Everyone likes to pigeonhole everybody else and in particular, about what you do. While I have for years stressed the importance of coherence across an organisation as a critical ingredient for Employer Brand success, any conversation about what I or People in Business does often concludes with the question—"so you're part of HR then?"
Well yes, of course we are (and proud of it) but we are also part of marketing, of corporate identity, communications, line management and senior management thinking. However 'pigeonholers' don't think that way and so, if pressed, we are indeed part of the supply side to employers when it comes to the management of their people.
If that is the case, what makes the purchasing and project management of Employer Brand assignments different to most of the goods and services bought by HR?
I had a chance to see the constituents of the people industry looking at the list of exhibitors at the UK CIPD's annual exhibition. What a varied crew of suppliers to the world of work starting with Alcoholics Anonymous and including Eye Care, Language Teaching, Relocation, Mental Health, Equality and Human Rights, Child Care, Incentive Planning, Pensions, Employee Assistance, Employee Research, IT Services, Internal Communications, Mediation and then of course—every form of Recruitment service with the interesting exception of top end head hunters (what does that tell you about the relationship between Executive Search and HR?)
What in the main do these suppliers have in common for the HR buyer? I believe it is as follows:
- The rest of the organisation will clearly look to HR to provide this external help when it is needed
- HR's advice on the choice will be trusted and will get rapid approval (if indeed, sign off within an existing budget is required)
- HR will not need to undertake extensive cross functional discussion before proceeding
- The service exists to address an immediate need and is transactional rather than part of a long-term strategic plan
- The supplier does not need to ask questions outside HR in order to provide the service
- There is little internal political risk involved. (A supplier who fails can be replaced.)
Let's now look at the services which HR should in my view be critical to, yet tick NONE of the above boxes e.g., Organisational Development, Change Management, M&A planning and integration, senior management teamwork and leadership plus the development and management of the organisation's Employer Brand.
It is impossible to create an effective Employer Brand without the involvement of other functions e.g., Marketing, Internal Communications and Corporate Affairs plus of course Operations and Senior Management.
Furthermore, an Employer Brand project may be a catalyst for change in several aspects of the working experience and the 'touch points' where people see the truth about the organisation at first hand. If all it does is alter the artefacts of communication, it is unlikely to succeed.
No one but HR can initiate Employer Brand projects since they demand an intense understanding of your people and the processes which affect them. However, HR must have the confidence, persuasiveness, commerciality and breadth to engage all the other critical internal partners to plan, deliver and maintain a distinctive, compelling Employer Brand which is rooted in reality. This is the sort of HR which a restless and ambitious CEO should demand. An HR department without these qualities is ultimately his or her responsibility.
Employer Brand projects at their best are transformational—not only for the organisation but for the reality of HR at its best.