Every employer I know accepts they’re competing for talent. The higher up the skill chain you go, the more this is the case. The need for white-collar technical professionals who can bring skills associated with Big Data, AI and the Internet of Things is mission-critical in the technology sector.
Over 70% of adults now say they will consider a company’s culture before working there, yet most companies don’t sell their culture like they sell their product or service. I believe any employer who truly understands why people are important can get it right, whether they’re a Big Tech giant or a small local employer.
So we’re at a point where the need for talent has never been more urgent, candidates have choice, and prospective employees care more than ever before about an employer’s culture. Can employers afford not to work on their employer brand?
What is employer brand?
Employer branding seems simple in theory but is evidently hard to get right in practice. As I see it, there are two elements to it: what you do for your people (your culture), and how you share that with the outside world. In other words, creating the best possible culture, and making that work for you in the competition to win talent.
A good employer brand isn’t just about ensuring a company stands apart; it’s about creating an identity people in the labour market can feel. A strong employer brand does a lot of a company’s marketing and PR for it, and the rise of social media means there’s all the more opportunity for employers to make the most of their brand. If employers don’t work as hard for their employees as they do for their customers, are they admitting customers are more important?
The power of reputation
In a market where good candidates have a lot of choice, the dream is to have people specifically wanting to work for you so that when you interview, you’re talking to individuals who buy into your business, rather than people who just need a job.
Employer branding: too expensive for me?
It’s easy to assume you need a big budget for employer branding, because the companies celebrated for their perks are familiar giants like Google, Apple or Netflix. But why worry about competing with them? The vast majority of employers can’t. Every employer can find some way to improve culture, and many can do more to share it with candidates.
Besides, employer branding has changed. Big companies can no longer assume people want to work for them just because they’re a “name”. The feedback I get suggests that what job seekers want today are a caring culture, an employer that’s a good citizen of its community, and flexibility. Also useful is a social media footprint that shows us, rather than tells us, that this is a good place to work.
Employees today are more concerned than ever before with purpose: why are they working? Why does their employer exist in the first place? What purpose does it serve? How are they connected to that purpose? They want value in their careers. So the really key thing about modern employer branding is to ensure it isn’t only about perks but about the “why” of an organisation. I’m not against beer fridges, but I think employees would prefer to know they’re cared for, and that’s about behaviour, not expense.
The best way to attract and enthuse staff is to ensure they understand and buy into the reason your business exists in the first place, and to ensure they can own, develop and contribute to that mission. That comes from well-cascaded communication from the top of the business, and from a willingness to listen.
Easy wins for employer branding
Here are some key areas where I believe almost any company can win with employer branding.
A strong employer brand comes from reciprocity: asking employees for feedback about your culture and showing them that you hear their feedback whether or not it’s positive.
The existence of sites such as Glassdoor means more companies are now scrutinised by prospective employees – research from the site last year found that over half of people used it at some point during their job search.
So create a safe space or method for staff to provide honest feedback about your culture, and demonstrate with your behaviour that you listen, care and act upon it. It’s also important to address negative feedback in public forums, and, if you see recurring trends amongst complaints from former employees, asking whether existing staff feel the same.
If you’ve got it, share it
Your social media is your shop window for your culture, so manage your employer brand as actively as you do your corporate brand. Use social media and review sites to curate great “internal culture” stories and photos. Think you’ve got nothing to say? You have. It’s easy to forget the power of stories, and the many, many stories within every organisation regardless of size. There’s a goldmine within your company, and a lot of the good stuff can come from your own employees.
The base of the pyramid
The base of the pyramid for any employer brand is your development culture: Regular reviews, continued learning and feedback from management to staff. I’ve written about this a lot so I won’t labour the point here, but today’s challenging and unpredictable economic climate means that staff need continual feedback and course-checking. If you ensure these sessions are two-way, as they should be, they can be a great way to ensure you get continual feedback about your culture too.
Make training relevant
Make training and development relevant to staff’s role and mission. General management training is great, but staff feel more motivated when they receive training that will make them more skilled, more valuable and better armed to do their job. Some employers fear their staff leaving once they’ve developed their skills, but all this results in is a workforce that is behind the curve, and unhappy about it.
Treat everyone the same
Think of the whole world as your customer. A company that goes to great lengths to polish its halo when comes to employer branding, only to treat suppliers like dirt, ought to be treated with suspicion. Real people businesses don’t pick and choose which people they treat well.
Don’t neglect your website
Jobseekers will almost certainly review your company website’s career section, as well as the customer-facing site to check out what you stand for to the wider world. Make sure your site is worthy of your business.
Get your vacancy adverts right
Make sure your long-form vacancy adverts on LinkedIn, job boards or your own site are doing the job of selling your culture. What’s in it for prospective employees in the long term? How does your company add value to their lives, develop their skills, respect their time and efforts and give them purpose? If you work with an agency, make sure it’s one that works hard to understand the true value of your culture so they can reflect it.
I’d welcome your thoughts on employer branding. What are your experiences of great employee value propositions, benefits and cultures?