Thursday, 19 October 2017

Branded

In recent weeks I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about employer brand, prompted by a few different things including speaking (last minute) on a PM Jobs webinar on the subject. In this blog I’ll explore a few of my thoughts. 

It struck me how few organisations have a really well defined employer brand. Many, or most, will have an excellent customer brand but often the employer brand is indistinguishable from that. 

We hear about the rise of Trip Advisor style reviews for companies on sites like Glassdoor and Indeed, and these are indeed (pun intentional) very helpful to a potential job seeker, as well as giving the employer a chance to see how they are perceived and try to influence that. 

I recently spoke at an event where I lightheartedly asked what, if anyone was going on a date with someone for the first time, they would do before they met that person. Almost unanimously, they said they would attempt to stalk them on social media. We laughed about this but honestly I believe it to be true and a valid action too - it’s research, or due diligence, before you make any kind of commitment. 

And I further developed this point by saying potential job applicants would do the same thing about potential future employers, and in doing so would usually go well beyond the jobs/careers pages on the organisational website. This seemed to be a surprise to many, and yet it’s just as valid, possibly more so, than stalking a potential date on social media. 

In my time I’ve done both. 

But what do you do as a potential applicant if you can’t find anything? What if the organisation is, for all intents and purposes, invisible for the purpose of research beyond their own website? What if the organisation is so unconcerned by its employer brand that it relies wholly on its own website?

In most cases, people would try to speak to someone they know works there, or has worked there in the past. And there we have the best, but also hidden, bit of employer branding possible. 

Your own employees. And past employees. 

How you treat your own employees, how the employee experience is for them, will have a direct impact on your employer brand, like it or not. They are all ambassadors and they will talk regularly to a small group of family and friends about your organisation. You have to hope they say good things but sadly that probably isn’t true. And that small group of people are each individually connected to another small group and may share your employees view with that group if asked. 

So my advice is focus on the employee experience. Make it as good as you can for each individual as it increases the chances they will say good things about you when asked. They are, consciously or not, branded by you as an employer and they WILL share your employer brand whether they choose to or not. 

Past employees too are a source of employer branding information. Exceptionally few companies keep in touch with ex employees but they’re often a good source of data for a potential applicant. More than once in the past I’ve spoken to an ex employee of a company I was considering applying for, and their responses have put me off. Obviously you have to bear in mind the circumstances of their exit, and how much you trust their opinion, but even if you don’t trust them they are still out there sharing these views to others. 

So I think we should actively manage this group of ex employees, by keeping in touch and sharing information from time to time. Very much like Universities do with their alumni. 

Of particular note is how they feel they were treated during their exit. I know of one person, my friend Zeus (not his real name) who was neutral towards his employer during employment, but at the point he resigned he began to be treated very badly and was hurried out of the exit (albeit paid up in full). That treatment has affected how he views that employer now and he will happily share that experience with anyone who asks. 

Interestingly, Zeus had another interesting experience when joining said company a couple of years previously. The person who rang up to offer him the job, and would later be his line manager, tried to talk him out of accepting the position during that conversation, and then again in another conversation a week or so later. They felt that Zeus would not be a good fit and would be unhappy - which begs the question why offer the job in the first place, but that aside, it’s an interesting dynamic - a current employee trying to talk a potential employee out of coming to work there. 

Who knows how many other managers, when making job offers, let slip their views about what it is like to work there and, consciously or not, influence the potential employees view about the employer brand? Is that something we could or should actively manage?

Zeus being Zeus, he ignored this discussion as he felt he had no reason to trust the person giving the information and was determined to prove them wrong in any event, so took the offer. In hindsight though he admits that they were probably right and he should have listened to them. 

How much employee turnover and lack of engagement could be avoided if we were more explicit about such things?

I know of another friend - let’s call her Hera - who had a similar experience during the Onboarding phase when a member of the HR team (yes, really) was really explicit with her about how bad the employer was. Again, Hera proceeded anyway but again now she suspects the person was right. 

And that was from HR!

But it reinforces the point that your employees, current and past, are constantly spreading your employer brand around. Free marketing in a way. 

But is that a good or a bad thing?

That depends very much on you as an employer. 

What will you do to manage this?

Till next time. 

Gary

Ps in other news, home life has been packed with events both good and bad in recent weeks, and there are barely enough hours in the week to deal with them all, and it’s been a difficult and stressful time. Some of this I’ll share in an upcoming blog.