Employer branding is not a HR, Marketing or Communications function. Employer branding is a business function.
Companies that implement an employer branding strategy focused solely on talent acquisition or EVP development are missing the opportunity to develop the employer brand leadership capability across the organisation which would ensure a greater return of investment and business impact on resource allocation. There is no point attracting the best talent, if you cannot inspire and retain them.
To implement an employer brand strategy that builds competitive advantage is complex and involves multiple stakeholders, often with competing interests. The successful organisations beyond 2020 will be those that:
Adopt a strategic approach to employer branding,
Build employer brand leadership capability across the leadership functions to manage the employee experience across the full employment lifecycle,
Understand how value is created through integrated stakeholder experiences (human resources-freelancers, candidates, employees; customers and investors), and
Deploy a business model and organisational structure that is agile enough to respond to changes in the political (e.g. Brexit, US trade policy), economic (e.g. slow GDP growth), social (e.g. how people connect) and technology (e.g. AI, machine learning and robotics) environments faster than their competitors (which will come from all sides).
Underpinning this will be an organisational culture that fosters continuous learning, empowerment, transparency and trust.
The conversation in employer branding needs to move from discussions on tactical solutions to, "What type of business model and organisational structure will be required to deliver a brand experience that makes customers want to buy our product/services and people that want to provide their skills and capabilities to facilitate this."
As the awareness of the strategic importance of employer branding continues to gain momentum around the world, there is a lag of organisational capabilities required to fully leverage the benefits a strong employer can bring such as increased quality of hire, reduce recruitment and turnover costs, increased engagement and employee referral rates.
In 2016 many of the industry's key players and leaders from 36 countries came together in Prague for World Employer Branding Day 2016 and discussions centered on the business impact and development of employer branding around the world.
Employer branding, like many management practices, moves in line with economic growth. Investment in people, technology and the supporting systems and processes all benefit from an improved economy. However, the discussions at the event also highlighted the different developmental stages companies are at in employer brand leadership capability and it wasn't necessarily economic factors driving these variances.
Most of the time it was lack of knowledge and competence in employer branding amongst leadership that was hampering progress. Leaders in Russia, India, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland now have the same access to information on employer branding via the internet and conferences as leaders in the UK and USA do. Expect to see an increase in employer branding best practice case studies coming out of these countries in the next few years.
At the Employer Branding College over the past 6 years, I have been fortunate to coach, who I would consider, employer brand leaders who can match it with the best employer brand leaders from the USA and Europe. These leaders from countries including India, Argentina, Brazil and Slovakia are progressive, assertive and eager to learn from best practice around the world.
2016 was a year of uncertainty primarily driven by the political events in UK and USA.
Many in the media and public domain thought, "Surely it could never happen!" On both occasions it surely did with the vote in favor of the UK leaving the European Union and Donald Trump being elected as the President of the United States of America.
Citizens of these countries, and in fact, citizens around the world are watching (some more vocal than others) and waiting to see how these changes will play out and the impact it will have on how they attract and retain talent.
Expect in 2017 for political trends to have an impact on the field of employer branding in a manner like we have never seen before. Decisions to relocate offices and even where headquarters will reside, will put increased strain on resources at a time when many companies can least afford it.
There has been a lot of commentary on the shortage of talent over the past five years. The feedback I have been receiving lately is that the talent shortage is much broader that we first expected, it is not only limited to occupations such as engineering, IT or mining.
We don’t have a talent shortage as much as we have a talent matching crisis.
In many countries Universities are graduating students with skills in industries where the demand no longer supports the number of graduates. A large number of these graduates are now looking overseas for opportunities, joining the start-up industry or working in occupations where they are over qualified. In other countries they can't qualify enough graduates to fill the industry demand for the skills. This mismatch of skills to demand is set to continue for many years to come. It is going to require strong foresight and collaboration between governments, universities, industry and business to sort out the mess.
So where to in 2017 for employer branding?
Below are 10 key focus areas I encourage you to focus on to evolve your employer brand strategy to a new level in 2017! I will add to the list throughout the year as market changes dictate.
1. Define your brand experience and purpose
Everything must start with purpose. It's the reason how I got into employer branding in the first place back in 2004. I wanted to work in a manner with the skills I had and would gain over time, so that it would allow me to spend as much quality time with my children during their school years as possible. In 2017, with one recently graduated from University and another about to complete high school (see figure 1), I owe it to this clear purpose that led me to write four books in employer branding with another two on the way and to travel to more than 55 cities around the world to train and connect with leaders on employer branding. It's a journey I would never have commenced without a starting with a strong purpose. Eleven years on, things have become a lot clearer on why your employer brand is going to be critical to your future success.
Figure 1: A clear purpose is your starting point
There has never been a better time for leaders to grasp the realization that the emotional connection people have to their products, services and companies are becoming increasingly connected. The goal of your business strategy should be to develop great products that meet the needs of consumers (and maximize social or commercial profit) whilst positioning your company as one that offers great careers where people want to bring their talents.
In 2017 conduct a workshop to define your current brand experience and the impact your people have on this. Review your brand promise and assess whether your people practices are aligned with developing the organisational capabilities to ensure you can deliver on your brand promises to your candidates, employees, customers and investors.
Heineken's latest 'Go Places' employer branding campaign (see figure 2) engages candidates in the Heineken brand experience through interactive video and not only speaks to candidates but also to current employees and customers. It is a great example of how a focus on brand experience can make all the difference to how people feel emotionally connected to your company. It builds on the global success of 'The Candidate' campaign which achieved more than 1 million views a week on the official YouTube site in the first month of the campaign.
Figure 2: Engage candidates, employees and customers through your employer brand communications
Visit the Go Places website
Learn about Heineken's approach to employer brand strategy from Alfonso Auñón García, Global People Capability Manager Procurement at Heineken when he presents with Marlene De Koning from LinkedIn at World Employer Branding Day 27-28 April 2017 | Budapest.
If your competitive advantage relies heavily upon technology, your people practices will need to be agile enough to evolve as the increasing rate of technological change will require you to innovate on much shorter cycles.
If you build your competitive advantage around your people your success will be much harder for your competitors to replicate.
This is why companies like Apple and Singapore Airlines have been dominant for many years, but the gap is closing.
2. Define your focus and priorities
There are numerous ways you can build a stronger employer brand. However what works for your competitors may not necessarily work for you.
Have discussions with your senior leaders and understand your current position and where employer branding fits into your organisational strategy. In some companies this will be an easy discussion and in many others, not so easy. You will need to educate leaders on what employer branding is and how it delivers value.
I recently asked leaders from our World Employer Branding Day Country Partners who represent the world's leading employer branding vendors for their opinion on:
What is the number 1 piece of advice you would give companies to build a stronger employer brand in 2017?
When considering the responses from a strategic viewpoint, it demonstrates there is agreement on many areas where companies should focus their resources. However the insights also highlight the value of understanding the nuances of the local markets you operate in (see figure 3).
A one size fits all approach to employer brand management is no longer viable.
Reach out, visit in person and understand the best way to empower regional leaders so they can leverage the global employer brand strategy at a local level and ensure the employer brand is not only working for you to attract and retain the best talent in the home country, but in all markets you operate in.
Figure 3: Voice of industry e-book - Expert insights on where to focus your employer brand strategy in 2017 - download a copy here>
3. Review your business model and organisational structure
The size, type and geographical spread of your organisation will impact on the type of business model and organisational structure you adopt to develop and organize your resources to meet your business objectives.
Moving operations to low wage countries such as India, Indonesia or China used to provide a source of competitive advantage over long periods. However it is now much easier (and cheaper) for competitors to quickly copy your strategy and take advantage of the same low cost production methods you enjoyed for many years in the past. This is why the competition for talent in industries such as automotive and Share Service Centres (SSC) in Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia will drive a significant upturn in employer brand investment in the coming years as the competitive for talent intensifies as more companies shift their operations to these countries.
At some point in the future the arbitrage for low wages will disappear altogether or the cycle will be significantly shorter, meaning the only true source of competitive advantage will be your people, the key drivers of your employer brand strength.
To be successful in the future, companies will require a combination of organisational structure types that are agile enough to allow them to respond to market changes such as changes in the political environment like we're about to see occur in the UK and USA with changes in leadership and policy in 2016.
Technological changes are also forcing companies to rethink the way they organize their resources and this is going to have significant impacts on the business models of companies in the retail, telecommunications, medical, automotive and fashion industries in the coming years. In fact, very few industries will remain untouched by the impact of technological change in what many describe as the fourth industrial revolution.
Amazon are seeking to transform the way we shop and are patenting a lot of the technology and processes with Amazon Go (see figure 4) that will make it difficult for competitors to compete. Amazon Go uses computer vision, deep learning algorithms and sensor fusion much like you would find in self driving cars. The end result could be a better, faster and cheaper shopping experience. However many will argue that it could also result in the loss of millions of jobs.
How fit is your current business model and organisational structure, to adapt to market changes, for your future success?
Figure 4: Amazon Go set to transform retailing
4. Position employer branding at the C-suite
One of the first tasks leaders studying for their Certificate in Employer Brand Leadership are presented with at their first 1-1 coaching session (see figure 5) is: "How would you respond when the CEO asks you the following questions,"
Figure 5: 7 questions from the CEO
Their responses to the questions provide me with insights into their current thinking on employer branding and how employer branding is positioned in their organisation.
Whilst some leaders may feel they are thrown in the deep end from the start, they soon realise the importance of having conversations about employer branding at the C-suite level if they are to develop and lead an employer brand strategy that has business impact.
5. Expand your network
Previously we recruited leaders based on their experience, previous employers and education. Increasingly leaders are being recruited based on the size, reach and quality of their network. Consider:
What is the value of reaching out to a professional in your network that can provide trusted advice to you on a business issue that you would normally have to pay for?
Platforms like LinkedIn provide an excellent opportunity to expand your network organically and at the same time put you in touch with professionals that will increase your value as a candidate or employer. The same rules apply though, you have to foster the relationships with your network and that can take a lot of your time. However think of it as an investment in your career, you will no doubt need to rely on your network at some point in the future.
6. Evolve your sales and/or business development strategy
I receive a lot of emails from vendors trying to sell me something and that's OK, it keeps me abreast of what's happening in the market. Most of the time my lead came from downloading a whitepaper or research report. The email usually arrives sometime in the 24-72 hrs after the publication was downloaded. It is then not uncommon to receive up to eight follow up emails each one with a bit more assertiveness to prompt a phone call to discuss how their product can enhance my business.
I understand the value of lead generation but I'm not sure that downloading a publication means I'm ready to buy or ready to be spammed by your sales team with a series of 6-8 emails, 5-7 days apart. The smart vendors use a 'tick a box" function seeking my permission for a follow up contact, a strategy that has led to a lot of sales!
Your sales strategy can say a lot about your values and culture and whether you have a clear purpose or are just another sales driven organisation that turns over sales people at the same rate you churn customers. Your reputation can also be on the line.
In 2017 align your content marketing and/or lead generation strategy with your brand positioning, deliver value but don't damage your brand by not understanding the needs of your target audience.
7. Reduce duplication and bureaucracy
In 2017 assess the level of redundancy and duplication in your people practices and at the same time, remove any practices which encourage bureaucracy and reduce your 'time to hire' and 'time to productivity.'
Assess and redesign your talent attraction pathway to optimize the candidate experience. There is nothing candidates dislike more than applying for a position only to find themselves on a merry-go round for the next three months until the company makes a decision on hiring. This is where a proactive approach to hiring and investment in strategic employer branding will have most business impact on the quality of your talent pipeline and employee referral rate.
Review your brand experience and remove touch points that are doing damage to your brand.
In 2015 I co-authored a whitepaper with Lisa G. Morris titled, “In employer branding, EXPERIENCE is everything,” which will provide insights on how to assess your brand experience across the employment lifecycle.
8. Review how you allocate resources
One of the key trends in business that is starting to catch on at scale is activity based working or ABW.
The successful employer of the future needs to provide freedom of choice in how, when and where people work. This new world of work requires a holistic strategy for both our physical work environments as well as our virtual and behavioral environments. Veldhoen + Company, a Swedish firm, introduced ABW in the Netherlands in 1996 and is widely recognized as a global thought leader in implementing ABW.
Google is one of the most common examples used as a company designing the workplace around the needs of their employees. They are widely recognized for their campus and office layouts, staff benefits such as free food, massages and laundry services. Whilst many saw these new practices as gimmicky when they were first introduced, they may not have been aware, the new working environment was the result of extensive research with employees to better understand what type of working environment would allow them to do their best work. It was a win-win for the employee and employer (and Google's customers and investors!)
In 2017 start exploring the concept of activity based working at a strategical level to find better ways of working to enhance productivity and employee engagement.
9. Match talent with the right role at the right time for the best outcome
The growth of the freelancing market appears to have reached an inflexion point. The ability to identify and engage talent outside the traditional full time, part time or casual hiring arrangement is becoming more commonplace. Having access to the right talent at the right time will become a competitive advantage for companies in the near future.
In 2017, explore how this source of talent fits into your talent ecosystem and be prepared for the discussions many of you will face with unions or similar bodies as you discuss and/or debate how whether this talent fits into current labour agreements or legislation. It is likely to differ between countries so you will need to consider the legal implications, especially if you have operations outside your home country. Consider:
How quickly can you source the talent require to deliver on short term assignments requiring high levels of expertise and skill?
How quickly can your talent can your competitor's source the talent?
Your ability to engage the right talent at the right time is going to be critical for future business success. On many occasions you may not even know which companies (or industries) you are competing against so keep your eyes wide open.
10. Develop closer relationships with your vendors and suppliers
How do you view relationships with your vendors and suppliers? Do you provide them with the same level of engagement and experience as you do with your employees? How do they add value to your resource allocation?
The cost of employing the expertise normally sourced from your vendors is out of reach for many organisations. Nor is it cost effective to employ the talent required especially if it is for a short term assignment.
My experience has been that there is a relationship gap between employer brand vendors/suppliers and the companies who require their expertise. The business impact is that millions of dollars is wasted on projects that are conducted in isolation such as an expensive career website or application tracking system (ATS) upgrade.
In 2017 review your vendor relationships to ensure they are all focused on helping you achieve your business objectives. No single vendor/supplier could possibly have all the expertise required to optimize your employer brand strategy, in the same manner your organisation could not possibly employ all the talent required to develop and maintain a strong employer brand.
Seek to engage with vendors who are open to working collaboratively with other vendors. Ensure they are well briefed and don't assume they have all the answers to your talent attraction and retention issues. Focus on building long term relationships, it will pay off in the long run and your vendors will enjoy more intimate and profitable client portfolios which in turn will improve the quality of your outcomes.
The strength of your vendor relationships is going to be critical for you in the years to come as talent shortages impact further, so take the same approach to building relationships with your vendors as you would for candidates, employees and investors.
.............................And some final thoughts
Even if you have no employees you still have an employer brand. The nature of resource allocation is changing and contractors, freelancers and even volunteers are attracted to companies that have a clear purpose, provide a great experience and have a similar philosophy to people experience whether they are customers, candidates, employees or investors. It should not be about a ‘customer first’ or ‘employee first’ led strategy, the common goal should be about providing exceptional experiences for all stakeholders.
Focus your efforts on adopting a strategic approach towards employer branding across the employment lifecycle for the talent you engage.
To build a world class employer brand takes strong leadership, collaboration across business functions and communications aligned with your brand promise. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver!
As always, enjoy the journey in 2017!
Brett Minchington is the Chairman/CEO of Employer Brand International and will be delivering the opening keynote address at World Employer Branding Day 27-28 April 2017 | Budapest on “Employer branding excellence towards 2020+.”
You can connect with Brett on LinkedIn.
Brett also coaches senior leaders in the Certificate in Employer Brand Leadership at Employer Branding College. New courses starting 20 March and 24 April. For details click here>