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Get Branded!

15 March 2007

Beverley Thompson outlines the impact that employer branding has on promoting and sustaining future business success, and identifies key actions that FM companies can take to strengthen their brand as an employer.

SOME LEADING COMPANIES HAVE RECOGNISED that employer brand management requires the same degree of focus and care as effective management of the customer brand experience. Tesco, Wal-Mart (Asda) and Pr¨ºt a Manager all enjoy business benefit generated by their employer brand.

Corporate branding has become recognised as an increasingly important source of competitive advantage. Many companies have identified the need to rely more on their brand's strength than that of any particular product or service they provide and they focus much time, money and effort on the marketing and promotion of the company brand to customers. A strong customer brand is important but many companies fail to appreciate the link between the company's brand as an employer and its business success.

Employer branding is defined as the 'company's image as seen through the eyes of its associates and potential hires' (Ruch 2002). It is about how employees, future employees and potential employees see the company; it is about the experience they have of working for the company and how they feel about it, or how they perceive it will be working for the company for prospective employees.

Employer branding is not just a marketing initiative or a HR 'ad'; nor is it a 'project' that needs to be done. Employer branding requires the development of people strategies that start at the top. These strategies need to involve and engage all levels of leadership and management, and take all aspects of the employee experience into consideration - how people are treated, managed, developed and communicated with.

It is not just about being an employer of choice. Becoming an employer of choice became popular in the 1990's following research highlighting the 'War for Talent' and its focus centred upon the ability a company had to attract and retain talented people. This is still critical if a company is to be successful but employer branding takes this concept a stage further. It is concerned with the need for employees to identify with and 'live the brand', and is about developing loyalty to the brand and commitment to the organisation.

Employer branding can be made to work externally to enhance an employers attractiveness to potential employees and it must be made to work internally with existing employees to maintain a compelling employment proposition which leads to employee satisfaction and engagement.

Research has shown that employees who are satisfied with their role and engaged with their employer deliver higher levels of service to internal and external customers. This creates greater expression of customer satisfaction which has a motivational effect and leads to even higher levels of performance. Companies with a strong employer brand develop the levels of satisfaction and engagement that drive this cycle of events. They also benefit from being able to work this cycle on high quality, talented employees who have been attracted to join the company in part because of the brand.

Put simply, highly talented employees, who identify with an organisation and are motivated,drive business success. The better the employer brand the easier it is to attract high quality people. Where strong employer branding exists it helps employees to identify with the organisation and its aims, and motivates them to perform to high levels.

Business benefits
A company with a strong employer brand will attract, engage and retain talented employees better than its competitors. It will be an interesting proposition for highly talented individuals, attracting candidates will be easier, employee turnover will be lower, employees will be engaged with the organisation and enjoy their jobs more, performance will be better and customers will receive a better product or service.

The company will have true competitive advantage and the benefits will appear directly in the bottom line as business growth because the organisation will retain existing clients, attract new clients, increase turnover and improve profitability.

Building employer brand is not a 'quick fix'; it takes sustained and coordinated effort across the whole organisation. Different companies have built it in different ways but organisations that have appeared in the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to work for list as the best places to work all have one thing in common. They have created an environment where employees feel valued and respected; in which they feel so connected to the company that they willingly give the effort required to deliver great results.

Whilst the specific actions that need to be taken vary from business to business, a number of key stages are required to build employer brand effectively: Audit, Design, Integrate, and Evaluate.

....Audit: The start point is making an assessment of the current employer proposition and its alignment with the corporate brand. At this stage employee and industry surveys can be useful, if the right questions are asked. Input from recruitment partners is also a good way of establishing how you are viewed by prospective employees.

....Design: Establish your value proposition and identity as an employer. Decide what you are offering to employees that differentiates you from your competitors. At this stage culture, remuneration and reward methods, management and leadership styles and communication styles will all need to be considered. It is important that the employer proposition relates and aligns with key aspects of business strategy - mission, vision and values; corporate reputation and culture; corporate social responsibility (CSR); leadership; people management policies and practice. Creating a wonderful employer proposition that does not align with other corporate strategic intent will not be sustainable; attracting employees who strongly identify with the promise of working with a socially responsible employer will soon be disenfranchised if the reality is lip service to a concept.

....Integrate: Creating a new career website or creating new recruitment advertisements will not build employer brand alone nor will empty messages from the Board. To successfully build an organisation's power as an employer and enjoy the business benefits of doing so, high profile, consistent, continuous messages must be delivered by words and actions to all employees and prospective employees. Experiences at employee/employer 'Touch Points' contribute and combine to build or detract from employer brand. Positive, consistent experiences build employee confidence in an employer and when they match with personal aspirations and the employee identifies strongly with the employer, extremely high levels of performance can be achieved.

....Evaluate: The activities undertaken to develop employer brand need to be monitored to ensure that actions are having a positive effect. There are many ways to measure the impact of a programme to develop employer brand but no set standard - turnover rates, absenteeism, retention rates, time to fill vacancies, appraisal ratings, job and employer satisfaction levels through surveys and productivity levels could all be used as could other methods. Choosing a few relevant measures, establishing a base line prior to any activities and monitoring the outcomes is a pragmatic method of evaluation.

Develop the brand
The specific actions that need to be carried in an integrated way vary from company to company, however, many organisations have benefited from focus on activities relating to the employee/employer 'touch points'.
....Recruitment websites can be built to provide continuous relevant information to prospective employees who 'browse' for interesting new roles.
....Recruitment advertising has been used extremely effectively to connect with and attract more of the right potential candidates. Using a recruitment advertising agency is beneficial but there must be close alignment with corporate marketing to maintain consistency of brand.
....Recruitment partners can be invaluable in presenting your employer proposition to candidates. Developing closer relationships with recruitment consultants who will reflect your information, culture and style to your potential employees is an asset.
....Internal recruitment advertising is an enormously underutilised method of communicating positively with employees and lack of it is an easy way to communicate negative messages. Internal advertising suggests that the organisation believes in the talent it has and that it wants career development for employees. It is also a good way to get referrals from existing employees.
....Recruitment processes also convey messages to potential candidates and the impact of poor recruitment practice is often under estimated. What happens during recruitment conveys messages about how an organisation works and it should reflect the style and set an expectation of how the employer will be. Poorly organised, drawn out processes and lax interview techniques say much to prospective candidates about how the company values, respects and treats individuals.

....Recruit for attitude. Skills can be trained and knowledge can be built but attitude is difficult to change. Try to recruit people who have talent and similar values and principles to those of the organization - the fit will be better, they will identify with the organisation and are likely to perform better.
....Induct for culture. Use induction to seal the recruitment process. The experiences that a new employee has at induction do much to confirm the beliefs that the employee had about an employer before joining. Early experiences can be very powerful and lasting.
....Say what you mean, mean what you say, do what you say. Systems and processes need to be developed to communicate effectively with employees. Communicating the company mission, vision, values and ideals to employees is important for establishing the employer brand and doing this in a convincing way to all levels of employee is equally important. Actually delivering on the messages is vital for employer brand to build.
....Listen to what they say. Respecting and valuing input from employees is a great way of getting employees
engaged. Find ways to effectively engage with employees on a regular basis ¨C focus groups, group lunches with a senior manager, blind e-mail access to the Chief Executive, newsletters etc.
....Leadership and management behaviour is an integral part of supporting employer brand development. If the leaders and managers in the organisation only pay lip service to the proposition the employer offers then the brand will not build. Leadership and management behaviours must be congruent with and support the ideals of the employer. Methods need to be developed and used to clarify and monitor the required behaviours
....Performance management and reward systems are useful tools for clarifying, monitoring and reinforcing required organisational behaviours. Developing or modifying existing systems may be required to develop employer brand. Such systems can be used to reinforce the required behaviours throughout the organisation up to the point where they become part of the culture and way of working and beyond.

Developing brands may seem to be hard work and nothing about 'getting the days work done' but having strength in your employer brand and being an employer of choice can make a huge difference to organisational performance. Creating a great working environment where people feel valued and respected creates a company with great atmosphere and great 'feel' to it. This attracts talented people who connect with the company and willingly to give their best efforts and deliver great business results. The concept of employer brand also applies on a larger scale to the facilities management industry as a whole. The FM 'brand' will need to be strong if it is to attract more and more talented people into the industry and retain them.

....Beverley Thomson is a HR and People Development Consultantand Co-Director at Humanics Ltd

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