This is one small step for a man
For a long time employers could choose who they'd like to join their company, but times have changed. Top management needs to understand that employer branding is key. For HR and Marketing this means a well-constructed approach should be in place.
These last few years I've been keen on following the subject of employer branding. One great way to do this is using Google Trends. Data shows that the interest in the subject is globally rising, especially in the US, the UK, Germany and recently Russia and India. Back in the early 2000's only 5,000 Google search results appeared for the term 'employer branding' in a single year. By 2010 this number showed a stellar growth and climbed rapidly to an impressive 340,000 search results. By 2015 this number will climb to over a 5,5 million search results and will continue to do so in the future. So, why are people so eager to know about employer branding you ask?
Talent wins the war on talent
Employer branding is a relatively new field and is currently being embraced by more and more companies around the world as an important tool for strategic management of their people. HR managers nowadays are becoming aware of the fact that the war on talent is over and talent simply won. Unemployment is still high, but employees are positioning themselves into the driver's seat. HR departments are focusing more on employer branding to attract and retain talent and the smart companies are able break company silos and team up with the marketing departments.
People make the world go round...
As the field of employer branding is relatively new - the first publication dates only back to the early nineties - top management is not always convinced about its relation to financial performance. Especially since the research on the (direct) link between employer branding and financial performance is still rare. Gallup showed that investing in employer branding does result in ROI and my research back from 2010 indicated the same: strengthen your employer brand leads to attraction and retention of talent and results in a higher degree of customer loyalty. It is this loyalty that leads to stronger financial results. LinkedIn also showed in several studies that employer branding makes sense from a financial point of view, but a long and extensive list of empirical proof is still lacking. For that matter, top management's position regarding employer branding is understandable: the focus is primarily on short-term results and long-term investments are not always high on the corporate agenda. Besides, most HR processes in place today were designed and implemented when there was a surplus of talent and a product cycle that lasted years, not months. Today's top management is based on people who worked for the company for a long time, got promoted along the way and were shaped in their work- and process preferences during that time. Most executives learned back then that "good work should speak for itself" and "build the company (and promote it to the masses) and the employees will come". Obviously times have changed and so should top management's thinking regarding the people who make to company run.
...and the topic continues to climb on the corporate agenda
Recently though, a rise on the agenda regarding employer branding is taking place: the right people at the right time is getting more and more important, because of demographic developments (a smaller workforce), new technology (higher productivity) and demand of a different skill set (new technology requires new skills). A way to convince top management within a specific company requires an approach constructed of sound fundamentals. Just to give you an idea of what is important, keep the following aspects in mind:
- Build the business case first
The first and most important step is to convince senior management, especially the CEO, on the importance of employer branding. It may not be that small though. Presenting the business case requires research, timing and the right tone. Top management has more than one issue on its mind. Before you do get the chance to get your message across, put yourself in the position of top management. Imagine listening to your presentation on employer branding as being part of the audience instead of the presenter and think about the following: why is this important to me?. When you do go out and present, focus on results concisely, rely on data from respected sources and use results from engagement surveys and customer satisfaction.
- Look for the one-two combo
HR and Marketing should team up. Employer (link with HR) and branding (link with Marketing) is about a joined effort of both departments. Each department has its own expertise, but the combination of both is what makes it truly powerful. Marketing has generally speaking more knowledge on brand positioning, attraction, defining target markets and translating the marketing strategy to communication goals. The same goes for HR: they generally have more expertise on topics like on boarding, leadership development and strategic personnel planning. Ideally, both departments work closely together and find a way to coalesce the company's employer- and corporate brand. That will lead to truly great financial results: the best people, deliver the best product and services, build relationships with loyal clients and generate great financial outcome. Oh, and will you're at it, give the presentation for top management together as a team.
- Listen selectively
The topic is still young and developments go at a fast pace. It's therefore wise to keep your eyes and ears wide open and gather information quickly. This does not however mean that you should try and consume as much information as possible. Be selective with your time: pick the right events, follow the relevant webinars, use your live hacking skills and talk to the right people. A great way to gain (free) information is via social media. And if you're not on a social platform these days, start yesterday. You'll be amazed what others share on your topic of interest. Once you've got the feeling that your socially comfortable with online listening, start with online interaction. Discussion leads to insights.
- Communicate with a plan
Most companies mistake employer branding for labor market communications. Sure, it's an important aspect, but it's only a part of the process. A strategic approach should be the basis of your employer brand activities. Find out what your company needs talent wise, think about what markets you'd like to target (and how) and then start you communication with that market. Remember, you can only spend your budget once, so focus.
- Measure, measure and measure some more
Top management considers return on investment (ROI) important. Building a new plant, launching a new product or changing the ERP system costs money. It must be able to earn hard currency down the line. The same goes for employer branding. Whether you're planning on attracting over 10,000 new employees in the next five years or are desperately in need of that one, specific person in that rare field of expertise, the ROI should be accounted for. Making projections helps persuading top management. Most of them love data, even if they are projections, but only when there not presented as such (think visual, short and to the point). Take into account that you'll start to measure your spendings and your results from the beginning. Use tight project management skills to produce results. Present them twice a year, but preferable quarterly to maintain a political foundation with top management. Do this consistently and keep measuring what you're producing.
- Be patient
Rome wasn't built in a day. Whether you've just started your journey in pursuit of talent or are well on your way, be patient. Enjoy the ride, look for opportunities and adjust your approach along the way. As long as you're measuring the right metrics and top management supports your approach, you're on the right track.
When you're reading this post, I'm sure you're thinking: "This isn't easy". And you know what? You're absolutely right. But we didn't put a man on the moon in the blink of an eye. It takes time, persistence and hard work, but it is possible. Just look at Neil Armstrong's accomplishment.