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Thought Leadership

Build the Best Brands by Looking in the Mirror

Your organization's employer brand should be a reflection of its own values, not a reaction to its competitors.

Friday, June 23, 2017
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The competition for top talent has always been intense. But thanks to a number of converging factors, it's never been harder than it is today.

As the competitive landscape for talent becomes ever more fractured, it is vital that your brand is a vivid expression of the company's values.

The Randstad Sourceright Talent Trends Report 2017 picks out 10 of what we believe will be the most profound themes to emerge in the world of recruitment and talent in the coming months. These themes cover a wide range of issues, including technology, agility, integration and employer branding.

With the digitization of knowledge, the world has gotten increasingly complex, as have almost all forms of human interaction. The recruitment sector, which principally involves managing human interaction, predictably has gotten more sophisticated in response. Randstad Sourceright's 2016 Q4 Talent Intelligence Outlook found that nearly one-third of the global talent managers we surveyed (29 percent) believed that any employer with a strong brand potentially competes with them for needed talent -- notwithstanding traditional sector or industry boundaries. Moreover, because technology has facilitated remote working, competition for the best talent is no longer tightly defined by the products a company produces or the geography in which it operates.

For those jobs that require high-profile skill sets, such as programming and engineering, the competition from employers that can access people with technical skills regardless of where they're located is obvious. However, the implications of widening the pool of potential talent will be felt far beyond the traditional STEM sectors. Considering that excellent customer experience has become so critical to business success, people who excel at this sort of work can find homes across a multiplicity of sectors and organizations. Project management, likewise, demands a core set of skills that can be applied to an increasingly broad set of business sectors. The same goes for marketers, procurement professionals, motivated graduates -- the list goes on and on.

Companies often create an Employer Value Proposition in reaction to a specific competitor's positioning in the market. While the growing use of remote talent does not dismiss that objective entirely, with a set of potential competitors that is so wide and varied, it does suggest that companies should concern themselves much less with an increasingly fragmented, divergent competitor set, and focus much more completely on themselves.

The differences between companies competing over the same talent are smaller and more precise. Their EVPs should be focused on the specific ways in which the company enlivens the experiences of its employees. In this way, not only can companies find a patch of ground to call their own -- they can also paint a much more realistic picture of what it would be like to work for them. And, when EVPs provide a vivid and realistic vision for potential candidates, an employer brand has really done its job. It has moved beyond being a blunt instrument with which to identify vast pools of candidates to something much sharper, with the ability to reach and impact individuals.

How to Do It?

While expanded competition might have changed some of the rules, the guidelines for achieving a more-personalized EVP remain the same. (And, in truth, companies should have been following them all along.)

Focusing internally to determine the company's core values means sometimes looking at things many executives would prefer not to see. Historically, these uncomfortable truths were easier to ignore or to hide behind something bigger and greyer. That is not the case any more.

Companies that follow these principles should find that they give the business the best chance of building a proposition that's every bit as effective as it is true:

Commit to honesty

This principle sounds obvious, but is not always as easy as it seems. Committing to honesty means not simply sifting through the data to find those strengths within your organization that will appeal to your audience. It means rigorously scouring that same data to find uglier bits, the things your organization does not do so well -- the things it may be a little ashamed of. A successful employer brand helps a business improve, and the fundamental way in which it does so is by being completely honest towards the candidate while reflecting back to colleagues. A candid EVP will show internal and external audiences the good and the bad, and commit the company to working toward its own improvement.

If employer brand leaders want a seat at the organization's top table (and I certainly believe it's a case they should make), then the broader sort of value assessment that's required for developing a completely honest EVP is a crucial part of the business case for elevating brand leadership -- especially as the lines between candidate and consumer continue to blur.

Know your audience

Although competitive landscapes are shifting, a company's target audiences should remain clear. You know (or should know) the skills you need from talent, the personality traits candidates will need in order to excel within your organization's culture and the development paths you can offer them.

Knowing your audience is about positive messaging -- not focusing too heavily on what anyone else has to say, but being confident that you know your audience well enough to be able to speak directly to them, and to offer them a compelling opportunity that no other organization can match.

Start internally

This principle never changes -- even if everything that surrounds it does. In any employer branding program, the internal audience will always be the most important to consider, for a range of reasons:

--Because it is telling the story of the company's employees

--Because the branding program is designed for them, not as something to be done to them

--Because an EVP will only be believed if employees tell it

--Because current employees should be a company's No. 1 source for new employees

--Because a company wants to retain its best people (and this really should be top of this list)

Bring the business to life

The more your proposition genuinely becomes about the organization, and less about its business competition, the more important it is that the EVP brings the business to life.

If an EVP is focused on an offering that's genuinely unique, the more its target audience will want to be able to understand how it translates into actions and outcomes, especially as experienced by the organization's current employees. This idea is not new to employer branding; it's always been important. However, the more that companies try to be precise about who they are and what they have to offer, the less they should rely on generalizations and stereotypes. Instead, focus on specific examples and give them meaning by telling stories that bring the business to life. The principle is an old and proven one: don't tell me, show me.

Commit to the process

If a company doesn't take the process of creating and managing its EVP seriously, then nothing else will matter. A valuable proposition -- one that is as authentic to the outside world as it is to a company's internal audience -- is not created between Marketing and Management. It's not about a catchy slogan or a visual identity that changes annually.

The creation and articulation of an EVP needs to be data-driven, built on interviews and feedback, and informed by an organization's own employees and the culture the company wants to promote. Such a process requires resources and support from all levels, of course, but the result will be rewarding and robust (which is vital to stress when asking the organization to make investment decisions based on what the EVP creation process reveals about the company).

A "Beam of Light"

Nothing here should imply that competitors are no longer important. They are, and where competitors can be accurately defined, analysis of them can be vitally important, even merely as an exercise in aspiration.

Crafting a robust EVP involves a macro and a micro picture. The challenge a fast-moving consumer-goods producer faces in defining its unique brand is very different than that facing a smaller, lower-profile, single-country employer.

As with everything else in business today, employer branding is complex and only getting more so. Nevertheless, the point remains valid: An obsession with position relative to competition can be detrimental to a company. If a business focuses its EVP too much on everyone else, it will take energy and attention away from itself. It feels defensive and reactive, not offensive and proactive. An EVP should be pure and clear, like a beam of light guiding the right candidates home.

Steven Brand is employer brand director at Randstad Sourceright and a leading authority on employer branding with Randstad Sourceright's Talent Innovation Center.



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