Employer Branding

Aligning Employer Brand with target market to enable effective attraction, retention and development of talent.

What does “Employer Brand” actually mean?

An employer brand, or even better, a corporate culture is a collection of ideas and beliefs that influence the way current and potential employees view an organization, the employment environment or the experience that organization is offering.  A company’s mission statement should incorporate the company culture and values to ignite the employee’s passion to fit in with the organizational culture and aid the company’s forward growth.  Everything an organization does will influence how prospective employees view its employer brand.

‘Brand management was created by Procter & Gamble in 1931. These principles were first used by the US Army 80’s although the term ’employer brand’ wasn’t used until the early 1990’s as a term to help organisations drive greater employee commitment and compete more effectively for talent.  (Source: The Employer Brand, Simon Barrow, Richard Mosley 2005)”

Every company should align itself to the global market if they are to thrive in today’s interconnected economies. The competition for talent has become global and businesses are struggling to fill key roles as staff demand new horizons and new challenges.  Employer branding provides a strong employment promise to new recruits as well as points out the positive difference against competitors.

Successful companies’ objectives in developing their employer brand are to become an employer of choice. It is becoming harder and harder for any company in the market place to attract outstanding caliber people. Unemployment is at a record high but skilled Labour is at a record low so the need to compete against other companies and not only to draw talent but also to draw the right talent into your organization, is a priority!

Talent looks at the way jobs are designed; the way that tasks and activities are allocated; the way that managers and supervisors deal with and communicate with their people, through to the way their product or service brand is actually perceived by the wider market.  Even the way a potential employee’s friends and relatives see the “future employer” affects the decision making of a prospective employee!

 How do organizations create an Employer Brand that delivers results?

To develop a successful employer brand, you must first understand what perceptions and beliefs your current employees and the talent market already have about your organization’s culture and brand promise.  This requires research by the right people.  It is really important to understand why potential recruits either want to join your organization or wouldn’t even consider you as a potential employer.  It is equally important to understand what your employees, in all departments and office locations, understand to be your employer brand.  What the ‘added value’ of being an employee with your company really is and if these perceptions don’t match up to your business goals then it is time to begin looking at readdressing your employer brand.

Companies can utilise their labour suppliers’ feedback, exit interviews, employee surveys, external surveys and many other means across a wide range of stakeholders to bring their current employer brand into focus.

1)       Research your company’s current talent attraction and retention performance:

  • Ascertain in which departments or job titles you have problems hiring.
  • Assess whether your current employees represent the calibre of employees you would like to hire in the future.
  • Ensure that the right people at your organization are conducting the interviews; do they represent the image you would like to convey to the market place?
  • If you make a job offer and it is declined, find out why the applicant wasn’t interested in joining your team.
  • Conduct exit interviews to establish why people are leaving your organization.

 2)       Conduct an audit on your company’s values and points of difference from competitors:

  • List the reasons why someone may opt for employment with your organization.
  • It may be worthwhile to conduct a survey and/or a focus group with internal and external stakeholders to compare your stated company values with the reality of internally and externally held perceptions and opinions about your organization.

 3)  Consistency between brand reality and the image you sell are critical for success: 

  • Ensure current employees are aware of what the organization represents in terms of culture and values.
  • Measure the consistency of your employer brand across all channels.
  • Become business partners with your Labour supplier, let them advise you of the daily challenges they face regarding your talent acquisition requirements. 

Placing an advertisement in the newspaper is no longer sufficient to source talent. One needs to use a very diverse range of print advertising, online and networking channels to attract candidates and your labour suppliers can talk you through the merits of each one.  Your labour supplier can also help you identify and highlight your organizational selling points based on what candidates give them as feedback and on what is offered in the market place.

4)   Initiate your roll-out plan:

  1. Establish an ‘Employer Brand Team’ which includes at lease one C-level Executive.
  2. Ensure the values and attributes are conveyed in your hiring channels such as advertising, company websites, labour suppliers and public relations programmes.
  3. Review the messaging on a quarterly basis to ensure your organization continues to adhere to the guidelines you have established.
  4. Conduct an annual ‘brand health check’ to measure the perceptions of your internal and external stakeholders.

Once this is achieved, it is important to create a brand development team that encompasses a wide range of stakeholders to ensure that the final product truly reflects the ideas and beliefs of the entire organization. This will be a costly but necessary exercise!

This would be the role of the Strategic Manager to ensure that the Mission Statement is communicated from higher levels of the company through to the lower levels and to ascertain whether the company is working towards the unified goal.

Once your employer brand has been defined and implemented, consistency is key to success.  All communications (both internal and external), policies, actions, goals, business plans – everything you say and do – must be consistent with your employer brand promise.

Finally, just as a business is not static, neither is an employer brand.

It is important to periodically measure the success of the employer brand and its continued relevancy to employees through ongoing research.

How does an effective employer brand assist in the attraction and retention of quality staff, particularly Generation X and Y?

  • The silent generation is probably exiting the working environment, probably retiring, age group of about 60-70’s and they have been influenced by world events such as the rise of the apartheid era, WW2, colonisation etc.
  • The boomer generation is in their 40-50’s, and generally occupy positions of authority; are optimistic idealists who place tremendous value in team orientation and excellence through hard work. They are image conscious, strive for personal growth and gratification, and would do anything to stay young!
  • The X generation are in their 20-30’s; they are rising to the ranks of management. Influenced by globalisation, information revolution, political and socio-economical turmoil.

 Technophile pragmatists!

These individuals want choices, are very adaptable to change, are not afraid of failure and expect INSTANT GRATIFICATION in most instances.

  •  Finally, generation Y!  Those are our youngsters, just entering the work environment. They are optimistic, confident and have a high self esteem. They have grown up in a world of TV, cell phones and the Internet. They know terrorism and protectionism quite well. They are technophiles comfortably engaging with people through social networking sites such as Facebook and Mxit. They crave a sense of community and commitment.

Currently, many businesses are still geared towards the values of the silent and boomer generation even though this has began to change in the last decade, and Boomers are taking over the reigns of leadership.  Things will have to change drastically in the near future and businesses will have to put emphasis on flexibility and be more accommodating for the new generations entering the work force.

Attracting Talent

Gen X’s and particularly Gen Y’s are very sceptical about companies that don’t have a web presence.  If they’re actively seeking new job opportunities they’re going to search the Internet and visit job portals, they will not rely on traditional classified adverts.  If you’re struggling to attract the younger talent, perhaps it’s time that you re-looked at your website  and assessed the image you’re portraying to the market place.

Changing The Way You Recruit (reference: www.apso.co.za)

In order to achieve success, recruiters have to develop new tactics to deal with the changing attitudes and expectations of talent across the different generations.  There is definitely no longer a “one size fits all” approach to handling counter-offers and other recruitment issues.

Your labour suppliers have to be professional strategists and not just a “CV pushing” service!

Choose your labour suppliers carefully, they too must represent your brand and be able to share your vision just like your managers do!

The latest trend in recruitment procedures will be devastating to businesses!

Many organizations are cutting budgets to accommodate for increased costs of operations and reduced turnovers due to external factors.  As a result, organizations attempt to cut down their recruitment costs by recruiting on their own, staff whom they perceive to be easy to find e.g., receptionists, secretaries, credit controllers, call centre staff, etc.  Big mistake!  Organizations create a weak link in their operation this way … Why?

  1. Most in-house recruiters are not experienced or even trained in talent evaluation and acquisition.
  2. No third party buffer to overcome objections from Gen Y recruits.  As a result, offers are declined!
  3. Internet portals deny corporate access to their “CV pool” databases and therefore limit organizations to only “today’s fresh career seekers”!
  4. Close the door to the constructive criticism they would receive regarding their company branding and recruitment processes.
  5. Gen Y’s doing understand hierarchy and formalities!  They need coaching regarding interviews and recruitment procedures, and assessments – something that your labour supplier should be doing!

The battle for the ‘first interview’ is often the most important battle to win

An employer brand and reputation go a long way in attracting people and this is particularly beneficial for many larger companies.   Smaller companies, however, need to better communicate their culture, philosophy and vision to potential candidates.

The first interview is absolutely crucial!

Companies in today’s times that insist from their suppliers to do a skills assessment prior to the first interview will be short-lived!

It is surprising how little emphasis is placed on a “first impression” by most organizations!  Serious consideration should be given to whether an HR person tasked with ‘getting through the CV numbers’ can communicate the correct culture and vision at this critical stage.

As Jack Welch says in his book ‘Winning’,  “If your company does not have the competitive advantages then don’t compete”.

Communicate Effectively

The younger generations are technophiles and expect their recruitment professionals to be the same!  X and Y career seekers want to know why it’s necessary to interact face-to-face if Skype, web cam is available.  Why they can’t do the typing assessments online from their home/office or an Internet café?  Why does your labour supplier not have SMS facilities or the ability to engage with them via Facebook or LinkedIn?

Managing Expectation

Gen X’s and Y’s demand instant gratification and don’t always understand why the recruitment process takes so long!  It is therefore even more important that you spend time with them at the outset explaining the process and what you, and their, responsibility is during the recruitment cycle. Do the same with your labour suppliers.

Ensure that you schedule regular feedback opportunities.

Listening and Meeting their Requirements

Gen X’s place a great deal of importance on their individualism and opportunity to control their own lives through choice.  As a result, they require a great deal of information about the position, the management style, their promotional prospects and their ability to control their working life. Make sure that your labour supplier has all this information so that they can execute the required tasks efficiently and to your expectations.

They are interested mostly in perks, the hours, the salary and how this job is going to benefit them, rather than what they can bring to the company.  This can be particularly tricky when one considers that the majority of decision makers are Boomers who have a completely different perspective on things!

Handling the dreaded “Counter-Offer”

My initial training in recruitment (late 1980’s) taught me to approach the counter-offer issue by repeating to the candidate how a counter-offer was an insult because it meant that their current employer hadn’t appreciated them all along.  The tactic works if you need to attract the Boomers who place emphasis on loyalty and a sense of belonging but it doesn’t work for Gen X or Y.  Gen X’s, and in particular Gen Y’s, are all about “what’s in it for me, right now?” and will have no qualms about accepting a counter-offer today and resigning again in a couple months time when the extra few thousand Rand is no longer an incentive to stay.

As a result, your labour suppliers and your recruiters need to re-assess the way they approach counter-offers and be aware that, when dealing with younger generations, and in particular, those with skills that are high in demand and in short supply, the counter-offer is to be expected.  By understanding what truly motivates the career seeker and core values of each generation the recruiter will be more equipped to find things within the organization’s operation to offer the new recruit that will be more attractive than just money!

Case study:

Company Delta is one of Tricruit’s most valued clients a leader in their field with a well aligned “employer brand” and a proven talent acquisition, development and retention track record.

(Real names relating this case study are withheld for confidentiality reasons)

Company Delta has a low turnover of staff and a competitive edge in technology!

About 10 years ago when Company Delta began operation in SA recruited ambitious degree grads who are still in their employ and now in their early or mid 30’s; they are successful people with family responsibilities.

Company Delta had to change and adapt in order to retain their human and intellectual capital as business evolved in the last 10 years.

These skilled and competent individuals no longer thrive on clubbing, red bull or getting home at 03:00 in the morning! They are generation X achievers who have a wife or a husband, kids with school fees, house with a bond to pay and a few cars to maintain!

In most instances the wife and husband work to provide for the family so they need more money to hire an aupair for the kids, pay for after school, exciting birthday parties, etc.

Generation X talent needs MONEY and FLEXIBILITY!

Family wellness is a serious priority at Company Delta.  Employees work flexi-hours with the laptop and 3G card from the beach or from home, save in travel costs, cut down the daily traffic frustration and are personally looking after their baby when it’s sick!    A Company Delta employee, for example, can take their kids to the beach on a Tuesday without neglecting their job’s deadlines! That is Quality of Life!

Company Delta aids the well being of their staff by providing them easy access to essential services: Gym, Hair salon, Spa, Drycleaners, CNA, Computicket, various staff restaurants including franchises such as Nando’s and Fego’s Café, postal services, parking shuttles for easy and secure access to their parked cars.  Plus, they offer their employees life plans and progressive salary reviews bi-annually based on individual performance!

I interviewed the recently appointed Deputy CIO of Company Delta, Mr James Bond, a 33 year old Generation X inspirational man who has achieved, against all odds, a good balance between work and personal life!   He has a Masters in Business Administration and is in the process of enrolling for this doctorate.  Mr Bond joined Company Delta about 9 months ago; was previously at a leading banking institution where he was the Head of Infrastructure, Personal loans division for two years; and prior to this he was with a leading hospitality group where, after 8.5 years of achieving, he left the organisation as the General Manager if IT of the Group’s largest Resort. 

Mr Bond has a long list of achievements and awards to his name!  He feels that the Business Unit Manager, in general, should undertake the development and execution of the company’s Human Capital Management.  The Business Unit Manager is the one who should translate strategies, set goals and has the passion as well as the business acumen to inspire and motivate his/her team in achieving the overall business strategies.  Most people fail to acquire talent due to their inability to translate business objectives into simple execution goals.

Businesses should promote their image through their labour suppliers, public relations, advertising and word of mouth.  If your employees love working for your company and buy into your employer brand they will be your best advertising tool.  Happy employees are beacons not just for customers but also for prospective employees.   A strong vision for a brand has the potential and personality to aid the organization to overcome many of the cultural issues in terms of bringing people on board.

The skills shortage is a major challenge when it comes to talent retention.

A few aspects of an organization’s culture impacts both on the talent acquisition success and also on talent retention rates.

If the employer brand is effective it will attract staff with a solid cultural fit who integrate easily with the organization.

Mr Bond is a firm supporter of psychometric testing. Most organizations use this practice for senior level positions due to the cost factor but Mr Bond recommends that it’s used for around the board talent acquisition. It’s an expensive exercise but certainly a fruitful one! In order to achieve real value from such assessments it is pivotal to ensure that the key outputs of a job specification is what is being assessed in the form of a psychometric test. There has to be alignment of this in order to ensure that the prospective candidate delivers value from day one.

The main challenge for most companies is to create a culture in which people enjoy working in and the challenge isn’t salary levels it’s about getting the culture right! 

If the employer brand delivers on its promise, these staff members will be more willing to stay with the organization, creating strong talent retention.  The effectiveness of internal communication, the extent to which employees are motivated to perform to expectation and the quality of the leadership given by management play an important role in retaining staff.  All these factors relate to the strength of the organization’s employer brand and the way that this is perceived internally by current employees, as well as externally by potential future recruits.  

Mr Bond recommends innovative On-Boarding Practices for Organizations and Strategic Succession Planning.

Let’s look at Mr James Bond as “the career seeker”! 

What influenced Mr Bond’s decision to accept the opportunity at Company Delta?

  1. He would be part of a family, not a number or a statistic.
  2. People’s well being is a serious priority at Company Delta.
  3. The Culture is young, energetic, dynamic, and resourceful.
  4. He respected the CEO and CIO and what they represented. Company goals and challenges were aligned with his.
  5. Technology used as competitive advantage.
  6. Company is striving to achieve operational excellence by means of technology.
  7. All software is developed in-house. This process reduces the decision turnaround time.
  8. Remuneration offered was aligned with his expectations.

 We asked Mr Bond, in his opinion, how can a company achieve “Competitive advantage” in today’s market?

  1. The Information Technology needs to be recognized as the Company’s competitive edge. The CIO of Company Delta sits with the board of executives.
  2. Achieve operational excellence.
  3. Create “centres of excellence” within your business.

Today’s employees need to understand the bigger picture!  They must be equipped with business acumen to understand what every delay or error in their performance or deliverance means to the Customer, Shareholder and to the bottom line!

New recruits must be fit for the industry expectations, not only from a skills competence level but also from a soft competency perspective.

According to Mr Bond and the research conducted, Talent wants:

  1. MONEY
  2. Career growth and direction
  3. Location, location, location!  Rising petrol costs and traffic have made this an issue.
  4. Quality of life – flexibility, family wellbeing and stability.

To attract the X and Y generations you need to offer instant gratification (money), self actualisation (become all you can be), and a life plan (career path)!

How to retain your human capital and therefore your intellectual capital!

Deliver the promise your company branding makes.

  1. Be consistent with your deliverance.
  2. Listen!
  3. Develop strong succession planning; most companies do not have a “skills transfer plan”.

Brief pointers on developing your talent?

  • Psychometric testing.
  • Performance management.
  • Talent Management and Succession planning.
  • Leadership Development.
  • Team dynamics.

Here are a couple of important questions to assess your readiness as a company with a clearly identified company branding strategy:

  1. Do you know the average age of your organization’s workforce?
  2. How are the different generations (Boomers,  X and Y) represented in your workplace?
  3. How familiar are you with the newest Competency-on-the-block:  “Generational Acumen” and its implications?
  4. Do you, as a Manager, still believe that workers should be in the office from nine to five to be productive?
  5. How familiar are you with the technological preferences of your Generation X and Y Workers?
  6. Are you sometimes struggling to engage and retain the services of your skilled employees?
  7. How do you accommodate the needs of your Generation X and Y Workers i.e., work/life balance, flexible work practices, flexible compensation and pay, etc?

Sylvia Thomaides

Operations Director


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