You don’t get to decide what your employer brand is. Sorry. Others impose it on you; specifically your current employees and your potential hires. Every day, they are defining what your brand represents as they talk to their fellow workers, share information on social media, converse with friends and family about their job (or where they think they’d like to work) and otherwise express their thoughts about you as an employer or prospective employer. As a result, it is more critical than ever that you have an employer brand strategy, one that puts you more in control of how your company is perceived by those people you want to recruit and retain.
There is a lot that goes into your employer brand. It’s your vision, mission and values. It’s your culture. It’s your value proposition. Your brand is also your company personality (yes, businesses have a personality), the purposes it seeks to serve, its civic and charitable involvement and how it treats its employees. It is the level of employee engagement in your organization and how your people talk about the degree of personal and professional growth they are experiencing.
Your brand influences the kind of talent you are able to attract and retain in your business—and how those people will perform while they are with you. Because so much goes into your brand, recent data suggests that CEOs need to lead the effort in developing their company’s employer brand strategy. It is no longer something a chief executive can assume human resources will just “handle.” It can’t be addressed by another new training program or by holding intermittent meetings and periodic team building exercises. It is an issue that requires top-level leadership and strategic thinking.
The emergence of millennials as the largest segment in the workforce is further complicating employer brand issues. Those in this generation are approaching their careers and employer-attachments differently than their baby-boomers predecessors. Expectations are changing. Millennials are rising in their careers at a time when employees are more empowered than ever and only “irresistible” businesses will win the talent wars that are raging.
In our age of transparency, consumers want to buy from companies they trust and respect. In the recovery from the recession of the past decade, businesses are distancing themselves from any appearance of corporate greed. Not only does that turn consumers off, it’s also impacting job seekers’ priorities.
… some 80% of job seekers today will research an employer online before deciding whether to apply to a position there. When candidates don’t find enough information to convince them you’re worth working for, they’ll pass. That much is obvious, but employers are only now beginning to reckon with the consequences. In other words, job seekers are making a consumer decision, too: If you aren’t good enough to work for, why buy anything from you?
Showing pride and confidence in your company’s employer brand sends a strong message: “These are our employees. See for yourself how they make our company great.” And, like any good brand strategy, the key is to know how your employees are unique and then flaunt it.
Pay Strategy and Your Partnership Brand
This trend is transforming the way employers need to look at their pay strategies. Rewards have to be seen as an integral part of a comprehensive value proposition that defines a partnership relationship between a company and its employees. This means compensation has to be positioned in terms employees find meaningful. Positioning implies that a company’s rewards strategy needs to be marketed and “branded” as a partnership within the framework of the larger marketing effort to build the employer brand. What do I mean by branding a partnership?
Most businesses build rewards strategies, communicate them and then assume employees will absorb the right message from them. They won’t. Rewards must be strategically developed, communicated, promoted, reinforced and celebrated. You have to create the story you want your pay strategy to tell—and then tell it over and over again.
The core message you should want your compensation approach to send is that you consider your employees to be growth partners in the business. And pay is the way you define the financial component of that partnership. This means each specific rewards plan has a supporting role in the economic value proposition you are offering. The foundation of your partnership message should be a clearly defined pay philosophy that articulates the belief system of your organization about compensation issues. It spells out how value creation is defined, with whom value will be shared and what form that value sharing will take.
Promoting Your Partnership Brand
The key to effectively reinforcing the financial partnership you are forging with your people through your rewards approach is to think about your employees as a constituency to which you need to market. You have to view your task as literally building a marketing strategy directed at your workforce. And the “product” you are promoting is your compensation offering; the financial piece within your comprehensive value proposition. If that is the premise, you must begin your promotional effort by identifying who the various audiences are within your organization and what you want them to conclude about their relationship with your organization as a result of how they are paid.
Marketing strategies typically have a core brand message and then supporting themes that are rolled out at the start of each year and then consistently reinforced. You will want to think about what your core message is before trying to develop a partnership brand reinforcement plan. Here are some examples:
- Growth is a Team Sport
- Multiply Effort. Multiply Results. Multiply Earnings.
- Our People are Our Customers.
Supporting themes that relate to a specific rewards reinforcement strategy for a given year might include messages such as:
- Higher. Faster. Bolder.
- Breaking the Growth Barrier.
- On to a New Revenue Horizon.
Once you have developed the core message and themes you want to emphasize, you then look at your marketing “toolkit” to determine what combination of content and channels should be used to deliver the partnership message you’re trying to “brand.” You may want to think about categorizing these. Here’s how you might consider doing that:
- Employee Value Statement
- Incentive Values Report
- Incentive Plan Projections
- Summary Plan Description
- Plan Overview
- Specialty Items
- Intranet Messaging
- Slack Campaigns
- Social Media Campaigns
- Facebook Live Events
- Video Conferencing
- Facebook Live Events
- Written Plan Summaries
- Pay Philosophy and Strategy Explanation
- Compensation & Benefits Handbook
- Performance Milestone Events
- Recognition Events
Your partnership brand strategy and your employer brand strategy need to be aligned. As a result, many organizations are using either internal or outsourced marketing specialists to help them craft an effective and integrated approach for both. The scope of the strategy companies adopt vary widely depending on the number of employees they have, how geographically spread out their workforce is, the demographic mix of their talent, budgets and so forth. You will have to decide what the right approach is for your business.
What doesn’t vary is the need for every company, regardless of size or geography, to take charge of the message it wants its employer brand to represent. In today’s highly competitive talent marketplace, those who allow others to drive that message will surely find themselves in a branding hole that will be hard to dig out of.