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

Anti-sexual harassment policies take centre stage

MUMBAI: There's one thing that Ramesh Shankar, executive VP-HR, Siemens India, does not forget to do when he travels across the multiple locations of the organization. He continuously takes feedback from women employees whether they consider the company as a safe place to work. Any suggestion from these employees on safety aspects, he said, is welcome.

  While such actions may instil confidence in women employees, what is further reassuring is the fact that the new Anti-Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Act and Rules have come into force from December 9, this year, which every company would have to comply.

   Non-compliance would subject a company to a fine of Rs 50,000. While this amount is a pittance compared to the kind of turnover some of the large companies generate, the question that is being asked is whether these norms are being followed not just in letter but in spirit as well.

   Some companies, which may already have in place anti-sexual harassment policies, may still find that one or two steps are missing and are swiftly moving to tie up these loose ends. RPG Enterprises is in the process of appointing a sexual harassment committee in line with the new rules. "Till now, the committee was a part of the RPG corporate governance and ethics committee and will now hold a separate identity," said Arvind Agrawal, president-corporate development & HR, RPG Enterprises.

  Some other companies have proactively gone beyond what is mandated by law in the constitution of committees. Siemens and Hindustan Unilever (HUL) have designated the external independent woman member as the chairperson of the committee. "We are hopeful that this will inspire further confidence to escalate complaints," said an HUL spokesperson. Deutsche Bank has what it calls 'first points of contact' or FPOCs, who are nominated women employees, making them more approachable by staff across levels. The responsibility of FPOCs is to immediately escalate any issue to the complaints committee.

   "With the Act coming into place, we have intensified our employee communication and have devised various mandatory training programmes to sensitize colleagues about sexual harassment,'' said Makarand Khatavkar, head, HR, Deutsche Bank India, who believes the new rules do not really entail any significant change for the current Deutsche Bank policies, which have been compliant with the Vishakha guidelines since 2010.

   However, Deutsche Bank India is aware of the fact that provisions of the new rules extend not just to employees but also to external stakeholders interacting with its employees, i.e. customers, vendors, visitors, interns. "The guidelines are not limited to the office premises alone - they also apply in any outside locations such as client meetings, offsites. These nuances have now been incorporated into our internal policy and vendor contracts,'' said Khatavkar.

    Section 4 of the Act requires that the internal committee shall comprise a presiding officer, who shall be a senior woman employee. The internal complaints committee is also required to have not less than two members from among employees (preferably committed to the cause of women or who have had experience in social work or have legal knowledge), one external member from an NGO or association dealing with women causes or a person familiar with issues relating to sexual harassment. At least half of the composition of this committee is required to be women.

     A Procter & Gamble India spokesperson said the company is fully supportive of the new regulations that will only help to further ensure that all workplace environments are conducive to the success of women in business. "We already have robust policies on appropriate business conduct where we also provide the necessary tools and forums," said the spokesperson. Even as companies introspect on these regulations, given the raised pitch against sexual harassment in the recent past, experts have picked on a few glaring holes in the new rules, some of which could have been filled.

    For instance, a pertinent recommendation of the Justice Verma Committee, which had looked into issues relating to sexual harassment against women, has been ignored. "Instead of calling upon companies to set up internal committees an independent employment tribunal could have been set up to receive and address all complaints of sexual harassment," said Shwetasree Majumdar, co-founder of Fidus Law Chambers. "This tribunal would have ensured parity of decisions across companies," she said.

    There is also wide amplitude and discretion in the hands of the internal complaints committee because a range of punishments (from written apology to termination of services) are prescribed under the rules for the offender, who has been held guilty by the complaint committee.

   The rules, according to Vikram Shroff, head HR Law, Nishith Desai Associates, international legal counselors, do not provide clarity on whether an organization can have the flexibility to set up a complaints committee centrally (for example at its head office) in case it has multiple offices within a city or in the country. HUL, on its own, has constituted six committees that cover all its workplaces across India under this legislation.

     Moreover, the fees payable to the external committee member for holding the proceedings, said Shroff, appear very low (Rs 250 per day plus reimbursement of transport cost). This may discourage NGOs from active participation on this important cause, he said.

Pros and Cons Of Flexi Work Hour Policy

Mithila Mehta details the pros and cons of implementing a flexi work hour policy

The sun is fast setting on the days of 9-to-5 jobs. Welcome to the new-age, and to flexible corporate setting where employees have greater control over their work hours, courtesy the concept of flexible working hours.

Conventionally, employees are expected to work stipulated eighthour shifts, but flexi-hours allow them more freedom. Typically, employees will be expected to be present during the 'core period'— that time of the day when the workload is the most. This is comprises about 50% of the work-day. The rest of the day is considered flexible, with employees deciding what time they would like to work, as long as they achieve the total work hours as expected by the employer.

Technology and increased connectivity has ensured that flexihours are a viable option for companies today.

Flexi-time benefits

The benefits of flexi-time are manifold, both for the employee and employer. Says Sabeer Dasgupta, chief operations officer, InMobile Solutions, "We operate on a flexitime policy and have reaped its benefits. Ever since we switched from regular hours to flexi-hours, about two years ago, the results have been phenomenal.    For one, employees are more efficient and motivated to work, the turnover rate has reduced and absenteeism has fallen. Additionally, we are able to extend our service hours for clients because we now have someone on the support desk at all times."

Sudipta Ray, HR manager at a leading beverages company adds that a company having flexible work-hours is able to attract better talent. "Flexi-hours are a huge bonus while recruiting talent. I have noticed that prospective employees may settle on the salary if they have the benefit of flexi work-hours. Additionally, the organisation builds a name for itself in the job market as being friendly and flexible."

Flexi-work hours allow employees to effectively meet their family and personal commitments. It is especially a boon for working mothers with young children or aged parents. Another major advantage of flexible working hours is that it allows employees to work at the time of day when they are at their productive peak. Alternately, those with a long commute can plan their work hours so as to avoid the stress of commuting during rush hours. This creates a win-win situation for both the employee and the employer.

For employers looking to implement a flexi-time policy, what are the aspects that must be kept in mind? Advices Ray, "Understand the dynamics of your business and expected work hours and plan accordingly. The transition to flexible working should be gradual and success will be achieved if the changes involve employees at every level, if it's appropriate for them to work this way, and through the management's support. It is important they are kept engaged and supported throughout the process."

Disadvantage of flexi-time

There are concerns over the possible disadvantages of flexible workhours as well. Says Arvind Rongala of Invensis Technologies, a business process outsourcing company based in Bangalore, "We have employees working round the clock, offering back office support services to clients across the world. Hence, it becomes critical that employees login and deliver the output on time which gives our employees less flexibility to decide their login hours."

Another concern stemming from flexi-work hours is lack of supervision of employees who work nonconventional work hours. This could possibly lead to non-compliance with company policies or tardiness. Flexi-hours may make it difficult to schedule physical meetings or presentations. Additionally, the feeling of bonhomie and unity that arises by physically being present together as a team in the same space is removed.

Explains Ray, "Flexi-work hours may lead to feelings of being disjoint or alienated among employees working non-conventional work hours. For any organisation, which operates in team-based units, this is definitely not a good thing." Finally, organizations may be faced with additional utility and overhead costs, as they must now keep their operations running for an extended period of time.

A flexible work-hour policy comes with its fair share of advantages and disadvantages. Companies need to weight both and take an astute call on whether flexi-hours will work for them or not, keeping in mind the intricacies of their operations, business patterns, client requirements and resources.