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How to create a better employer brand

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of www.cuttingedgepr.com

 

Establishing a sound employer brand is a key way to successfully recruit and retain good employees.

Employment markets around the world have tightened up in recent years. It is getting harder to recruit, motivate and retain talented employees.

The baby boomer generation is starting to retire from the workforce, skilled technical people and tradespersons are becoming increasingly hard to find, and younger employees are difficult to please – the Gen X and Gen Y employees are more demanding, more mobile and less loyal.

A strong employer brand is an important way to keep an employer ahead in the staffing stakes – to become an ‘employer of choice.’ It is the perceptions, feelings and associations in the minds of employees about their employment experience. It covers the whole employee life cycle from first contact through to departure.

Actions speak louder than words – an employee’s experience of your organization’s actions influences them much more than communication, but communication creates the linkages and can play a central role in many of those experiences.

The employer brand is usually considered the province of HR practitioners, but a large part, if not a major part, of the employer brand comprises the formal and informal communication that takes place over the employee life cycle. Quite often HR practitioners haven’t taken steps to develop the employer brand, and so you can take the initiative in talking with them about systematically strengthening the brand and actively progressing its implementation.

Informal employer branding already exists whether you attempt to shape it or not. It is every contact the employee has with the organization – every ‘moment of truth.’ And communicators can shape many of those experiences.

Communication is involved in most of the recruitment stages. The first part of the experience is likely to be when a person first sees a job advertisement in a newspaper or in a career website. Just as likely these days is a referral from a friend or family member about a potential job. Job referrals are the most trusted source of recruitment.

The presentation and content of the job advertisement create an impression in the mind of a candidate. Communication staff should play a central role in creating the visual material and information content in the job advertisement. Your organization’s corporate identity should be clearly communicated visually along with a positioning statement in the job ad. Your marketing department may play a role as well with this.

The comments of a person who refers another person to a job opening comprise informal communication. Those comments come about because that person already has formed an opinion about the employer from their own contacts or experiences, some of which are shaped by the communication department.

Frequently the next step is to access the website of the employer for the job details and selection criteria. Again, the website provides an important impression of the organization. The website is totally or partly a communication responsibility.

Communicators can play a part in the drafting of information material supplied to candidates when they make an enquiry. If you are assertive, you could seek to play a role in the way job interviews are arranged and in the communication notifying applicants of their fate.

Once a person is on board, the employment experience should be reviewed in detail from that point. The important thing is to make the promises match the experience.

However, there is a significant disconnect between what employers think they have provided and what job candidates actually experience.

A 2006 survey by HR firm Hudson asked 410 HR managers or directors, “At our organization, the employment experience promised to prospective employees before they join is always delivered once they come on board.” A total of 65% agreed or strongly agreed.

But when Hudson asked 1,024 employees if “My current employer had delivered on everything it promised to me when I first joined,” a total of 55% disagreed or strongly disagreed.

In other words, employers aren’t delivering on their promises. This can be a major problem because a new employee is likely to become disgruntled and start looking around for another job.

What can you do to strengthen your employer brand, to close the gap between the promises and the delivery?

In broad terms, you can work with HR to:

  1. Identify the attributes that you want to characterize your employer brand.
  2. Map all the contacts (actions and messages) that a potential employee has with your organization – the ‘moments of truth.’ Arrange to interview candidates individually or in focus groups you can run yourself, about their experiences and views of your organization.
  3. Compare the differences between the actual experiences and the ideal attributes you want in the employer brand.
  4. Do the same with new appointees. Find out the experiences in the workplace of a representative sample of newcomers compared with the ideal employer brand attributes. Survey them in their first week, and again after 1 month, 3 months, 6 months and 12 months. This may seem like a lot of surveys, but you will get a valuable ‘finger on the pulse’ on how your organization treats new employees and where improvements need to be made. It costs virtually nothing if you do it yourself.
  5. Seek to close the gap between the ideal and the actual by working jointly with HR to make changes, some of which will require some managers and supervisors to change the way they deal with their staff. By closing the gap, you will create more consistency between words and actions throughout the whole employee experience – and will create more engaged employees.

Ensure you report progress regularly to senior management in order to keep their support.

Improving an employer brand takes time and takes a sustained effort in many different aspects of the organization to drive the process of improving the employee experience. But the results will start to pay off and employee engagement will increase over time if you succeed in making the required changes.

To be successful, you will need to win the cooperation of the HR people. Make it a joint effort, even allow them to take the lead. And you need to play your politics well in order to convince managers and supervisors to change existing attitudes about dealing with their staff. Working through senior management is probably the best way to do this.

Key lead indicators of success include:

  • Your organization’s financial performance – profit per employee (per FTE)
  • HR process metrics such as candidate satisfaction, hiring manager satisfaction, offer acceptance rate and time to fill positions
  • Employee feedback such as if employees would recommend the employer to others, and satisfaction rates of new employees
  • Quality of applicants – evaluating candidates at first résumé screening, first interview, line manager interview, and final interview (if used).
  • Employee retention – at 3 months (or completion of probation period), at first performance review, and the retention rate of high performers.

Remember, many new arrivals leave before they have completed six months in the job. This adds significantly to overheads. By helping to improve the employee experience and hence your employer brand, you will find it easier to attract candidates, you will become more of an employer of choice, and you will improve your employee retention rates.

About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website, www.cuttingedgepr.com, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.

 

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