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As we approached 2011 I wrote an article titled, “11 Employer branding best practices to focus on in 2011.” The art and science of Employer branding has evolved considerably since I wrote that article more than twelve months ago.
In 2011 I was fortunate to travel to Russia (three times), Turkey, New Zealand, Australia, Denmark, Belgium, Spain, Italy, UK, Netherlands, and Chile to chair Employer Brand International’s (EBI) Employer Branding Summit Conferences and Masterclass events. I also took the opportunity to spend time with leaders in the regions who are driving the employer branding agenda inside their countries to witness first hand just how challenging and complex attracting and retaining talent has become. It is as if the market is moving at one (fast!) speed and companies at another (slow!).
In September 2011 at EBI we published a major Employer Branding Global Survey report which highlighted key trends in employer branding in advanced and developing economies. We published a similar report in 2009 and it was interesting to see the developments in employer branding over the past two years. Following the Global Financial Crisis in September 2008, the world of work has undergone significant changes. There are six million less jobs in the USA and unemployment continues to remain high (though there was some improvement in the last quarter of 2011) despite a number of government initiatives to stimulate the economy.
Along with political unrest in countries such as Syria, Egypt and some Middle Eastern countries there has been an ‘Occupy’ uprising which had its roots in the USA. Around the world many citizens are fed up with the wealth being concentrated in a small percentage (or the 1% as it has been defined!). Despite multiple European bank and country bailouts and downgrading of credit ratings in countries such as France there are serious concerns about the future of the Euro, the solvency of a number of European countries and the ongoing risk of the market overheating in China and India. Welcome to the new normal!
All of these trends will have an impact on the world in which we live and how we spend our time with family, work colleagues and ourselves. Each provides challenges and opportunities to companies and industries in how they attract and retain talent. 2012 may just be the year for broader acceptance in all economies of the role (and value) of employees in delivering company (and country) wealth.
Here are my top twelve areas for companies to focus on in 2012 when developing or evolving their employer brand strategy.
1. Consider the bigger picture
Understand it is difficult to optimise the benefits of your strategy in isolation from other key functions required for managing a successful business. The employer branding ecosystem detailed in Figure 1 outlines the scope of what is involved in building a strong employer brand and considers the diversity of stakeholders and functions which need to be engaged in your strategy. In most cases adopting a strategic approach to employer branding will require a leadership mindset and engagement to realign other business strategies e.g. talent management, recruiting, communication, etc with your employer brand strategy. This will ensure key areas of your business are focused in the same direction to create value whilst minimising inefficiencies and redundancies created by teams working in silos.
ACTION: Undertake a stakeholder analysis and align your strategy with the diversity of stakeholder needs.
Figure 1: Employer Branding Eco-system (click on image to enlarge)
2. Involve marketers in your employer brand strategy
Marketers need to realise it’s time to take more of an interest in employer branding and its role in building brand strength that impacts shareholder value. It will require an understanding from leaders that a company has one brand and managing the different, interconnected parts e.g. employer brand, consumer brand, corporate brand can no longer be managed independently given the speed at which the dynamics of the workplace are evolving.
Most of the job descriptions for Employer Brand Directors and Managers published in 2011 were seeking to recruit a person with a background in marketing or branding, not human resources. If this is not a clear message to marketers to get more involved in employer branding I don’t know what is!
ACTION: Conduct a round table meeting between HR, marketing and communications to discuss how a joined up approach can benefit the organisation’s brand equity and discuss any barriers which need to be addressed.
3. Learn how to leverage the pockets of talent excellence in the global labour pool more effectively
Great talent exists everywhere amongst the seven billion people on our planet. If the talent doesn’t exist to deliver the skill or capability required to deliver the service it is likely your business model is wrong. A key issue for companies is that we are entering the most critical phase of talent scarcity ever experienced, where the number of people leaving the workforce due to the ageing population in many economies such as Japan, Italy, Russia, etc out numbers those entering the workforce. Combined with the rate of change driven by innovation, competition and technology, the race to wealth creation will be met with a mismatch within borders of the talent required to meet growth targets.
Online networks such as Facebook and LinkedIn will become more effective at matching people with jobs around the world that can be performed virtually or require specialist skills for short periods. This will create many opportunities for talented people who live in countries such as India and China and do not have the means or support to relocate to where the jobs are.
ACTION: Build a community presence on social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn and engage the audience in discussion and mine the data to assess the potential to engage members in volunteer or paid work. Philips has done this very well with their Linkedin communities of more than 100,000 members.
4. Invest in strategic thinking capabilities of emerging leaders
Strategic thinking is one of the most under developed skills in the workplace. Most Universities don’t train the skill until the Masters course level leading to a large proportion of graduates who are entering the workforce with extensive textbook knowledge but unprepared to address the challenges of today’s workplace. Failure to recruit and train talent to think strategically will ensure company growth is likely to remain stagnant and lead to a virtuous cycle of recruitment, disengagement and regrettable turnover.
There are numerous resources on the internet to assist employees developed knowledge and capabilities in strategic thinking and how it can be applied to assist company productivity.
ACTION: Develop a strategic thinking training module for new starters and existing employees. This may be in the form of an application which can be accessed from a mobile device where the majority of learning is likely to occur in the future.
5. Support accelerated skill and capability development
It is well reported in the media and I’ve experienced firsthand in travelling to emerging markets that the education systems around the world are not preparing the next generation of workers adequately for the skill and capability demands of employers competing in environment where today’s source of competitive advantage is increasingly linked to the quality of employed talent and/or access to talent. Even at a school level it is becoming increasingly challenging to maintain engagement of students when they have access to the world’s knowledge through their computers or mobile devices. I’m really concerned about the ability of companies to keep my twelve year old son (and his global network of connections around his age) challenged beyond 11am on a Monday on his first day! This generation that will hit the workforce in 2018 is agile, intelligent, and global in their thinking, connected, entrepreneurial and inpatient. Companies need to start planning in 2012 the systems, processes and policies that need to be developed, adapted or dumped to remain attractive to tomorrow’s talent pipeline.
At a recent University lecture I was amazed when I asked students about their participation in social media networks for personal or business use. Very few were active in social media and were unsure of the personal and business benefits it could bring them.
Are we teaching an out of date curriculum in Universities or the wrong combination of skills required to build leaders fit to lead companies over the next decade? This debate will continue to build momentum in 2012.
ACTION: Develop an accelerated capability development program that is linked to the employee’s career development plan and supported by their immediate manager and managers from across the business.
6. Focus on systems integration across borders
I’m still amazed by the number of leaders I meet on my travels from companies I know have a global employer brand strategy and when I mention it to them, they have no idea it even existed. The traditional head office, top down strategy requires a different approach if companies are to engage leaders and employees outside their home country. A large number of today’s global companies are in the early stages of global integration of policies, systems and processes which impact on the employer brand. Compounding this is the lack of, or complexity of technology to support this process. It appears we are still sometime away from using mobile devices effectively to promote the employer brand and/or leverage for recruitment.
ACTION: Conduct an analysis of the key areas of your strategy (e.g. career development, recruitment advertising templates, etc) which need to be integrated across regions.
7. Integrate formal and informal learning and enable mobile access
After thirteen years of University (two in a teaching capacity) I have found the best learnings come from ‘on the ground’ experiences when combined with formal learning. Too much learning still occurs in a training group environment which lacks relevance to individual employees and has little impact on behavioural change.
I’ve been fortunate to travel to more than forty-five cities around the world over the past four years. Prior to this I completed a MBA and earlier a Degree in Marketing and International Business. The travel has allowed me to connect the textbook dots and develop a much richer perspective on the complexity of the world we live by moving outside the culture and environment I grew up in Australia.
Too many University programs are taught by academics that haven’t seen outside their University walls. Learning is a lifelong skill that is developed and enhanced through transfer of knowledge and experiences over time. There is too much focus on formal learning in today’s workplaces. A lifetime of learning already exists on the internet, the challenge is how to personalise it and have it find you rather than you find it! The iPad and numerous other tablets on the market provide an excellent opportunity to build employee capabilities without the cost of formal, face to face group training.
I predict most of tomorrows learning which contributes to wealth creation will be informal. Consider the impact on wealth creation inside and outside their borders when larger parts of regional India and China gain access to the internet and hundreds of millions of people move further along the developing economy curve that has occurred countries such as the USA, UK, Japan and Australia over the past one hundred years. The growth in China over the past thirty years suggests it will only take another twenty years to reach a similar developed level of these developed nations. In China the relocation of people from rural into urban areas has been described as having to build a city the size of Los Angeles each year to accommodate them.
Considering the young population in countries such as India as Turkey it would not be unusual for some to predict that this will be where the growth in the global economy will come from over the next thirty years.
ACTION: Plan for leaders responsible for the global employer brand strategy to visit regions where the company has operations to conduct face-face meetings with regional staff and to build engagement with the global strategy. Support leaders who will be away from the office for extended periods of time. Assess technological needs to facilitate employees or contractors working outside the office.
8. Focus on the experience and engagement will follow
It is well reported that employee engagement is in decline in many companies, moreso following the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008 when companies were laying off thousands of workers, freezing wages and focusing on cost cutting at the expense of investment in employee engagement and development initiatives. However this may not be such a bad outcome as it appears from recent reports that engagement programs are no longer having the impact they once did or were promised when sold by consultants eager to meet their monthly budget forecasts.
Even though many companies have returned to profit at the same level or higher than 2008, the growth in jobs hasn’t kept up at the same pace as it previously did in the recovery following previous recessions. Many companies have returned to profitability and are hoarding cash due to the uncertainty in the global economy or returning it to shareholders who have had lower returns over the past few years. The game has changed and with record levels of unemployment in many parts of the world along with high numbers of youth unemployment, companies are in the midst of a transition to a new landscape where the focus is on doing more with less. This new paradigm is going to need new approaches to talent acquisition and development; it can no longer be undertaken as an operational function. It needs a strategic approach and commitment from Executives to invest in the future sustainability of their company.
Over the past year we’ve seen just how quick the speed at which social media has changed the way companies have changed their approach to managing the candidate and customer experience. Early adopter firms like Sodexo, Starbucks and Coca-Cola are now leveraging the benefits of investing in building social media capabilities early on. They realised that social media was not a fad and would become part of the global landscape providing benefits for the employer brand and consumer brands.
American ‘big box’ retailer ‘Best Buy’ has recently found out just how much influence and reach social media has and how companies can no longer control brand messages to market they once did.
Still the best is yet to come with internet penetration rate growth increasing significantly in regions such as Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. It will no longer be a ‘nice to have’ component of your employer brand strategy, an online positive candidate and customer experience will be a must!
ACTION: Conduct an analysis on the employee lifecycle and make changes necessary to ensure an integrated brand experience across the lifecycle.
9. Leverage technology to enable employees to work smarter
There are two types of leaders, those that have no time and always say they ‘are busy’ and those that appear to have all the time in the world at their disposal. The first category is on a never ending search for the next best thing. The latter’s thinking is guided by models, frameworks and experiences. There is enough information online to build knowledge and capabilities for those with access to the internet than you could ever realistically consume in your lifetime (or that of your entire workforce!).
Train and coach your employees to source original content that is relevant to their stage of development. I believe for many of today’s employees and tomorrow’s talent pipeline the iPad or the ever increasing number of tablets hitting the market is likely to be recognised as the best personal and career development invention since the personal computer. A screenshot of employee’s iPad can provide useful insights into how employees are using the technological tools at their disposal to work smarter. Buy employees a mobile device - the benefits to your employer brand far outweigh the cost of providing mobile devices to every employee. It will become the norm for companies in industries such as health care, hospitality or any occupations which require ‘real time’ contact and feedback with employees and customers.
The access and ability of technology to assist employees and companies to better understand the data created by social interactions throughout the organisation via communication channels such as the company intranet, email, public social media sites (e.g. Facebook, twitter, etc) and company 'behind the firewall social sites - e.g. HP's Watercooler, IBM's Beehive" will create smarter workplaces and provide a higher level of confidence in data in much the same way we have grown more confident in the searches we conduct on Google on a regular basis. This evolution will create the early forms of 'social business' where interactions between employees and other employees, customers and other stakeholders will be enhanced by the support of reliable analytics about information about people and products.
ACTION: Review your communication systems and assess how they can be improved with greater access through mobile technology.
10. Encourage employees to grow their global network and online profile
Leaders should aim for the ‘triple 1000’ (1000 friends on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, or the top 3 in their region) social media footprint on the world’s largest networks. If built strategically this market reach will provide you with an opportunity to connect globally with others in a manner that will benefit you both and your company.
You need a game plan to build value in your network; it won’t happen by chance so be prepared to invest time in building your online global network and online profile. It will have long run payoffs. A simple tweet can open up new markets for you that can have long run financial benefits for you and your company. I speak from experience here!
ACTION: Grow your network strategically as part of your daily routine when checking emails at the start of each day.
11. Don’t obsess with metrics
Most of you will be familiar with the quote by management guru Peter Drucker, “What can’t be measured can’t be managed.” It set off a trend by leaders to measure everything in business within an inch of its life!
In the process it caused disengagement, loss of brand equity and a generation of leaders who wouldn’t (or couldn’t) make a decision without first consulting the data. The other famous quote, “Your past performance is a predictor of your future performance,” resulted in companies employing candidates who had tertiary qualifications and/or previous employment in a well known brand, leaving the unqualified hi-potentials on the sidelines.
Many of the new employees became disengaged as they were the wrong fit for the role and a hindrance to growth at their new company whereas many of the latter went out and started their own business and are now contracting services to the companies that overlooked them in the first place.
ACTION: Identify those metrics which impact most on the companies productivity and performance and make employees accountable to these.
12. Identify and release your brand ambassadors
Understand your brand is made up of the sum of the intangible and tangible assets of your company. As tangible assets become increasingly cheaper due to competitive forces, the true competitive advantage of a company resides more in its intangible assets such as its people, intellectual property, brand, reputation and experience. Your most effective brand ambassador is not necessarily your CEO or members of your Executive.
Your best ambassadors are likely to come from your Employer Brand team in the future. I have been impressed by the impact leaders responsible for the management or their employer brand have had on conference audiences they have presented to around the world. In 2011 I had had the pleasure of getting to see firsthand the impact of ambassadorship by leaders such as Michael Holm (IBM), Stephen Fogarty (Adidas), Heather Polivka (United Health Group), Linda Halse, (Australian Wine Research Institute), Birgitte Brix Andersen (Vestas), Kerry Noone (Computer Science Corporation), René Herremans (Ahold), Karen Nelson-Field (University of South Australia), Els van de Water (Microsoft) and Fabio Dioguardi (Ferrero). These leaders have invested heavily in building their own employer brand capabilities and are leading what can be an arduous task of influencing and convincing Executives of the benefits of employer branding to support investments. We are fortunate to have them as highly respected members of Employer Brand International’s advisory team.
ACTION: Assess and appoint employees to act as brand ambassadors and provide them with the time to fulfil responsibilities such as speaking at or attending conferences, visiting university campuses or blogging about company initiatives.
..................And some final thoughts
Think about the impact on the communities you operate in!
Many of the world’s top companies have had to reconsider and change their approach to business in countries where previously they exploited access to low wages and conducted business with little concern for the environment in the pursuit of wealth. The company values listed on their corporate website had little relevance to how they conducted business, leading to cynicism amongst employees, suppliers, partners and other stakeholders. In an ever increasingly open and transparent global landscape, companies will start to take the threat seriously of the negative (and financial!) impact on their brand by continuing unethical work practices that have allowed them to increase operating margins at the expense of upholding human rights or damage to the environment.
Over the past two years Chevron have taken positive steps to communicate that it is serious about investing in the development of communities it operates in. In late 2010 they launched the ‘We agree’ campaign and have invested millions in getting the message out globally that they are serious about making a difference in the world’s communities in their pursuit of wealth creation. Whilst Chevron still has many doubters about their motives they at least have not shied away from publicly stating their intentions and openness to be held accountable for their actions. In 2012 more companies will start to seriously consider the long term benefits of adopting an Employer Branding 3.0 approach to its business.
In the near future I believe citizens will become less forgiving in the future and a company’s responsibility to societies and the environment will be a base level requirement for a stake in the game. The growth of the world’s population and acceleration of development in emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil at much faster rates than the USA UK and Japan experienced during their phase of development to advanced economies would suggest that not too long in the future the key concerns will be our ability to feed the world and provide access to energy without destroying the planet in the process.
We are hedging our bets that technological, innovation and talent will drive solutions to these global issues. However it would appear we are a long way from the globally coordinated approach required to meet these challenges head on. That’s why the current situation to restore economic stability to the euro zone is as important as it establishes a benchmark for how countries deal with issues affecting others outside its borders. The world’s attempt (and first test!) at global collaboration by trying to reach agreement on strategies to tackle climate change was seen by many as a failure.
It would seem we still have alot to action in 2012! We should embrace the opportunities that lie ahead!
I'd like to take this opportunity to wish you a successful 2012, I hope it is a very rewarding year for you and your company.