy and customize), performance-development applications (see figure 11) are showing early promise but they are not without their challenges such as how to manage the culture and change process around frequent feedback and reporting. Will employees feel like they are being micromanaged or their privacy invaded?
Figure 11: Continually crowdsourcing performance data provides fresher and more timely insights
18. Develop a common language on employer branding
In some countries such as USA, employer branding is predominantly spoken in terms of recruitment. However this is only a small piece of a much bigger pie. In the UK, a strategic approach to employer brand strategy is more common which has been driven by a much larger and developed employer branding vendor industry which has supported client practice over the past ten years.
Whether your company focuses on employer branding at a tactical or strategic level is actually a big thing! Too often leaders speak about employer branding in terms of campaigns used in recruiting when the term they should be using for this is recruitment marketing. This lack of understanding is also reflected in the job descriptions published for employer brand leaders with around half of them describing the position as tactical and the other half adopting a strategic approach. I favor the latter, it will produce more effective outcomes.
The same applies to the term talent. In my masterclass events I ask each table to define the term 'talent' and after a few minutes I seek responses. In over 30 times I've done this, not once has there been an agreement on the definition amongst the delegates. Then I ask, "Where should employer branding sit? As a HR, marketing, communication or talent function?" Once again no agreement. The aha moment occurs when I propose:
Employer branding is not a HR, marketing, communications or talent function, IT'S A BUSINESS FUNCTION
19. Evolve from discussions on metrics to business impact
There are literally hundreds of metrics that can be used across a business, each department has them. The function by function approach to metrics usually results in competition between functions to achieve their individual metrics when the focus should be working collaboratively to achieve business impact. An engagement score of 60 percent is only one number. Understanding that employee engagement has been shown to correlate with customer satisfaction and sales and knowing which employer branding strategies to implement to drive employee engagement (to increase customer satisfaction and sales) is more likely to engage leadership to invest in employer branding than simply reporting a set of disconnected metrics that have very little business impact impact or correlation with the bottom line or organisational objectives.
20. Train leaders in how to research and adapt to market trends
In one of the assignments leaders complete in the Certificate in Employer Brand Leadership involves:
a) Conduct a global market environmental analysis (using a PESTEL analysis) and detail the key political, economic, social, technology, environment and legal trends impacting on the field of employer branding. &
b) In your role as an employer brand leader detail the recommendations you would make to ensure an organisation is in the best position to respond to these trends and enhance their employer brand.
The mind shift that occurs amongst leaders as I mentor them through this task is refreshing. As they cast their thoughts outside their home country, they start to understand what's happening in the world around them and what that means from a future if work point of view and how employer branding can address many of the challenges their company will encounter. I encourage you to develop this competency in leaders as it is going to become increasing important as we work towards 2020 when technology and networks will play a much larger part in how companies function.
And some final thoughts
We now live in a world where uncertainty is certain. We are more connected, yet disconnected more than ever before. We strive for enjoyment, satisfaction and success in our work yet the workplace demands more for less and at a faster rate than the year before.
Just like governance, education and natural resources are keys to developing a successful country, organisations with competent leadership, effective communication and fair reward and recognition practices will be in the best position to navigate their way through the challenges of 2016.
As always, enjoy the journey in 2016!
About the author
Brett Minchington MBA, Chairman/CEO of Employer Brand International is an International strategist, corporate advisor and educator who has trained leaders in more than 50 cities in 33 countries. The world’s most published author in employer branding, his publications have sold in more than 65 countries. His latest book “EMPLOYER BRAND EXCELLENCE - A CASE STUDY APPROACH" and other publications are available at www.brettminchington.com/bookstore
Study with Brett and become a certified employer brand leader.
Brett coaches and mentors leaders undertaking the global online Level 1 Certificate in Employer Brand Leadership program, the global standard in employer brand leadership certification. For details about the next online courses please visit www.employerbrandingcollege.com