“Real time” engagement – the employer brand dilema…

This post was inspired by Bill Boorman’s guest post, and Keith Robinson’s reply on Mike VanDervort’s blog   www.Thehumanracehorses.com on the subject of the employer branding. You can see the post here – global Thinking – the employer brand is dead?

I left HR over 12 years ago, slightly disillusioned and fed up with the hypocrisy and lip service that was being paid to employee engagement and the importance of authenticity by my boardroom colleagues.  Now, authenticity is the word on everybody’s lips as social media exposes the lack of it in the employer story.  9 years ago it became very difficult to ignore customer views when they started to appear on forums and discussion groups.  Similarly it is now becoming very difficult to ignore the employees and their feelings as they share them far and wide on social media platforms.

Many organisations jumped on the employer branding bandwagon back in the days when the war for talent made it a requirement for organisations to be “the employer of choice”.  To some organisations getting their employer brand right meant simply unifying the way they presented the brand in the various recruitment channels including print and, the then ,web.  But for a small number who really got it it went a lot further than that. It meant bringing together the whole employment experience in terms of values , culture, behaviours, image, brand, product or as Keith put it in his comment, “the DNA” of the organisation.

Social media does without doubt have a potentially huge effect on the employer brand but I don’t think we will see it turn into the “employee brand” as Bill suggests.  Nor will it become a “new role for HR” as it’s already In the HR mix, and has been for many years.  It is a pity though, that organisations didn’t switch on sooner to the connection between the employee and the customer and bring the HR and Marketing functions closer together as external collaboration and connectedness gained momentum.  Many companies were slack in seeing the impact of consumers ‘having a voice’ and many have yet to acknowledge the extension of this dynamic to the employee community.

Just as the customer voice forced companies to improve service and products, the employee voice will force organisations, in a similar way, to either improve it’s offering to live up to it’s vision or, perhaps, be more honest and authentic about what it really is.  And that, for me is the key – Authenticity.  Even as an HR professional I have never expected all organisations to be ‘great’ employers by my standards.  Just be true to what they are really about and don’t be ashamed of it.  Don’t sell me teamwork as a candidate if in reality your company thrives on individualism!

So will social media shift the balance of ‘brand power’ to the employee in a similar way to customers?  Well, as much as I would like to think so, I dont think it will because the customer and employee relationship are fundamentally different in two key ways:

  1. Choice – If I take exception to the way Coke delivers the ‘customer experience’, there is always Pepsi.  Or some other brand pretender. Either way, I still get my cola fix. I can even buy a different brand everyday without impunity.  But I can’t do the same with employers.  Even the most talented and sought after can’t afford more than one or two ‘mistakes’ on their CV before the prejudice and hypocrisy of the recruiters cause them to start muttering about capability and poor judgement.
  2. Bad can be good – some people want a house to be perfect when they buy it, others are happy to buy a wreck – simply because they see the potential in it.  As an employer crown slips, even if it falls far, it will eventually become a ‘turnaround’ situation or something similar and a different set of equally talented individuals will queue up to join.  However, if Tesco starts serving up putrid meats at the deli counter I’m hardly likely to keep on buying it on the basis that I can see an opportunity to make it better!

Overall I welcome the voice and influence that social media will bring to employees.  Im pretty convinced employee surveys will soon become redundant and be replaced by formalised ‘real time engagement’ through social media channels as Keith eludes to in his comment.  It will soon feel very uncomfortable to measure how effective the employee experience is only once a year, just as it is starting to feel with measuring employee performance.

As an HR professional it is satisfying and in some way a vindication to see leaders having to face the fact that a good story is no longer good enough and that their poor people management practices will finally be exposed.  But unless the working population is halved overnight by some form of plague – highly unlikely – and the war for talent becomes real instead of a just a myth – which it wont – then the employer brand will remain just that for some time to come.


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