How to create a better employer brand
Establishing a sound employer brand is a key way to successfully recruit and retain good employees.
An employer brand is defined as the perception of the organization as a great place to work by both current and potential employees. In short, it is the organization’s reputation as an employer. An employer branding program includes strategies for enhanced talent attraction, engagement and retention to strengthen an organization’s employer brand.
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.
Support from the top
It is essential for your CEO or top executive to formally sponsor/support the employer brand internally and externally.
The key action is to appoint a person with clear responsibility for the employer brand. If not, the full value of the brand is not fulfilled, and problems may arise:
- Employer branding responsibilities are often given to an HR generalist or individual who has little to no experience delivering a complex employer branding project.
- This person doesn’t understand how to create an employer brand strategy, or how to align programs to support the messaging or get sponsorship from top management to drive initiatives effectively through the organization.
- This then creates the widespread perception that employer branding is not effective, which curtails continuing investments in employer brand initiatives.
If the organization lacks an experienced strategist or influencer who can bring teams together to craft an effective employer brand, then it is advisable to engage someone who can bring these messages to fruition.
A formal employer brand strategy can make a real difference: twice as many companies that have a defined and documented strategy for their employer brand succeed in having it well understood by employees.
Communication comes into play
Organizations must be serious about developing and conveying an employer brand that captures their value to potential hires. This is more than just an explanation of the company’s strategy, markets and products, although these are important. It is a valid, thoughtful expression of the corporate culture and work environment—why the candidate will want to engage with like-minded individuals in shared pursuits toward specific outcomes.
When developing and communicating an employer brand to potential employees, certain building blocks are important to success. Survey respondents believe an employer brand has to be authentic (55%) and consistent with company practices (52%). It is also fairly important that the employer brand and customer brand are consistent with each other (36%). Other factors to consider when developing a brand include making it clear, believable, compelling and relevant.
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 to promote the employee value proposition (EVP). The EVP is the unique set of benefits an employee receives in return for the skills, capabilities and experience they bring to an employer. An EVP is about defining the essence of your organization – how it is unique and what it stands for.
The employer brand is usually considered the province of HR practitioners, but a large 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.
Recruiting via the internet
The internet comes into the employer brand and recruitment experience. Jobs can be promoted to potential employees via the corporate website or a special recruitment website, blogs, email subscription lists, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn. (Many recruiters use the internet to verify the background of shortlisted job applicants by checking Facebook, LinkedIn and Google in particular.)
In addition, employers use external channels such as industry conferences, online forums, campus recruitment and visible branding in company locations to promote their brand as an employer. Forward-thinking employers are turning to their own employees to help communicate their employer brand internally. They use the company intranet, employee newsletters, internal conferences and events, internal emails, and CEO/senior executive presentations. These channels may be used to encourage existing employees to apply for an available position, or may be used by current staff to mention the opening to their own contacts.
Perhaps the easiest and most cost effective way to educate employees about the firm’s employee value proposition is to put the actual EVP statement on the screen savers of all employees’ computers. The screen saver is something they see every day and with that type of repetition, the message is more likely to stay top of mind. Create a digital employer brand document that employees can download from the intranet. In it, link to employee testimonials and videos on your website. Give this document to new hires to help get them engaged in their new roles.
The onboard experience
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 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.
Here’s how you can strengthen your employer brand
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:
- Identify the attributes that you want to characterize your employer brand.
- 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.
- Compare the differences between the actual experiences and the ideal attributes you want in the employer brand.
- 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.
- 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.
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 astutely using communication to help 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.