Working on an employment reputation

Posted in: Bloggery

What springs to mind for you when you hear the term “employer brand”? As I understand it, a brand is what key constituents think about you and what attracts individuals to want to associate with you.  Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy has said: “Your employer brand isn’t what you say it is. It is what people tell you it is.” By “people” I believe he means not only existing employees, but past and future employees.

There is a significant degree of scepticism about branding because people are marketing-savvy. They know a brand is inconsistent and insincere when a brand portrays itself one way and yet their experience of it, or the experience of others, is different.   Few things are more crucial to an organisation’s ability to attract and retain good people than the brand it projects as an employer.

By the same token, brands have never been more vulnerable than they are today. Our view is that the main “carriers” of an employment reputation are existing and past employees – especially in an age of instant and viral communications technologies.

We believe an employer brand is only successful when employees – past, present and future – know who they are working for. This requires the organisation to live and breathe a clear, unambiguous set of values and principles. Many brands promise great things, but deliver empty gestures.

We believe that people are not equipment. They’re not investment capital. They have needs, wants, aspirations, worries, and lives outside of work. Companies that recognize this fact will shape their employer-employee interactions accordingly. These companies, and their managers, become more communicative, more appreciative and more connected. In a word, they become more human. The employee loyalty engendered by this simple approach can be striking.

That’s why we are hosting a project to launch a book on employment branding.  We’re facilitating a growing group of HR leaders and others keen to better understand this field and willing to write up something of their own experience. The outcome will be a book on employment branding, with “chapters” or case studies coming from a range of organisations and with expert commentary from some specialists in the field.

Our own contribution naturally will be a chapter on how to maintain a strong employment brand during a restructure. Many companies proclaim that people are their most valuable asset. Yet you’d hardly know it sometimes, given how they deal with shedding these assets when times get tough.

The work we do for organisations, helping those individuals affected by change to relaunch careers, is critical to maintaining a reputation around values and good people practices.  It is what these departing individuals say to others which determines whether employment in an organisation is seen as transactional, or is seen as a much wider contract around whole people and their needs and interests. Employment for all of us is about much more than a formal contract, with provisions around money, engagement terms and related performance expectations.  The implicit contract is also about an opportunity to achieve growth in a range of areas, and about relationships, and affirmation as a person.  The informal contract has a lot attached to it.

Employment brands are built by what you say in published material, on your website, and perhaps at career fairs and other forums.  But what you do (as opposed to what you say) is also critical.  Which will be more influential in opinion formation: an “employees are our greatest asset” statement in an annual report – or the experience and commentaries across electronic media of hundreds of employees and ex-employees?  Whether companies like it or not, employees tend to become mini-ambassadors for their brand, even if it’s just on their Facebook profile page where someone lists herself as “corporate drone” at company X. Employment reputations are built through a wide range of daily interactions, and in the practices of key leaders in how they interact with colleagues and staff, in their attitudes and values.

I think engagement levels in an organisation link very closely to an employment brand.  And strangely, so too is there a link (in my opinion) between an employment brand and remuneration levels.  I think it is no coincidence that some high profile organisations with ordinary, transactional cultures, happen to also pay quite high salary packages: they need to in order to attract skilled people.  There are of course other factors driving remuneration levels, but I think there is some merit in my hypothesis here and I would welcome your views on this subject.

The project has a few of us within and beyond Macfarlan Lane doing some reading and gathering intelligence  around employment reputations – and it will be really interesting to see what we end up with in our planned book.

This will be the first time we have helped bring about research and a publication collaboratively with a bunch of like-minded people.  We have published our own research and numbers of articles, but always within our own resources – this is a first for us, and we are really enthusiastic.

Watch this space!