We’re all familiar with the cliché that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. In fact it’s a philosophy on which process management methodologies like total quality management (tqm) and kaizen are based. 

But what has process and systems thinking got to do with the subtle arts of people-centred services like HR management, Organisation Development and the concept of employer brand?

As some of you will be aware, I believe the term "employer brand" is a misnomer. It implies that there’s one brand for customers, one for existing employees and a third for potential recruits. And as we all know, the latter smells of fresh paint and is largely portrayed by beautiful people and copywriters.

For me, employer brand is only half the story.  It represents the "promise making" part of the employment equation.  A more appropriate term is employment brand as this takes into account the promises made by the organisation about the working practices, values, norms – or put another way – the culture. But it also factors in the reality and actual employee feedback about the delivery of the promise.

In short, employment brand = promise minus reality.

We’re accustomed to seeing the application of principles like customer relationship management (CRM) and the management of the customer value chain by our marketing colleagues who should be obsessive about the brand projected to customers.  But how many of our HR colleagues are applying similar principles to the management of the employment brand?  I would suggest, right at this moment, very few, given their targets (where they have them), are recruitment not retention based in the main.

The value of a process-focused and value-chain approach to managing employment brand is that it:

– stimulates cooperation between the key internal stakeholders responsible for managing the links in the chain

– should encourage HR functions to take a more collaborative approach with external stakeholders and suppliers (recruitment agancies included)

– it helps to drive consistency in how the brand is interpreted and communicated

– it encourages performance measures at each link in the chain and provides a platform for more effective relationship management at each stage

To illustrate my point, take a casual wander through the vacancy pages of even premier recruitment sites and job boards.  How many simple but explicit errors can you detect in the advertisements?  Now ask yourself , as an HR professional, how this makes you feel about the capability of the agency in question to manage your account, cv or personal profile with appropriate care and sensitivity. More importantly, what impression does it create of the organisation in question which should be taking ownership of that collateral?  If you’re the client of the agency, how well do you think they are representing your brand and what are the explicit and opportunity costs of these errors? Now ask yourself whose responsibility it is to manage the brand and who the Bez* in the band may be?

Simple errors aren’t the only problems faced when managing the recruitment chain. Perhaps a less obvious but arguably greater problem is the trend of over promising through the representation of a brand which belies the reality. During my general consultancy work, I see several examples of very high profile organisations with unacceptable levels of employee and contractor churn as the culture encountered by new recruits is poles apart from the brand template the recruiters are told to use to attract talent through the doors.

It’s unfair to single out the recruitment agencies who have a tough job in this climate and are largely reliant upon the quality of the briefing they receive from their relationship contacts. But hopefully these simple examples illustrate my point.  It’s very difficult for HR professionals to ensure they are sufficiently in tune with the espoused core culture (which can be very different from the actual) and strategic goals of the business and translate this data into the processes they promote and stakeholders they rely upon as they manage the evolution of the employment brand. 

What is clear, however, is that HR has a pivotal role to play in managing the chain of people developing the brand. How they go about managing the employment brand does call for collaboration and systems thinking.  However, this does present another opportunity for coordination with their more explicitly external facing colleagues to bring consistency of voice and presence, Who knows, it may even be the basis for a discussion about "share of purse" in the best interests of bringing the brand to life from the inside?

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*For the very few people who may not know, Bez is the iconic member of legendary Salford-based indie group The Happy Mondays, famous for his lack of musical ability but "crazy" dancing……"you’re twisting my melon man"!

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