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Guest opinion: Attract and retain the best people with your ‘employer brand’

Richard Martin

A company’s employees are the asset that competitors find hardest to replicate.

People are an intrinsic part of your corporate competitiveness, so rallying them behind your ‘employer brand’ must be a top priority.

The concept of an ‘employer brand’ encompasses the vision, purpose and unique culture of an enterprise.

We see this concept manifest itself more and more with the establishment and growth of organisations such as Apple, Facebook and Google.

These companies and others like them have a large proportion of key clients and employees who are members of the millennial generation, many of whom have a different motivation and set of values in relation to the world of work.

For example, sustainability and social responsibility rank highly in their  requirements from a job, rather than some of the more traditional values associated with employment.

These companies understand that by moving the general concept of branding to include staff engagement, it can lead to a major shift in promoting the overall business and, ultimately, the bottom line.

Henry Ford said “culture eats strategy for breakfast” and many businesses grow with a distinct culture shaped by a charismatic leader and founder.

We have many examples of that in our industry.

However, growth dilutes a culture. Just as mergers and acquisitions can create silos and recruitment from larger businesses can bring ‘corporate’ attitudes, the DNA of an organisation could be lost when a business expands.

One of the key roles of employer branding is to redress this imbalance and to support talent acquisition.

Against the background of a new generation of potential employees – who may have a different work ethic and who communicate in real time – and

where the company culture and values do not necessarily reflect current trends, the employer brand needs to work harder to set

the standard of performance and behaviour within the organisation.

Developing the employer brand to represent employee experience at its best will create a promotable asset for your business.

It will also help to attract, engage and retain talent, provide a platform to communicate the business’s values and influence internal and external audiences.

Who’s responsible for creating and managing the employer brand?

One of the key themes that came out of some recent research* is that few companies have a clear idea of who should be managing the ‘employer brand’.

Should it be the marketing professionals, who have a good understanding of communication channels such as social media, or is it the responsibility of the HR teams, who manage the recruitment process?

The consensus is that it should involve both, but with strong and clear ownership from senior executives.

Otherwise, translating a corporate vision, people strategy, culture and values into a living, breathing brand will not be successful.

The process of brand creation involves some simple steps:

1 Listen and take the bottom-up approach

Consultation with all employees is vital and much better than senior managers defining values and passing them down.

Equally, using good examples of best practice and behaviour are the cornerstones to defining and communicating the employer brand.

2 Action

Communication provides visibility and a degree of understanding, but the employer brand needs to be an intrinsic part of the daily working lives of all staff and this takes education, interaction and evidence in practice.

3 Single-mindedness

The message has to be simple, clear and easily understood to make the brand come alive.

The next challenge companies face is, having created a positive employer image, how do you use it in the talent attraction process?

It is vital that the job application and engagement process is well managed and co-ordinated.

In fact, a positive experience for a candidate becomes part of reinforcing the employer brand image.

The candidate experience

In recent research by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), just under half of job applicants rated their experience of the recruitment process as ‘poor’.

This is despite a skills and talent shortage and the recognition that attracting  and retaining talent is business-critical.

The candidate experience has become more complex.

There are so many ways a potential candidate, who may be actively or passively looking for a change, can interact with employers.

The use of mobile communications allows the candidates to engage with employers quickly and with minimum effort or commitment.

This means the initial contact has to have impact and a call to action.

Social media makes it easy for candidates to be influenced by the views of their peers, both professional and personal.

In the REC research, 84% of candidates said they would share a negative experience.

Bad news travels fast.

Such feedback is spread widely and publicly, which becomes an issue as prospective candidates are also using these platforms as a way to inform their decisions about organisations.

There is a real danger that organisations could undervalue the business impact of the candidate experience.

According to the research, employers do not ask candidates about their experience.

Candidates can also be consumers, which means the boundaries between the employer brand and the consumer brand becomes blurred.

It is therefore imperative, for both sound business reasons and to attract talent, that the candidate experience is an excellent one.

How to improve the candidate experience

1 The recruiting organisation must be clear about what a job applicant can expect from the application process. This includes providing detailed job specifications and a good understanding of the role being applied for and where it fits in the organisation.

2 Candidates are very clear about what they want from the interview process. It needs to be informative with an equal exchange of

information from both sides. It gives the opportunity to explain and set out the culture of the company. Timescales for the process and decision-making need to be set out and adhered to.

3 When it comes to making the job offer, successful candidates want to be ‘sold’ the job. The most talented applicants will often have more than one offer to consider, or their existing employers will make every effort to retain them.

These people need to be wooed.

Rather than the traditional ‘offer letter’, why not invite them to visit and give them an opportunity to discuss their skills and capabilities?

This will also give them a chance to get feedback, help to identify development needs and also to assess the company culture.

For unsuccessful candidates, feedback is just as important.

It should include real reasons for not being appointed, rather than bland statements such as: “We had a very high level of quality applicants”. This is an opportunity to reinforce the employer brand.

4 Very often the most neglected part of the recruitment programme is the ‘onboarding process’.

This starts long before a new starter’s first day in their new role. In fact, the most vulnerable time is during their notice period with their old employer.

With notice periods for good talent getting longer, the new employer needs to regularly engage and communicate with the new team member.

Information about the company, press releases and other new employees all go to reinforce the feeling that the correct decision has been made.

As their start day gets closer, providing information about where to go, the name and role of who will be greeting them and what to expect is vital to provide more reassurance that the right choice has been made.

The ‘onboarding process’ can also extend far after the first few weeks of a new employee’s career and is really the first step in ensuring a high level of staff retention.

This is because many applicants, especially those in high demand, see the probation period to the changing landscape by developing different engagement models to provide help and guidance to organisations depending on the type of recruitment required.

There has been a move away from the more traditional one-off, ad hoc recruitment campaigns for a specific role toward much deeper and longer-term relationships.

The purpose is to have a clear understanding of the client company’s strategy, values and culture, with a view to fulfilling the whole organisation’s complete talent requirements, including assistance with developing an employer brand.

The key to this is having a deep relationship with the senior executives, as well as supporting the human resources team.

As a result, a picture of the organisation’s own internal talent pool is built up.

Combined with good intelligence on who is available in the local market, a comprehensive assessment of suitable talent can be made.

With good workforce planning data, a talent attraction company can often identify potential candidates who are not currently in the job market, but could be suitable for a role in a new organisation at some stage in the future.

Winning the talent attraction war

Organisations have to use every element of what they do – how they perform, their values and their culture – to attract the best people.

Developing a strong employer brand supported by positive recruitment experiences is a key element in this.

A degree of bravery is required for organisations to talk about what they are doing and to share their company culture with external audiences.

The strength of company culture among existing employees can help to improve the perception of the brand externally, both for attracting top talent and for commercial success.

Author: Richard Martin (pictured) is a director of Rethink Talent Management.

* Research carried out by Emperor Design Ltd and The Rethink Group.

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