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Stand out from the pack

Stand Out from the Pack

Why does brand matter? BMW Group Australia provides a clear example of the power of branding. Recent research from Australian universities on the top brands that IT and engineering graduates want to work for ranked BMW as ninth out of 500 companies. Ironically, BMW has not hired IT or engineering graduates for the past five years – but such is the power of the BMW brand.

“People just want to say ‘I work for BMW. I want a business card with that logo on it’. We’re not always the highest payer in the market; we’re not always the easiest place to work, even though we have quite progressive policies. But the brand translates into employees wanting to work for the company,” says Adrian Dolling, general manager of HR at BMW Group Australia.

While Dolling jokes that when he places a recruitment advertisement all he needs to do is add the BMW logo and he will be inundated with applications, the power of the brand flows through to other crucial areas such as employee engagement and satisfaction. Dolling cites corporate fun runs as being typical of the heart-on-the-sleeve love for the company. “When our employees do a triathlon they don’t just show up in their old gym clothes – they’re wearing BMW labelled clothes and they are doing it in teams. They feel it’s more than a company – it’s a family, a band of brothers. People idolise the company and all it stands for.”

While being perceived as a ‘sexy brand’ certainly has its advantages, there are steps all organisations can take to ensure they are putting their best foot forward when it comes to attracting candidates (and retaining employees) through their employer brand.

Every organisation has one
The first misnomer to clear up when it comes to branding is to assume that just because an organisation hasn’t focused any attention on their employer brand means they don’t have one. In many ways, the perceptions of an employer brand are formed in the same way as a consumer or product brand. Justin Papps, director of Mettle Consulting, explains: “If you’ve got a client you’ve got a brand because as soon as someone has any some sort of interaction with you they are forming an opinion of you, which then shapes their brand experience.”

Papps adds that the number one reason for someone choosing one brand over another remains recommendation from friends or family. “They’re the ones controlling your brand, not necessarily your marketing director. The marketing director can help shape it but they’re not going to control it. That applies to the employer brand more than anything else. Think about how many times you’ve been asked ‘where do you work?’ and then ‘what’s it like to work there?’ Word of mouth is very important.”

The first step towards creating an employer brand is research and analysis. This analysis can cover a range of areas including understanding what the organisational goals and objectives are and how those relate to defining the people strategy, understanding what current employee value proposition (EVP)perceptions are, and whether the employer brand should be tied to the corporate brand. Internal and external focus groups and surveys can help to answer some of these questions and assist in uncovering any ‘perception gaps’.

“You need to understand the gap that exists within all organisations- and if they tell you it doesn’t exist then they’re lying,” says Mike Beeley, CEO of ReAgent Employer Marketing. “There’s the corporate fantasy of what we think we are – ‘we treat everyone well, we’re generous’ – this false sense of comfort that we lull ourselves into,verses the reality of the workplace which very often is the complete opposite to what we think it is. Don’t just assume that people hate you or love you. Find out. You can only do that through research.”

Research will reveal what internal and external perceptions of a company are, including what the company does well, what it doesn’t do well, and if there are any uncertain ‘grey areas’ that people need clarity on.

Papps notes that it’s not unusual for organisations to start from the wrong place. “If you’re starting a brand from scratch, you’ve got a lot more freedom than you do if you’ve got a developed brand in the market – because that brand will already have a series of attributes whether you’ve given them to the brand or not just by virtue of people experiencing the brand,” he says.

Before developing or even thinking about the EVP, there are other factors to consider. For example, what are your competitors doing?There’s not much point in developing the EVP and the brand around it if a competitor has chosen the exact same EVP to push – and perhaps utilises it more effectively.

Beeley feels it’s also important to be mindful that every industry is fragmented. “If a client says to us, ‘we need to get engineers’, we say ‘what type of engineers?’ There are 50 different types of engineers, all with slightly different ideas of what makes a great employer. You can’t lump industries into one jar.”

Developing the EVP
Developing an EVP can be challenging – after all, every organisation needs to stake their own unique selling point and there are only so many ways to call a spade a spade.

“My experience is that I can almost tell you what people will describe when they talk about their EVP. It’s invariably generic. It’s the same old issue – how do you own it? What does it mean for you? For any external brand, differentiation is the key,” says Mark Orson, business director of The Right Group. “There’s always going to be similarities both on the attraction and retention side, but how do you own those things in ways that are unique to your organisation?”

Papps notes that if you’ve got exactly the same EVP as a competitor you in actual fact don’t have an EVP; furthermore, too many EVP’s focus on a company’s mission or values. “The problem with most mission statements is that people don’t believe it because it’s not compelling. It doesn’t create an emotional reason to get out of the bed in the morning. If you can create a mantra or noble purpose that gets people out of bed and say ‘that’s where I want to spend my time today’ -that’s what creates value.

“As for values, they can become wallpaper if they’re not respected and rewarded. A great quote from Barack Obama was ‘the legitimacy of values depends on the degree to which they’re rewarded’. In organisations values are only legitimate if they are rewarded. Too many companies have the generic values of honesty, integrity and teamwork but if they’re not rewarded it’s just wallpaper. Make the values emotive statements that you can’t argue with but are also really clear about how you need to behave.”

A company’s EVP should be based on two broad components: the rational component, in which a candidate will ask questions such as:

* What will I be paid?
* Do I get a company car or a nice office?
*What is the management team like? Are they new or old school management? Will I feel at home here or am I going to be constantly arguing with you?
* What’s the team cohesiveness like?
* What training will I receive?
* Will I travel?

The second component creates an emotional trigger in people. It’s the way an organisation treats people. It’s about the ethics of the organisation and whether they match the ethics of the candidate. Are they progressive or traditional? Are they a dynamic organisation or are they stifled by cynicism? Importantly, is it a place where the candidate will belong?

“Those are much harder to capture, but these are the sorts of things that define us. We need to match those very carefully,” says Beeley. “Internally is not enough – we need to look externally as well. We need to assess the environment, which considers things that you’ve done in the past, what you currently do, what your competitors are doing – you can’t go to market if someone is already doing it or has a better claim over it. When Volvo decided they had the safest cars in the world they didn’t just come out and say it; they first assessed if it was true or not. Companies generally don’t do that.”

There are also economic and political influences to consider. In the mortgage market, for example, the sub-prime crisis has had a significant impact on how people view certain sectors of the financial community. Some organisations would now be finding it harder to attract candidates to certain jobs.

Despite all these considerations, determining an EVP need not be an onerous task. Papps suggests putting yourself in the shoes of a candidate. “I would ask the employer to give me the one reason why I’d invest my greatest asset – that is, my time, my energy, my future -with you over someone else. If you can answer that clearly you’ve got the start of an EVP. If you um and arr about it you need to dig deeper,” he suggests.

The follow through
Once the EVP is determined it’s time to work on the creative model for articulating it, which Beeley feels is the heart of the employer brand. “It talks about things like visuals – do we have people in the ads or do we have animals like Optus? What emotional response to we want – do we want people to be intrigued? Reassured? What tone is it – professional and corporate or more relaxed? Are we Richard Branson or Commonwealth Bank?” he says.

A good employer brand goes way beyond advertising, however. There needs to be consistency from the top to the bottom of the organisation.Any key touch points that a candidate will have with the organisation need to be covered off – from the recruitment website to the interview, right through to the onboarding and induction.

“Look at the job application process – are you stuck in a room with a glass of water and interviewed by an HR person who’s disengaged? Ordo you walk the floors with someone and have a run through of current projects shared with you? If you’ve got that disengaged person doing the interview you can have the best advertising in the world but it’s not going to make a bit of difference. The big challenge we see with brands is where a lot of money is spent trying to get the external brand right but the internal experience is so different. You’re dealing with people – if your employer brand doesn’t match experience that person is going to feel betrayed,” says Papps.

Like any branding, honesty is the key to a successful employer brand. It’s not worth the negative word of mouth to promise the earth and deliver very little. “There’s an old saying that brands that behave and communicate in different ways are doomed to failure – you can’t say one thing and do another,” Beeley adds.

The employer brand needs to be articulated into all communication in a way that is both arresting and imaginative. In addition, it needs to be aligned with existing employees. “Your people practices and processes have to support the communication. A lot of organisations do very slick advertising in terms of their employer brand, but after three months – which is the critical period – a lot of people who have been sold on the messaging realise that there’s a disconnect with the people processes and procedures,” says Orson.

Branding challenges
With candidates looking beyond remuneration, rapid promotions and perks towards areas like reputation, corporate social responsibility and sustainability, the rules of attraction have changed. It has also levelled the playing field in terms of employer branding. Organisations that may have once been deemed ‘unsexy’ or ‘boring’ but have strong CSR or environmental policies can push these to the fore. “A brand has to be much more holistic and rounded than it used to be,” says Papps.

It also means that corporate culture is critical. The EVP makes the promise and the culture delivers on the promise – that’s the connection people are looking for. “Questions we’re hearing at job interviews are not so much about how long will it take to be promoted to X level, but things like ‘your website mentioned that you’re committed to reducing your carbon footprint – what are you doing about that? It’s the connection between what you say and what you do,” says Papps.

The audience also has to be considered – an organisation may be considered unsexy or boring – but by who? “I might find something boring that someone else may not,” Papps says. “Regardless, there’s still got to be something about that organisation that attracts the right sort of person. What have you got that someone else will engage with? The closer it is to the truth the better it is. If you try to be something you’re not you get to that betrayal point and it doesn’t matter who you are – there’s one thing worse than being unsexy and boring and that’s being a liar. You can’t get that trust back.”

The desired behaviours, values and attributes of candidates can also be targeted through successful branding. “While there may be technical competencies organisations want, you also want attitudinal competencies because ultimately if you buy into the argument that you hire on attitude and train for competencies, that’s what to aim for. The key is to get people into an organisation who have an affinity for that organisation as well as attitudinal fit,” says Orson.

Who owns it?
HR does not need to shoulder the burden of creating and nurturing the employer brand in isolation – in fact it’s far more effective if a cross-functional team works on it.However, HR does have a critical role to play. By rights HR should be closest to the employees. They should have a sense of what attracts people to the company and why they are (or aren’t) receiving unsolicited CVs. They should be aware of how hard it is to recruit and be aware of who’s going out and who’s coming in. The executive team also needs buy in – they have to believe in it and understand the value of it – because if they don’t know one else will.

HR and marketing should work side by side. “They can share expertise, abilities, a whole range of things. Both symbolically and in terms of corporate intent it sends a very clear message that this is something being driven not just by marketing or HR, but it’s about us as an organisation, what we stand for and why you should stay with us.Marketing has a lot of expertise in terms of communicating and segmenting markets that HR can tap into and vice-versa,” Orson comments.

Ultimately, Papps says that everyone owns the brand. “Everybody in the business is involved in creating it but also living it. They become brand ambassadors,” he notes.

The excuse of not having appropriate financial resources doesn’t cut it either. Papps notes that a big budget is not required because the process starts with a simple conversation: What’s important to your people, what’s important to your customers and how does that make you different? “The more rigorous and detailed you become obviously means there’s an incremental cost but the easiest place to start is when someone asks you where you work, ask them back – ‘what have you heard about us?'” he concludes.

Challenges for government departments and agencies

Businesses in these categories face unique challenges. How do they remain under the government umbrella but still stand out from the pack? The expertsHC contacted had several solutions:

* “For government, that’s where your culture becomes so important. How do you capture that culture in a way that attracts the people you want? That’s where you talk about the type ofplace it is, the type of people doing well and how does the culture delivers on the promise. Some of the government agencies that have done well on this are things like the TV show Border Security. That’s great brand work for customs. They’ve gone out of being cardigan-wearing folk out in the back rooms to the frontline of defence for Australia. That says something about their culture – it’s that culture of really doing something different and such an important job. Australia Post is thesame – the culture is so important because everyone knows what Australia Post does, but how do you attract people to something like that?” – Justin Papps

* “The first thing is they have the goal wrong. Why would you want to stand out from other government departments? Surely you should stick together and present a common face of government. As a single entity you’ve got a far more attractive proposition to put to people than individual outlets. “As to how they decide what it is they offer, Main Roads WA is a good example. You can say good things about most organisations – you’ve just got to find out what they are. You must remember you’re not going to appeal to everyone in the world. You won’t appeal to 17 years olds as well as a 35 year old guy with a family and mortgage. They all have different employment drivers. Through internal research we found the main reason why engineers chose to work at Main Roads was pride in building something of lasting value. They are building these icons around the state that improve people’s lives every day. They have a strong connection with the community. It’s higher purpose stuff that makes you proud; they’re not selling training or salaries, but rather an emotional connection with our environment as an EVP. Government can lay claim to these things that the private sector really can’t – the private sector is about making money; government is about improving people’s lives, and if we can tap into that there’s a much better emotional story to tell.”- Mike Beeley

Next steps
 Assess if you are in shape to compete in a tough market for the rare talent that you need to be competitive.
2. Develop an EVP that suits your organisation and its culture.
3. Define and articulate your EVP.
4. Maximise the marketing dollars that your company uses and leverage this into your employment brand.
5. Upgrade your website and ensure it truly reflects your EVP.
6. Start the alignment process ensuring strategies, policies and processes enable the alignment to occur.
7. Develop appropriate onboarding processes.
8.Ensure employee engagement can be sustained and that the workforce isone that harnesses commitment and creates innovation and success.
9. Get the right leaders in place.
10. Measure and monitor performance.
11. Have appropriate career and performance discussions.
12. Provide career and development opportunities.
13. Measure and monitor investments and initiatives.
14. Deliver on your promise.

Source: Chandler Macleod Workplace Barometer Report

Case study – Virgin Mobile
Human Capital talks to Angela Foskett, director of HR at Virgin Mobile Australia, about her company’s branding strategies

Human Capital: Virgin has such a successful consumer brand – has this translated to your employer brand?

Angela Foskett: Absolutely. The consumer and employer brand are directly linked.People’s perceptions are very much the reality when they come in so there isn’t a massive culture shock. In most cases it’s better than people expected.

Basically the two mirror each other and the culture and environment are the key focus to retaining that connection.We’re fortunate in that any brand research that we do can be used from a people perspective and from an internal brand perspective as well.It’s about the external brand and how that feeds back into organisational behaviour and how that feeds into individual behaviour.

HC: Does HR work closely with marketing?
We work closely with marketing for the brand research perspective as well as internal comms for everything around engagement of staff, whether it’s a new product or driving communications for the quarterly review. Any company-wide initiative always has that Virgin spin on it.

HC: How is your employer branding used?
We work it into every single touchpoint: job ads of course, recruitment interviews, reception, meeting rooms, presentations, screen savers,handbooks – everything. Every time we do a product launch or any time we’re doing something new externally it’s about how we will engage the business with all those products and events. We like to include something tangible – for example, we often leave things on people’s desks for when they start work in the morning that relates to whatever the new launch is. It’s in our comings and goings e-mail, it’s in our start out kits when someone joins.

It’s got to be top of mind. We don’t doeverything perfectly but I think we do it very well. However, it’s aconstant challenge to maintain it on the agenda and ensure we’re doingit the Virgin way.

HC: How important is the Virgin culture in your employer brand?
Extremely important. Our environment is certainly not corporate. Where the consumer brand translates to the employer brand is all about value,quality, innovation, challenging the status quo and having fun. When we think about what value means, it’s about thinking of new and better ways of doing things, delivering more than expected, attention to detail. It should also be known by what it isn’t – it’s not cheap, it’s not poor quality or poor delivery. It’s not about setting unrealistic targets. The whole innovative and challenging piece is about the lack of hierarchy, the freedom of expression, and the entrepreneurial culture. That’s reflected in the way we dress – it’s not just about jeans and thongs. There’s method to the madness – it’s about being who you want to be and not being forced to conform.

HC: Richard Branson has obviouslyplayed an important role in building that brand. How important is he inyour overall marketing strategies?
 He’s very important.He has said he’s determined to create the most respected brands in the world and let’s face it, he’s the face of Virgin and the culture is based on his philosophies. I always ask people when we’re recruiting, ‘what does Virgin mean to you?’ and 90% of people would say Richard.

HC: Will the brand suffer when he eventually retires?
I think we’re strong enough to continue without him. There’s a lot ofwork going on globally to determine the strategy once Richard goes butas long as he’s around he will definitely be part of the brand.

HC: What benefits have you seen from a strong brand? Does it help with attraction of candidates?
We recognise we’re not for everybody – that’s fine. The strength of the brand means we do get a lot of expressions of interest whether it’s ad-hoc or tied to an actual ad. People are really engaged in the ads we do write and they’re motivated by that. We’ve got a very successful referral program as well, and I guess our challenge is to ensure the cultural fit continues alongside our recruitment philosophy. When we have technical roles where we require a certain skills set they can be hard to fill because we don’t compromise on that cultural fit. It’s 60%about cultural fit and 40% about technical ability with the belief that we can up skill people.

HC: How about retention of existing staff?
The brand and loyalty to the brand is very much a reason why people stay. People are driven by making the company succeed. We have people who are enthused about change and the fast-paced but fun environment we have here.

Parental brands
Parental companies with multiple brands under the umbrella face special challenges. Companies such as HBOS, which includes several high-end financial brands (Capital Finance, St Andrews) as well as the more ‘relaxed’ BankWest, typify the struggle of balancing multiple brands. A company needs to decide: are we a branded house or a house of brands? Mike Beeley, who has worked with HBOS on these challenges, explains:

“A brand is a signature or badge representing a group of people. A lot of companies take this ‘smear ourselves allover everything’ approach. They say ‘you are a part of us, you will abide by us and what we do’. They assume that they have a stronger employer brand than the separate entities do, and then people start to wonder if they want to work for them. They may decide to work somewhere where they can enjoy being part of a small team again. People are very loyal to brands – why would they suddenly feel loyalty to this huge oppressive company? It takes time for people to develop relationships with larger organisations.

“The key is to discover what unites people.It’s very easy to pick on the stuff that separates you and say, ‘you’re not like us; imagine putting us with them – that’s terrible!’ You also need to discover the reasons why people are better off under the parental brand than they were on their own. So in the HBOS/BankWest example, BankWest on their own is a great company – they’ve got massive engagement internally, they’re funded properly, they have great external brand image, young vibrant management team – so why do they need HBOS? We need to uncover why this is a positive for them and what the glue is that binds everyone. That’s not something you can dictate.

“Our role was to discover these connections and the things that people didn’t feel comfortable with. Some people felt the parental brand was going to be oppressive or stop them doing things. Other people were unaware of exactly which companies made up HBOS. Then you gather up these objections and questions and overcome them with communication. For example, people might say ‘you’re too bureaucratic’; you convert that to a positive by saying it means we’re considered about what we do – we don’t make mistakes.

Human Capital Magazine, June 2008.

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