Employer branding - Part one

Once upon a time, life was very simple.

Or at least it was in my world.

Things have become more complex, faster paced and driven by ubiquitous technology that really is impacting on our daily lives.  The fact that you can read this minutes after it has been written, contact me on twitter or email to comment on it a few moments later demonstrates this more than ever.  This will be a recurring theme to some of my blogs.  I’m updating my mind map of current and future blog ideas, bringing more structure, inviting more comments, getting more involved.  Yes I want to write a book and need more content!

Recently I have been spending some time with a potential client (potential so can’t/won’t say their name yet) as well as a business partner looking at their employment brand.  Branding to me is the one of the fluffiest of all recruitment activity but ultimately can deliver some of the greatest business benefits if delivered in a structured way, made part of your business as usual activities and actually means something to current and potential candidates.

I love mad men on the bbc, it shows how brand building has evolved from 40 or 50 years ago and the challenge that we face in delivering a brand today.  It used to be that a few marketing people got together, drank coffee, smoked cigarettes before deciding what the brand positioning was going to be.  They kicked their thoughts over to the advertising people who in turn bought TV and radio time to advertise the brand.  With enough cash behind you, you couldn’t fail. Well almost.

We all know that today it is very different and by the time you drop down the food chain to recruitment activity it is even more ‘challenging’.  We know the cliche, “people are our greatest asset’ etc. but very few organisations deliver on the promise and the candidate experience will suffer.  This has a double whammy of losing the candidate that was interested in the role before you blew it and him telling his friends, or more potential candidates.  Technology is connecting us all together, companies are becoming more and more transparent whether they like it or not. An unhappy customer or in this case a disgruntled potential employee can blog about bad experience, share it on facebook and spread the story via Twitter.

The good news is that the reverse is true as well. A great experience with a company can be read by millions of people in the same way.  Think carefully if you are an employer, potential supplier or even a recruiter working on behalf of your clients.

The challenge as I see it though is that we can’t possibly anticipate every possible touchpoint that could influence the perception of your company’s brand.  I can have a good go at it and talk to as many organisations as I can to help them through their own challenges but real success is dependent on everyone buying into the message, across the board.  I’ll use an example.  You meet an employee of mckinley|resource (do you see what I did there) at a bar.  Even if that employee isn’t working at work how you perceive your interaction with that employee will affect how you perceive mckinley|resource and therefore Company mckinley|resource’s brand.   This could be a positive experience with a positive influence on your feelings about mckinley|resource or (and I really hope it isn’t) a negative influence. Every employee can affect your company’s brand, not just the front line employees that are paid to talk to your customers, do the interviews or make the decisions.

As I was saying advertising can only do so much for your brand and get you so far.  This is whether you are selling a product or looking for new people to join you.   Advertising is part of the overall talent attraction plan but needs to be managed well.  Job adverts need to be branded, support your brand and if nothing else written well.

But advertising is an element to the brand, as is interviewing, induction, how you respond to candidates even how you reject candidates.  The real key I believe to successfully build an employment brand for the long term is to look at your culture.  Yes is sounds fluffy but it’s not.  Culture is all. Get the culture right at the point of recruitment and it will stick as people join your organisation, spreading the word as they go.  Now I have no tangible evidence of this to share with you (I can make this tangible for clients) but I believe that if you get the culture right, a lot of the other parts needed to run a business,  like great customer service, or passionate employees and customers — will happen naturally on its own.  Or at least is a lot easier as you will have attracted the right people to begin with.

Employer brand and culture are part of the same equation, one feeds the other and vice versa.

How you actually deliver on this is long conversation but undoubtedly it starts with the hiring process.  It is about how candidates are spoken, the responses they get from their emails, about putting them first.  Yes another cliche, but think about it for a minute, what is your perception of a hiring organisation that acknowledges you exist, assesses you professionally, sets your expectations versus one that doesn’t?  As I said earlier, even how you let people down counts.  People that didn’t get the job but feel valued will still be positive about your brand.

In addition to being clear about attraction and communication, well defined job roles are key. Not rocket science I know, but getting a well documented job description works wonders, increasing you success rate when you hire and reducing the number of good people walking out the door later on.

I am an advocate of complete assessments of candidates.  Engage with a candidate, get to know them very well, analyse their personality and motivation, their behaviour traits and then their experience and you will be much more successful than before.  As ever I can help with this if you are interested - it’s another topic all on it’s own.

It can also be about making tough decisions, saying no to talented people.  I know this sounds alien, especially coming from a recruiter but if that talent doesn’t fit your culture or demonstrate the behaviours needed to support your brand don’t take them on.  You will sacrifice some short term benefits in exchange for delivery of your longer term ambitions and success. I’m biased - but get someone to do all of this for you on a commercial basis.  Get them to work hard for you and remove suppliers that can’t or won’t deliver.  Understand your recruitment supply chain and what motivates them.  If it is just the fee and not your success you are not destined to deliver an effective recruitment brand.

Many companies claim to have core values, but often fail to commit to them.  Employment branding is the same, keep it simple at the start, develop it in more depth as candidates engage with you and ultimately join you.  As an example we have defined mckinley|resource in terms of 5 core values:-

  • Deliver WOW projects (Thanks Tom Peters!)
  • Embrace and Drive Change whilst pursuing growth and learning
  • Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  • Do More With Less
  • Be Passionate, Determined and Humble

This forms the foundation of our employment brand. It is easy to commit to.  When I say commit I mean I would be willing to hire or not based on them, not matter how talented a potential candidate is.  We create company ambassadors, people committed to the company and our clients.

Finally, for this blog anyway, think about the impact of technology, it brings huge benefits as well as the challenges.  You can reach thousands of potential candidates for little cost lowering the barriers of entry.  You do need to have a social media strategy.  You wont’ find every candidate you need on twitter but you will find some although don’t forget just because twitter is free doesn’t mean recruitment is free. Spend some money on good recruitment consultants with good assessment tools that you can influence.  Get your supply chain to buy into you as a brand first, if they can’t do that then find suppliers that can.

Employment brand is about doing the right thing, delivering communications in an appropriate timescale whilst proactively managing the process end to end.  As ever I am here to help you with all your recruitment needs including employer branding.

Part two can be found here

2010 is going to be another tough year, I believe we are out of the worst of it but it is by no means a done deal yet.  If you want my help with your recruitment strategy, from inception to delivery, help in the creation of a 3 year business vision or practical onsite recruitment support then contact me, Martin Dangerfield on 0161.408.4005.

As well as being a Regional Director for the IRP, Martin is Director of the innovative search business mckinley|resource, a freelance people consultant specialising in talent attraction, assessment and recruitment and a provider of business coaching for high growth entrepreneurial organisations.

Search for ‘People Consultant’ or go straight to www.martindangerfield.com