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Employer Brand Reality In Amsterdam

February 28

Recently, I ran an Employer Brand Management morning workshop in Amsterdam — prior to speaking to an EB conference there in the afternoon. The morning session attendees, about 25 in total, were a knowledgeable group of HR, Resourcing and Talent Management professionals with extensive EB experience working in major European and multinational companies.

It became clear from a discussion on achieving brand activation that some EB road blocks existed for this group and I list below the major concerns they had. Here are the top five issues:

  1. Lack of strategic intent and common purpose at a corporate level which should drive overall EB thinking and action.
  2. Insufficient measurement by management of the key dimensions of the working experience. As one delegate put it, we are not showing enough evidence of pain in order to achieve the change we need.
  3. Continuing disconnects between HR and Marketing and Indeed other departments when it comes to delivery of necessary improvements to ensure that brand activation is implemented.
  4. Lack of HR leadership and influence on senior colleagues. One verbatim, "Who is ultimately responsible for the Employer Brand of our organisation? The HR Director or the CEO? The CEO is clearly seen to be responsible for the corporate brand (with investors, the media and a major advisers/suppliers etc.) and the EB is surely a vital ingredient of that."
  5. The widespread perception that senior management usually faces bigger issues than the EB and EB Management at any one time and is driven by shortterm priorities.

As I said above, this group knew the theory of the EB in that, however important it is to create the messaging and positioning resulting in a stance which is distinctive, compelling and true (easy to say but hard to do), EB branding is only one element of Employer Brand Management. The effectiveness of the latter depends on the ability and influence of the Brand Manager to bring measurement, planning, innovation, change and coherence to the management of the overall employment experience.

To achieve that needs trust, respect and involvement outside of any one department. It requires confidence and influence to argue the case for changes which will improve the working experience and which will demand alteration of attitudes, behaviours and processes over which HR has no direct control. That influence needs the direction and support of the whole management group and in particular, the CEO. It is this top group that needs to ensure that HR actions are integral to the strategy and plans of the whole business. HR is not a race apart.

I learned this lesson very early in my career when I was a Colgate brand manager. I may have worked hard on the plans for my brand (Colgate Fluoride Toothpaste) but European and later New York management had to approve them — having tested the financial, marketing, production, R&D and distribution thinking in demanding and inquisitorial meetings which I have never experienced since. However, all that resulted in an approved budget plan which the whole company had to get behind. The chances of a 27 year-old brand manager successfully influencing change are vastly improved when his or her plan has become the approved company plan.

What I believe lies behind the frustrations I listed at the start of this article is the feeling that Employer Brand Management ought to be like this too but HR (the obvious place for this approach) is restricted to creating and delivering on projects which can be managed within HR itself. Recruitment marketing and communication is an important part of that remit and the development of an Employer Value Proposition is an important output. However, that is not Employer Brand Management and, while the EVP will result in a more focussed, joined up and improved overall communication, it will not bring the best of real brand management into a place where it can really make the difference. While some organisations we know are truly demonstrating this way forward, too many are concentrating on what to "say" rather than what needs doing.

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