As the Randstad Employer Branding Research results will be released soon, Charlie Stack, Head of Communications at Randstad speaks to one of our global Employer Branding Experts, Malcolm Peak, on what he sees as some of the likely challenges that will come from this year’s results and the key areas of focus for companies who already have invested in developing their employer value proposition (EVP).
challenges with employer branding
Charlie: So Malcolm, you worked with a number of companies over the last year, what can you tell us about what they struggled with most regarding their Employer Brand?
Malcolm: I found there were two key aspects…one that as organisation’s focus gravitated to employer branding there was a keen interest in “defining the brand” and “getting it out there”, with a clear focus on creative output. The second, which was the subject of a previous opinion piece which focused on the importance of the role of the manager in deploying an organisation’s EVP successfully.
The first is a global phenomenon where the branding project is run by marketing, and this means the focus is on brand. Now that might seem funny as we are talking about employer branding, but the bit that is sometimes, not always but sometimes, missed is that we are really talking about the employee experience or EX as it is coming to be known.
Where this has been a hit is where the marketing team have actively involved employees and HR in the definition of brand, because a foundation pillar of an employer brand is the employee experience or EX as it is coming to be known. Where this has been a miss is where the focus is primarily on creating some attractive assets (logos, images, concepts) which seek to dictate to the market what the organisation wants to be known for.
Many organisations have focused strongly on what they want to be known for and are looking to dictate to the market what they want their employer brand to be. As I’ve often said, you can’t dictate to the market what you want your brand to be, you can only use your value proposition to influence potential employees so that they can come to the conclusions you want them to.
There is nothing wrong with creative output, just that it often focuses on the aspirational brand rather than the reality.
The second aspect was managers, and it’s really important to engage managers in communicating the key brand elements. Many projects have stopped short of this. The EVP has been built, the creative assets ready to go, and managers have been briefed, but in my view managers have not been engaged. Particularly if they haven’t had a voice in defining the EVP, how are they supposed to embrace it?
C: So looking to 2018, what do you expect to see as some of the key trends emerging from the research?
M: We’re living in a consumer era where many of the interactions we have with organisations involve some form of information exchange, where we are effectively being researched as if we were a customer or consumer. Now, the information exchange is two-way, so individuals also have the power to do their own research into organisations whether they are consumers or potential employees.
Organisations with a strong consumer brand will continue to do well because they have been able to refocus the initiatives they previously only directed at consumers now to potential employees. They understand the values exchange, the competition, the need for both the emotional and practical appeal so they are often ahead of the game.
Another key trend I expect to see is the continuation in importance of some of the “softer” elements of employment (pleasant working atmosphere, work/life balance). I think in many developed countries the cost of living means salary and benefits are always key considerations, however the changing environment in which we work, the decline of manufacturing, the rise of national sentiment and the need to do something a little more are still key driving factors of employer attractiveness.
I also think many organisations will be surprised that the investment in their employer branding has not necessarily resulted in them being seen as an attractive employer. Some of these companies will enjoy a significant boost in awareness, however I look forward to seeing the results of whether this awareness has translated into attractiveness.
creating an employer brand
C: So what advice would you have for a company that is either looking to develop their EVP or has already done so?
M: Firstly for a company that is looking to develop their EVP, my advice would be to first ask themselves the question: "Why?"
What problem are they looking to solve, and what strategic outcome are they looking to drive? I’ve often said that EVP projects can often be great, interesting and engaging projects which when complete are solutions looking for a problem to solve!
Before you start, make sure you have some executive buy-in from the CEO, or CFO in addition to the HRD. This group should be able to challenge you with questions as to, “why would I want to do that?” and you need to have the answers before they are likely to approve budget.
If you already have budget approved, make sure there is clear alignment to a strategic goal and that you have an executive sponsor. You don’t want to be known as someone who just spent a whole lot of time and money on a project with no value, otherwise the next time you want to embark on a project you will probably get a no.
For a company that has already defined it’s EVP, I’m seeing more and more companies say, “now what?”… and the problem is that the EVP was often seen more as an important talent attraction tool, but it has ended up more a strategy and not containing enough action to be useful.
For these organisations, it’s crucial to take a step back and review the purpose of having an EVP… was it to support talent attraction, was it for a specific recruitment campaign, was it aimed at retention in the face of a new competitor? Hopefully, there was tangible intent initially which can be the subject of refocus.
The challenge some now face is that there is no more budget to work with, and although the organisation is able to promote a number of aspects of the employer brand in a number of media, the messages are just not resonating with the target audience.
What I would suggest to these organisations is that they either (i) pick a project to start with, and tailor the EVP to that project, or (ii) revisit how they rolled-out the EVP communications to managers and what engagement they got.
For the first option, this means potentially looking at the EVP as an umbrella message, and then seeing how well this resonates with a target employee or potential employee group. For the second option this means checking-in with managers to see how well they are able to communicate the value proposition to you. Another metric is of course engagement survey data, which will often ask questions that can be directly linked to intended outputs from an EVP project.
Overall, I think organisations need to look at an EVP project as a people engagement initiative, and not a marketing exercise. As I said before, the creative aspects are important, however the purpose and rationale are the first aspects to get right.
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