Harvard Business Review: Reasons to Rethink ‘Employer Brands’

Nowadays, savvy employers leverage strong employer brands as a crucial ingredient for attracting, engaging, and retaining the best talent. All these are undoubtedly laudable objectives, especially at a time when skilled employees are highly mobile. But establishing a distinct employer brand may not be the best solution.

The challenge with most branding strategies is that they are in disconnect with the core drivers and corporate brand of the respective companies. HR departments typically manage them, and these may come with superficial perks like an unlimited vacation or free lunch. Currently, the U.S. is home to over 40 consultancies specialized in employer branding. Since they are distinct from large strategic purposes, the consequences may be dismaying.

A global car rental, for instance, may want to prove how their opportunities will develop employee skills. But how is this important for the business or its customers? Also, consider a tech firm whose core attribute is to promote Friday happy hours. On the other hand, another consulting firm markets itself to potential talent with photos and quotes by current workers stating claims like ‘every meeting with my coworkers seems like a party!’

With many years’ experience as advisers and executives for hundreds of organizations, we believe what is referred to as ‘the employer brand’ needs to go beyond the established company brand. 

This integration can be facilitated by abolishing the label as a major component of the corporate brand and instead establishing a talent dimension. To achieve this, we recommend that you follow a three-step process under the leadership of the CEO and executive team.

1. Establishing a talent framework

You need a talent framework that outlines the key motivators, qualities, and traits that C-suite managers need in their staff team. For instance, we advised an ophthalmology company seeking to get rid of their old profile description’ technical excellence in optics’ to the new one ‘improving the quality of life of our customers.’ We assisted the leaders to facelift their talent criteria and create room for empathy, teamwork, and an external focus.

The CEO of a global nonprofit client requested hundreds of workers to identify any key team attributes that resonate with stakeholders. These included focusing on friendships alongside communication, as well as prioritizing commitment over contribution. All these became the key elements of the company’s new brand.

2. Validating the framework

Employees who interact with clients understand their specific needs. So the main questions should involve whether this captures the capabilities necessary for the company’s success, the reaction of prospective hires and whether company values come across clearly.

Alternatively, you can seek the employees’ candid feedback on any suggestions for retention, motivation, and attraction of talent in the long run. The right prompts will always create meaningful insights. For instance, asking about the worst aspects of the company culture may go without a response. But if you use a statement like ‘According to a survey, half of your workmates are not motivated to air their problems. What could be the cause?’

One major hurdle is understanding how your potential recruits resonate with your talent framework. It may be difficult to offer more than the obvious attractions, but you can reach out to new staff members and ask them to analyze some crucial areas.

These include the company strategy, quality of customer service, a sense of purpose, and whether they view the company as a potential workplace. Alternatively, you can coordinate with recruiters for professional assessments and to consolidate feedback.

The process could deliver upgrades and reality checks within the talent framework. These insights refine your talent framework, allowing it to focus solely on relevant capabilities.

4. Embedding the framework into the company operations

This would require you to incentivize positive behavior for potential abstract qualities like ‘teamwork’ to be assessed and rewarded. For instance, a technology client needed the company core to be ‘ownership.’ So we leveraged on performance KPIs, behavior change, and culture campaigns. We also relied on blueprints that focused on the significance of ownership for each employee. 

The branding team may be in charge of leading the work, but the CEO must own it for effective results. Every good leader knows that their key role is to draw, engage, and advance the most qualified individuals. We recommend that you set talent to be the core of your corporate brand instead of spinning out an entirely different employer brand.

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