Around the world, employers are finding it harder to attract good staff. One way to keep your organization ‘top of mind’ with potential job candidates is to develop an effective employer brand. Employer brand strategy is a good opportunity for corporate communicators to offer strong input.
Employer branding is a framework for defining, managing and communicating about the total employment relationship with current and prospective employees. Another definition: employer branding is the perception of the organization as a great place to work by both current and potential employees.
The employer brand says:
Superior talent is up to 8 times more productive. A 2017 article by McKinsey consultants refers to a study of more than 600,000 researchers, entertainers, politicians, and athletes that found high performers are 400% more productive than average ones. Studies of businesses not only show similar results but also reveal that the gap rises with a job’s complexity. In highly complex occupations – the information – and interaction-intensive work of managers, software developers, and the like – high performers are an astounding 800% more productive, as shown in the image below.
Quantifiable benefits result from making the commitment to an effective branding strategy:
A 2017 Weber Shandwick/KRC Research survey found that only 19% of employees globally perceive a strong match between how their employer represents itself and what they experience.This is a truly disappointing result at this time when the employee experience is a significant factor in organizational reputation:
“This match highlights a credibility gap that exposes employers to reputation risk. Closing the gap provides an opportunity for employers to more successfully drive recruitment, employee engagement and retention. An authentic employer brand is particularly critical in an age of extreme transparency where job candidates make reputational assessments with ease based on what an organization’s employees say online or through word of mouth.”
Internal branding campaigns should bring the brand alive for employees, strengthening their emotional connection to the organization. Encouraging employees to deliver the brand values is described as ‘living the brand’, ‘brand enactment’ or the development of ‘brand ambassadors’. Internal campaigns should introduce and explain the brand messages in innovative ways and then reinforce those messages by weaving them into the fabric of the organization.
This kind of campaign requires a larger budget than the traditional small employee communication budget. The spending on internal communication in US companies has averaged around 10% of corporate PR budgets, which is a miserable figure.
Consistency is the essence of success with employer branding to employees. However, this can be difficult to achieve because stakeholder roles increasingly overlap – employees are simultaneously likely to be customers, shareholders and members of the local community. With information readily accessible to employees in all of these capacities, inconsistencies quickly become apparent. It is difficult to tell shareholders that costs will be tightened when a significant proportion of shareholders are also employees – cutting costs invariably means cutting staff numbers.
Align the organization’s image with the employee experience so that organizational communication is consistent with actions. The messages created in the values, systems, policies and behaviors of the organization should all be in alignment, or convergence. Successful employer branding is built on the employer’s ability to deliver on its promise and when this happens the organization becomes ‘an employer of choice.’ As with reputation, the brand will happen whether the organization acts to bolster it or not, so it is better to be proactive to shape the employer brand rather than let it just happen.
While 80% of organizations say an employer brand is very important or important, 43% of respondents to a 2014 Hudson RPO survey said they lacked a documented employer brand strategy. This is surprising, as the research shows that a brand must be authentic and consistent with company practices, which are both driven by strategy.
A business plan can make a real difference: Twice as many Top Brand companies have a defined and documented strategy as the Other Brands, 32% vs. 16%, respectively. High-level executive support is essential, and is significantly greater for Top Brands than Other Brands for members of the executive team, (80% vs. 61%, respectively) and the CEO/President (75% and 55% respectively, according to the Hudson RPO survey. Respondents in this survey were divided between “Top Employer Brands” and “Other Brands.”
Respondents were asked to rate their respective brands on a Likert Scale of 1-5, with 1 being poor and 5 being excellent. Top Employer Brands were considered to be those rated 4 or 5, whereas Other Brands were those rated between 1 and 3. In total, there were 148 Top Brands and 176 Other Brands.
The McKinsey consultants observe in their 2017 article that “A typical human-resources department spends months determining what employees want—a great job, in a great company, with great leaders, and great rewards. HR then says the value proposition should deliver all this, so the EVP resembles that of every business that’s gone through the same process. It’s better for companies to stand out on one dimension while not ignoring the others. For instance, work for Google if you want to face complex challenges, for Virgin if Richard Branson’s leadership stirs you.”
Although it’s fine to have an overall EVP, what matters most is a winning EVP for the 5% of roles that matter most. If data scientists are hugely important, for example, you’ll want an EVP that lets them invent things; offers a clear, rapid career progression; and helps them have a big impact.
The findings of a 2016 academic study led to the following recommendations for employers at the planning stage of employer branding. Employers should:
Employer branding is about a total approach to the employee experience, and doesn’t focus merely on the trinkets and token activities. It is not about slogans, logos, motivational mugs, t-shirts, products, recruitment advertising campaigns or training programs on the external brand. This ‘collateral’ is often used in employer branding campaigns, but is usually greeted with cynicism by employees unless it is apt and relevant. Nevertheless, many prominent organizations use a slogan as the flag bearer of their employer brand. Some examples in recent years include:
HubSpot offers recommendations on developing a branding strategy and a free download comprising a ‘Company Culture Guide + Templates in a 2019 article, observing that:
You need to implement the same branding strategy when it comes to communicating your company’s leadership, values, and culture. If a job seeker asks an employee at your company, “What’s it like to work there?” the employee isn’t going to say, “We’ve built some awesome merchandise.” Instead, he’s going to lay into the day-to-day of people management, company values, and workplace culture. To ensure a good employer brand, then, you need to tell a compelling story.
You can promote your brand in various low-cost ways:
According to the findings of the Hudson RPO survey, all employers used the standard internal communication channels – intranet, company website, employee conferences and signage – to much the same extent. Social media are also important for employer branding. These included LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, forums and Pinterest. These were also used to much the same extent. Other channels included industry associations, online social networking, campus recruitment and online forums.
Top 5 initiatives used to promote the employer brand internally were employee events, intranet, presentations by senior leaders, emails and CEO communication. Interestingly, both Top Brands and Other Brands used the intranet and emails to the same degree, but where a personal presence or commitment from senior management was involved, Top Brands had a much higher presence, eg employee events (81% vs 53%), presentations by senior leaders (69% vs. 51%), and CEO communication (57% vs. 44%).
Tracking true ROI on employer brand activities is difficult because other variables beyond employer brand programs affect retention and hiring data. Nevertheless, measuring certain hiring data before and after an employer brand campaign can provide indicators of success, assuming all other variables remain relatively constant. These include: employee surveys, time-to-hire metrics, retention rates, cost-per-hire metrics, and the number of completed applications per position. The measurements most valuable to the business are higher retention rates and the ease of securing top talent. Common indicators include:
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