Ignore Employer Branding at Your Company’s Peril

When was the last time you thought about your employer brand?  If you are like most business leaders I speak with, your answer is likely, “seldom.”  After all, it wasn’t too long ago that most CEOs and company owners felt like their employees were lucky to have a job.  (Remember the 2008 crash and the recession that followed?)  In former times, how employees and potential recruits viewed an organization was important, but not a major priority.  Well, needless to say, things have changed.  We now live in the age of employee empowerment and employer branding is no longer an issue business leaders can ignore—at least if they expect to compete in the shrinking marketplace of skilled talent. 

Employer branding is increasing in importance and will be key to competing for great talent.

To set the stage for this discussion, here a few relevant statistics regarding the impact of employer branding (compiled by Glass Door):

  • 69% [of potential employees] are likely to apply to a job if the employer actively manages its employer brand (e.g., responds to reviews, updates their profile, shares updates on the culture and work environment). (Glassdoor U.S. Site Survey, January 2016)
  • 76% want details on what makes the company an attractive place to work. (Glassdoor survey, October 2014)
  • Top five pieces of information job seekers want employers to provide as they research where to work: 1) Salary/compensation, 2) Benefits, 3) Basic company information, 4) What makes it an attractive place to work, 5) Company mission, vision, values. (Glassdoor U.S. Site Survey, January 2016)
  • 69% would not take a job with a company that had a bad reputation, even if they were unemployed! (Corporate Responsibility Magazine / Allegis Group Services Study, August 2012)
  • 84% would consider leaving their current jobs if offered another role with a company that had an excellent corporate reputation. And most in $75-100K salary range would only require a 1-10% salary increase to consider such a move (Corporate Responsibility Magazine / Allegis Group Services Study, August 2012)
  • 84% of companies believe a clearly defined strategy is key to achieving employer branding objectives (Employer Brand International Global Research Study)

And then there is this from Harvard Business Review:

As the global economy picks up, there is growing concern among CEOs about finding and keeping the best talent to achieve their growth ambitions. Different surveys show that in 2014, 36% of global employers reported talent shortages, the highest percentage since 2007, and in a more recent 2015 survey, 73% of CEOs reported being concerned about the availability of key skills.  So how can companies compete effectively in this new war for talent?  First and foremost, it’s time for leaders to focus on strengthening their organizations’ employer brands.  (“CEOs Need to Pay Attention to Employer Branding,” Harvard Business Review, May 11, 2015, Richard Mosley)

Hopefully, the evidence is clear.  Employer branding is here to stay and will only increase in importance.  So what should you do?  What are some basic things you can start focusing on that will move you in the right direction when it comes to developing the brand your company wants to have?

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Employer Brand Focus

To begin your effort, you will need to adopt a marketing mindset.  In fact, many organizations engage marketing firms to help them develop and promote their employer brands.  As with any branding effort, you must start by identifying your audience and then create a strategy that suits that profile.  For most employers, their audience will fall in two groups: internal (current employees) and external (those not working within the company).  The latter is further divided between potential employees and the community at large (which could be local, national or global).

Employer brands are built from the inside out.  What your employees say about their work experience when they are socializing, talking with family or communicating on rating sites is influencing what the external audiences perceive about your organization.  As a result, you will need to communicate, communicate, communicate.   But communicate what?

1. Purpose: For many years, organizations have focused heavily on communicating their mission and values. That’s all fine and good…and I’m not suggesting those aren’t valuable or important.  However, the critical issue these days extends beyond that. Today it is about defining and articulating the company’s purpose in such a way that employees find it meaningful, compelling and compatible with their personal sense of purpose.  

Simon Sinek wrote a book on this topic entitled: Start with Why.  The premise is that people want to be inspired in what they do—and they don’t discriminate between their personal and professional identity in this regard.  They want their work to enhance not diminish their sense of purpose. 

2. Standards: Premier talent wants to associate with organizations that have high expectations of their people.  As a result, business  leaders must be very good at defining and communicating:

  • What success means at a company, department and role level and how performance is measured and rewarded.
  • The principles and values that govern acceptable behavior within the organization.

3. Vision: Business leaders must be able to paint a picture of where the company is headed and why. They also need to be able to make that vision compelling so that employees feel passionate about seeing it realized.  Vision also has to do with explaining the role of change and innovation in the organization and what traits will be required to thrive in the culture that is necessary for success to take root and flourish. 

4. Partnership: In our work with clients at VisionLink, we find that when businesses are able to make their employees feel like essential partners in the company’s growth plans, they attract and retain higher caliber talent and secure greater commitment and focus from those people.  The root of this approach is to view the company as a “wealth multiplier,” one where all stakeholders—and especially key contributors—participate in the value they help create.  The pay strategy, then, becomes the means by which employees can envision how they will share in the wealth multiple the business achieves.

In wealth multiplier businesses, compensation planning is less focused on how much someone should be paid and more on how they should be paid (what forms of compensation they should receive).  This issue is easily addressed if leadership takes the time to articulate a clear pay philosophy and then implement a rewards approach that is consistent with that philosophy.  Among other things, the compensation philosophy defines how value is created in the business and in what form it will be shared with those who help produce it.  The rewards philosophy should also address what the company believes the balance should be between guaranteed and variable compensation and between short and long-term value sharing (incentives). 

Employees that feel like partners in the company for which they work want to promote a positive employer brand.  It is in their interest to do so.

5. Line of Sight: This concept has to do with the ability of a person working within a business to see the relationship between certain interdependent elements that drive the company’s success and how they relate to his or her role and rewards. When individuals come to work every day with a clear view of how those components are connected—and can relate them to their personal vision and motivation—they find meaning in their work, and therefore view and talk about their employer favorably.  Line of sight is created when employees see the relationship between the vision of the company, its business model and strategy, the roles those individuals play within the performance framework of the company and what is expected of them in those roles, and how they will be rewarded for fulfilling those expectations.  Organizations with strong line of sight typically have an equally strong employer brand.  Line of sight can be promoted and reinforced through internal marketing initiatives that highlight the link the company wants employees to make between the elements just described.  

Certainly, more goes into creating and promoting an employer brand strategy than what we’ve discussed here.  However, if you do not have clarity around those five issues, you really have no starting point in developing a “marketing plan” for the audiences that will ultimately determine what your brand represents. 

How your brand is perceived now is really out of your control.  However, what is within your control are the actions you take to determine how it will be perceived in the future. 


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