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Firms today have realised the importance of having a good employer branding strategy, but often fall into the trap of over-promising or exaggerating the type of environments and benefits they offer to staff.

How can HR leaders portray an authentic and accurate picture of their employer brand? Akankasha Dewan explores.

There perhaps exists a solid philosophy behind why companies today want to become employers of choice – and not of chance.

As various studies have shown, employees whose talent and behaviours align with business objectives help significantly in boosting organisational growth.

That is something which Tricia Duran, HR director for Unilever Asia, stresses upon.

“In order to double your business, you need to have the best people. But in order to have and to attract the best people, you need to have a great employer brand.”

While having a great employer brand helps companies to attract the best employees, it remains important to remember it also helps employees to find the best employer.

Why employer branding is important

According to LinkedIn’s “Winning Talent” research, 53% of people surveyed said they would entirely rule out accepting a job offer from a company with a reputation for having poor job security, dysfunctional teams or poor leadership.

In fact, negative opinions from current or previous employees of the company in question and a poor reputation among industry peers rounded out the top five factors that put people off an employer.

“In Singapore, one of the biggest HR challenges is the war for talent. It’s genuinely here in this country because you have about 7,500 multinationals based out of here. Seventy per cent of them have regional offices here and we’re all looking for the best talent,” Duran says.

“Companies are quite discerning about who they want to bring in, but so are the employees.”

Matt Kaiser, global employer branding and digital recruiting at Ericsson, adds, however, it is essential for companies to have a clear employer branding strategy today because candidates today have access to a clutter of information regarding what an organisation stands for and the type of working culture it provides.

“In today’s world, candidates are inundated with marketing and recruitment messages from various online and offline channels. Employer branding helps to ensure that your message reaches and engages the right audience,” he says.

Ng Ying Yuan, director of human resources and organisation development at the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB), takes pride in revealing the company has always been “very clear” about its employee value proposition.

She adds that any prospective talent who joins EDB will “be developed as a leader of the future”, “receive global exposure”, and “have the opportunity to lead and drive change for Singapore’s economy”.

“EDB has established a very strong track record in building leaders for the public and private sector. The nature of our work requires our officers to work closely with multinational companies from around the world, and also be very plugged into global industry trends,” she says.

“In addition, as the chief architect for Singapore’s economy and as Singapore’s lead industry developer, all EDB officers build tremendous experiences in doing work that has impact at the national and global level.”

But developing such a “clear” employer branding strategy is, as observed, easier said than done.

The role of HR in crafting employer brand strategies

With little consensus about who owns the process, and who is accountable for results, employer branding is suffering from an “identity crisis”, says a new study from Universum.

Polling more than 2000 senior executives worldwide, it found that CEOs are at odds with members of the talent management team over the role of employer branding.

While more than half (58%) of HR executives said HR owned employer branding, only about a third of CEOs agreed.

Overall, just 34% of respondents listed HR as being primarily accountable for employer branding, making it a function that plays a “relatively passive role” in the process.

The marketing and corporate communications functions each tied at 30% to emerge as those primarily responsible for the task.

While all three HR leaders interviewed stated a collaboration between HR and other functions is required to develop a solid employer branding strategy, all believed the HR function should be primarily accountable for leading the process.

“HR should certainly take the lead to manage the process, but I would stress that determining the employer brand should be a collaborative effort between all segments of the organisation,” Ng says.

“The organisation’s employer brand should be driven by the aspirations of all its staff, and also guided by the vision and wisdom of its leaders. It should not be the responsibility of any sole division.”

Duran agrees with the approach, and adds HR can benefit greatly from the expertise of various other functions while crafting an employer brand.

“HR, of course, has to be a consistent presence throughout the process,” she says.

“You could have a debate about who owns the employer branding process in different companies, but in Unilever we don’t really. We have decided that HR is in charge of employer branding. What we do in HR is that we create a strategic intent linked with the business purpose and vision.”

She explains her team leverages on the company’s marketers for their creative vision and their understanding of digital and consumers and partners with them.

“For example, I would have a partner in marketing who would help me, and a partner in market research,” she says.

“Employer branding, at the end of the day, is about a combination of magic and logic. It’s about policies and principles around the brand, but it is also about inspiration and creating a culture to share with the external world.”

Measuring the effectiveness of employer branding strategies

But measuring the effectiveness of such “magical” employer branding strategies has often been identified as a challenge for HR leaders today.

According to the report by Universum, most KPIs used by companies today were identified as inward facing: average retention rate (used by 46%), new hire quality (45%) and employee engagement levels (45%).

External indicators such as rankings and brand perception were only used by 20% of respondents.

“What is perhaps most startling is that many important KPIs – such as average retention rate – are being measured today by less than half of respondents,” the report stated.

Kaiser observes, however, that both types of indicators are key when it comes to effectively measuring an employer branding strategy.

“The internal factors indicate the ‘health’ of your employer brand. These are metrics that only you and your internal stakeholders see (i.e. employee engagement rates, attrition, employee referrals, sourcing channels, career site traffic, LinkedIn’s Talent Brand Index),” he says.

“The external factors indicate the visibility of your employer brand. These are metrics that are visible to candidates you want to recruit (i.e. employer awards, company awards, social media engagement and sentiment, employer reviews).

“At Ericsson, we focus on both internal and external metrics to ensure our employer brand is healthy and visible.”

Ng adds companies can conduct specific research on their own to see how employees view the nature of the organisation they’re working in. These include perception-based studies.

“Another more indirect, but extremely relevant method would be to track the quality of the hires when they start work and how well they fit within the organisation. This provides the organisation with very good insights on whether the employer branding was done right to attract the right talent,” she says.

The biggest mistakes involved in crafting an employer brand

Keeping track of how well a company’s employer brand strategy is performing is essential, Ng adds, especially because it is easy to overpromise or exaggerate the nature of employer brands.

“It is critical to be mindful of not branding the organisation in a way that it is not. While it is valuable marketing advice to think of brand stretch, employer branding must be an authentic exercise so as to help the organisation identify and attract the right candidates, and also deliver on specific employer value propositions that the organise is capable of,” she says.

She reveals that when EDB was developing its employer brand, the company conducted extensive interviews with staff, clients and stakeholders so as to determine what the firm’s key employer brand pillars were.

“This has helped us to reach out to the right target audience to recruit from, and also made us very sharp in determining what we should be to our talent.”

Being inauthentic about what the company can offer to its employees is, in fact, one of the gravest blunders firms can make when developing their employer brands, according to Duran.

“The biggest mistake is pretending to be who you are not – putting out there an image that doesn’t resonate when you actually come in and join the company,” she says.

“An employer brand always needs to be founded on authenticity, about who you are as an organisation, and what your people are, and what the values you stand for are.”

Unfortunately, she adds, that from what she has encountered, companies try to put an image based on what students want to see or want to hear.

“This is probably an overpromise in terms of advertising, and in terms of what the actual real experience is. That is a true problem encountered in what we have seen,” she says.

“That’s the thing about employer branding. If your brand is authentic and true to what it really is, then your job, as employer branding strategists, is made easier.

“Because then what you just need to do is to invite people in and make them aware that you exist. Make them join you for a little bit, as an intern, or for one of your events, and then the culture just shines through.”

Expounding on the issue, Kaiser adds the two biggest challenges he has observed which companies face in crafting an employer brand strategy are getting buy-in from key stakeholders and measuring the effectiveness.

“You need to conduct research to support your ideas and strategy (the why behind the what). You also need to determine what success means to you and your organisation and demonstrate how your strategy is making an impact,” he says.

Image: Shutterstock

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