Sunday, January 12, 2014

Brand Building

Building the brand

Want long-term talent attraction and retention powers? It’s not a superhuman gift you need – but an effective and compelling employer brand. Just like a customer brand, the best employer brands send a viral-based message or perception to both potential recruits and the current workforce. Mark Sparrow, Managing Director, Kelly Services, this helps to create a steady flow of top quality applicants over a period time – ensuring these efforts eventually pay for themselves. By investing in branding initiatives now, organisations can save on attraction and recruitment costs in the future.

There is no doubt that your promise and contract with employees, current and potential, is the foundation of your employer brand. It can start with something as fundamental as how you greet people when they visit your company website to how you communicate with them once they are recruited and start working for you. But there are challenges for HR beyond this.

When you say ‘I do’, mean it

From an HR perspective, consistency with both external stakeholders (including potential hires, business partners and customers) and internal stakeholders (current staff), is the first logical step towards establishing an effective employer brand. A clear, candid communication of the company offerings therefore becomes vital. K. Thiveanathan, human capital director, Coca Cola Singapore Beverages, says there’s no place for ambiguity or presumptions. Apart from all the rosy things in the gift hamper, it is imperative to share the “brutal facts” on what a brand is not and what it is doing to change. “Such honest sharing helps greatly building brand, aligning expectation to actual world thereafter,” he says.

When the going gets tough

However, maintaining that branding consistently without making it dull or staid is a challenge for many organisations, especially those going through a transformation or exponential growth. It’s one that NTUC First Campus has been going through recently. “Having staff at all levels and at different stages of operations having the same understanding and passion for the employer brand is not easy,” Geraldine Lee, Chief HR Officer, shares.

Communication and engagement sessions become mandatory in this case. Though the leadership team meets weekly and the middle management team meets quarterly, Lee says there are some concerns that still need attention. “We need to enhance engagement and clear understanding by staff at our centres all over Singapore, especially for new staff as we are hiring aggressively for our business expansion needs.” For this, NTUC First Campus is stepping up its induction programmes, including an enculturation programme for its new teachers.

The challenges do not end there. Coca Cola’s Thiveanathan says there are times when functional managers are driven by short-term business demands and react in ways not representing the brand expectations. This can “upset past good work”.

“(HR is) dragged deeply into administration or operational issues of people processes and gives less attention to quality audits.” Taking time off to review performance versus goals, realigning activities to bridge gaps, constantly engaging the CEO and leadership team for feedback, and providing support and tools to represent the brand appropriately may work as effective counter-measures, he suggests.

Make yourself heard

It is critical to remember that employer branding is not just a recruitment exercise. Effective employment branding is a targeted strategy that requires the optimum use of several management tools, communication in particular. Instead of pushing an uncoordinated effort, a well-designed communication map that is aligned to the overall business strategy is essential.

Chee Nian Tze, General Manager of Group HR, Robinsons Group of Companies, says her organisation’s brand is closely associated with its value system. It is also consistent with the Robinsons business branding.

The challenge, she says, is ensuring the brand remains consistent across all generations of the workforce. “We have been relatively successful in our branding as an employer of choice for older workers. We need to work more on positioning ourselves as an employer of choice to Generation Y.”
Importance of metrics

In addition to ensuring its HR practices and processes are aligned with the company vision, an organisation must build its leaders’ capabilities and confidence to take accountability for the engagement and development of its people. Milagros C Perez, Country HR Manager, Philips, says managers should be measured on a specific People Leadership Index. “This metric is an important criterion in their professional advancement within Philips,” he says. Beyond that, the company also engages its employees in organisational development by annually getting their feedback through a company-wide employee engagement survey.

Similarly, Arup Australasia conducts targeted surveys for its new graduates across the region. The company also holds focus groups with key staff and has previously done this using internal facilitators and facilitators from its advertising agency, shares Robert Care, CEO, Arup Australasia.

Employment branding and the actions required to build and manage an employment brand are very powerful tools that can be used to add value to an organization. Effective employment branding can increase the quality of an existing workforce, help inspire them to become more productive, and open opportunities for in the global marketplace that might not have been explored before. Ignoring the concept, and the elements that empower it, may not be a wise thing to do, in a competitive corporate environment.

Identify with the brand

For more than 117,000 Lufthansa employees from over 150 different countries it is not only about working in Lufthansa but “Being” Lufthansa. That’s why the career platform and Facebook fanpage is called “Be Lufthansa”. The challenge is to communicate the values through different channels, says Jochen Oesterreicher, Manager HR Development, Asia Pacific, Lufthansa German Airlines. “We believe that there is no better way to sell ourselves as an employer of choice than through word-of-mouth, and specifically this relates to our focus on building a culturally-diverse workforce.”

Advice from a branding expert

Brett Minchington, chairman, Employer Brand International, says the key challenges for HR professionals in contributing to effective employer brand management include:

»       Ability for HR managers to breakdown the tradition of marketing being responsible for managing the corporate and consumer brands and HR responsible for the employer brand. The two need to be much more closely linked

»       Inability to demonstrate a viable business case which results in a lack of resources available to invest in aligning the brand portfolio with corporate objectives

»      Does the company’s leadership have an employer brand mindset or do they only see employees as functional ‘human capital’?

»   Who owns the employer branding strategy and how does it align with the corporate strategy, objectives and values?

Tenets of employer branding

»         A culture of sharing and continuous improvement. Unless your organisation wants to be left behind, becoming more and more obscure each year, it’s essential that senior management recognises  and encourages employment branding and the sharing of best practices.

»          A balance between good management and high productivity. In order to insure a strong brand as well as improved employee productivity, firms must measure and reward balance between the use of good management practices and efforts to improve employee productivity.

»          Obtaining public recognition (great-place-to-work lists). Media exposure increases the credibility of your firm and reinforces the mindset among target audiences that your organisation  is an employer of choice.

»        Employees “proactively” telling stories. Employees spreading the word about your firm being a good place to work has a significantly higher impact than the firm spreading the word that it is a great place to work.

»     Becoming a benchmark firm. A great brand requires management to participate in major benchmarking studies and to make a conscious effort to respond to those that highlight your best practices.

»      Increasing candidate awareness of your best practices. It entails highlighting best practices at tradeshow booths, in recruiting materials, in the annual report, and especially on the company’s website.

»         Branding assessment metrics. Any branding campaign should begin with side-by-side comparison numbers that can be used to judge the relative success and improvement of the effort.

Managing reputation

             Reputations are painstakingly built up but can be quickly destroyed. Mark Sparrow, Managing Director, Kelly Services, says by keeping close watch of the employer brand, HR can help to protect hard-fought reputations. In particular, it should:

»      Create a sense of corporate identity and culture, as employees are also brand ambassadors of the organisation.

»      Deliver on promises such as mentorship programs, and opportunities for career advancement

»     Ensure that client-facing employees deliver promises to external stakeholders to maintain the corporate reputation