Branding the Organization

Organizations brand their products to succeed economically. But few effectively brand themselves as employers. Yet, performance is dependent on having a competent and dedicated workforce motivated to make the organization successful. Attraction and retention of high performing people with critical skills that are in short supply is one of the biggest challenges to building the workforce required for success. So every organization must “sell” itself to those fitting that profile. Given that reality, it is puzzling why employer branding does not receive more attention.

The first step toward successful attraction and retention is to offer a value proposition that is attractive to the people the organization needs and wants. Some organizations attempt to establish their credibility as a desirable employer by communicating impressive-sounding mission statements and cultural profiles. Websites are receiving massive investments in an attempt to attract the right people, because of the increased use of web-based search activities by those seeking opportunities. Claims like “our people are our most important asset” and “we have an employee-friendly culture” are common. But in the end, those are claims made by the organization, which will be recognized as self-serving and may not be believable to potential candidates for employment.

There is also considerable effort being invested in gaining “best place to work” certifications, bestowed by third parties that are more likely to be viewed as credible and unbiased. And some organizations believe that candidates are attracted by well managed organizations. Pursuing third party recognition of excellence, such as the Malcolm Baldridge Award, is a way to send the message of competence and success.

People will respond positively to organizations that walk the right talk. If they seek personal development they will view organizations that invest heavily in human capital development positively. If they want short term rewards, they will opt for organizations that claim to offer premium rewards packages. If they are most concerned about doing meaningful or socially responsible work, they will prefer organizations known for exhibiting corporate social responsibility and be less impressed by premium rewards. If they want to work on a project or part-time basis, they will look for indications that the organization is flexible relative to work schedules but also that they will be rewarded appropriately and not as second-class citizens. And if they are security-oriented, they may be more impressed by generous benefits packages than people more focused on short-term direct compensation… public sector organizations are apt to be more attractive to them.

Once candidates have been attracted by the organizations initial proposition, it is necessary during the selection process to honestly portray what employment will be like. Decades of research has established that the most effective device for avoiding unwanted turnover in the first 12-24 months is a “realistic job preview.” This entails telling the truth… the whole truth. It both inoculates the candidate against the likely bumps in the road and begins the employment relationship on an honest, transparent basis. Recently the author orchestrated a session with members of a client’s executive team that resulted in lists of the “good stuff” and the “not so good stuff” associated with working in the organization. That was published and recommunicated during selection interviews. Although some seemingly qualified candidates might have been lost as a result of honest portrayal it is likely they would have left anyway, after the organization invested considerable resources in hiring and training them. False promises are dangerous… a recent public sector client continued to claim they rewarded performance despite giving across the board step increases every year. That hypocrisy created cynicism, rather than motivation.

The final step in the employment process is the “onboarding” of new employees. Proper orientation and attention to ensuring new employees receive close scrutiny is needed to guarantee they know what they need to know and have what they need to have in order to be successful. Even mobile people encounter an alien land when they join a new organization and the time they spend trying to figure things out is time they could devote to performing in their assigned role. Assigning a top performer who is committed to the organization as a guide makes a great deal of sense… assigning someone who is not contributing much anyway could result in a cloning. By directing a new employee rather than mothering him or her, the guide can create an adult-adult relationship and give the new employee the confidence that expectations are clearly understood and that the resources available are understood.