When working at Virgin circa 1993 I recall the managing director of Virgin Games, Tim Chaney, claiming that the Virgin brand was one of the most recognized brands in the U.K. At the time, Richard Branson was building his empire on service/product promise, savvy advertising and word of mouth — well before PCs on desks with Microsoft Word and Google was commonplace. The realization of that time: the Virgin employer brand naturally inspired acquisition of talent, retention and loyalty of employees, and communicated a clear vision to optimize performance and engagement.
Everyone wanted to be a “Virgin,” and when they joined, they were loyal even after leaving the company.
It was my first experience of working for one of the pioneering companies that understood how to work on an employer brand through leadership, vision and product delivery. The lesson I learned from this experience: marketing, the C-team and human resources all really need to work together when it comes to effectively creating and implementing an employer brand.
For corporations, a positive employer brand is an essential component to attract and retain top talent. Sourcing and keeping talent is one of the biggest challenges global corporations face today. According to a recent article in Harvard Business Review, 36 percent of global employers report talent shortages, and that today’s workforce lack key skills to sustain competitive growth. With the skills gap widening in the competency areas most difficult to train, there is a shortage of qualified candidates. In recent years, the concept of the employer brand has become a specific focus among global corporations. There is a growing awareness at the top management level that companies not only need to manage their public image among consumers and stockholders, but also the “word on the street” among talent. Reputation management has become critical to succeeding in the information age for both individuals and corporations.
But it is deeper than managing the company’s reputation it is also about defining what the company stands for as a corporation, and defining core values. There is an understanding that achieving the vision at an organizational level requires a well-functioning company. Critically, this success is created with strong functioning employee relationships and leadership. We keep seeing examples of how companies are as effective as the sum total of the people who work for them; including the quality and effectiveness of the management team. Proactively and consciously defining your corporate culture is the jump off point. It’s about what the leadership team want to collectively accomplish and it’s about a mission that is actually much deeper than the word brand has come to imply.
Company culture and values
The employee or talent experience – positive or negative comes down to the company work culture and values. It’s about the day-to-day experience people have of getting up and going to work each morning and what the company stands for and honors. Most people spend more time working than they do with their families. Work plays a huge role in our life and impacts our emotional and mental well-being. Company culture and values directly impact that experience and talent is becoming increasingly particular about the companies they work for. As the recent return of Jack Dorsey to Twitter suggests, often times, in young companies, the Founder is the lynchpin that defines the culture and critical to the success of the company. The values Jack Dorsey represents are paramount to Twitter remaining “Twitter” not only in terms of its users positive experience, but also in terms of an employee culture that continues to attract and retain the best and the brightest.
Or in the case of GitHub, a tech start-up that failed to define its employee culture early on, and was accused of sexual harassment and gender discrimination last year. This company became an example of how startups need to implement policies across the board and define their culture early on. As CEO and Co-Founder, Chris Wanstrath of GitHub said in a recent interview with Fortune, “Even when you’re small you also need to put time and effort into your people. And you need to put time and effort into your culture, and into making sure that everyone feels someone has their back, they have someone they can go to.” What GitHub also demonstrates is that when such a crisis emerges, it can become a huge opportunity for a company to take a step back and really define its values and what’s important to them. As a result of doing this work, the company puts itself in a position to achieve at a much bigger level. A problem can become an opportunity when properly faced and corrected, and everyone benefits.
And one final nugget of information. While at GamesBeat 2015, I listened to Kristian Segerstrale, COO & Executive Director of Super Evil MegaCorp, a community oriented games mobile games company, during an esports panel. He described how they are ‘committed to getting better every day,’ which sets a tone for everyone in the organization to continually work to improve at a customer-centric level, which, in turn, becomes about improving at a technology and product centric level. This strategy isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon to continually focus on how to improve optimal performance. Just imagine how many people will want to work for an organization that appreciates and supports an ongoing improvement philosophy – just like Richard Branson’s original intention to improve the customer experience, which built their brand.
The glassdoor effect
We are living in an age of increasing transparency, and Glassdoor is an excellent example of this world. By allowing employees and interview candidates to comment on their employer anonymously, as well as post salary data, it is opening up the wall of secrecy corporations and start-ups use to hide behind. Glassdoor provides a forum to manage and track a corporation’s reputation online. It also creates transparency around salary, an area that for a long time has been hard to pin down. Glassdoor is a great example of the dialogue that can be created among talent through transparency that puts workers in charge of their own careers. Comparative data provides the opportunity to negotiate higher payscales, as well as know which companies pay poorly. It also provides a public forum to get the inside scoop on the inner workings of a company. Glassdoor is a powerful tool for employers too. It provides companies with insight into how it is being perceived, and therefore can learn from mistakes and pinpoint areas of weakness to continue improving its employer brand. Linkedin is another significant resource that talent turns to when making employer brand assessments. These sources provide valuable data as to why you may be having a talent retention problem. People want to be proud of the company they spend most of their time with, just as much as a client will evaluate how you treat your people to determine whether they want to do business with you.
Human Resources, for the most part, has functioned as an administrative and operations department. Up till now, CEOs have been placing the responsibility of managing the corporate brand on the marketing department, instead of human resources. For many leading organisations this role will evolve into human capital development and talent management with an additional focus on employer branding. There is a growing recognition that hiring managers and human resources professionals need to be engaged in both managing and creating the perception potential employees have of their company – beyond the operational. HR will continue to focus more on directly managing the talent experience in a proactive manner to create a positive work culture that supports the company’s values. The HR department is undergoing a seismic shift in how it sees itself in the larger corporate context. In the end, this transformation has the potential to really better utilize this department’s assets and significance in managing employee relations. The line between the marketing department and human resources department continues to blur in this emerging corporate and employer branding environment. The future will require HR to be more marketing literate, and as a result more involved during company evolution, changes in market developments, workforce crisis management and other challenges that affect the acquisition and long-term retention of talent.
Monitoring employer reputation on social media
Many companies are not proactively monitoring their reputation on the social media avenues that build the employer brand, which is a mistake. By paying attention to digital conversations, corporations are given a valuable opportunity to see what talent are saying about them both positive and negative provides valuable insight into what the company. It provides insight into changes that need to be made in regarding the culture and employee relationships. Being proactive in using social media and sharing inside stories and day-to-day experiences gives potential talent valuable insight into the culture. It provides a vehicle to become more authentic and transparent. When used effectively, social media provides a means to monitor, evaluate and correct your reputation with critical target audiences on an ongoing basis.
The information age has accelerated a new employer brand rulebook where companies are continually learning to adapt the hiring, retention and engagement architecture and practice for success. Organizations that define a clear hierarchy of functional and operational values coordinated with the C-team, HR and Marketing will reap many benefits in terms of the talent they attract and how well they function as a company. It’s the key to moving “forward.”
Caroline Stokes is founder of Forward Human Capital Solutions.