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Is employer brand an HR responsibility?

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Mouthpiece: Promoting your employer brand

The employer brand defines what is unique about working for an organisation. But is it HR’s responsibility to promote a brand that can attract and retain employees? Bettina Pickering and Janet Windeatt discuss.


While the concept of an employer brand has risen in prominence in recent years, every organisation, no matter whether it chooses to proactively develop an employer brand or not, has one. Therefore, more organisations are expecting their HR departments to ensure the company has a desired employer brand which is able to attract, motivate and retain the right employees.

However, is the employer brand an HR only responsibility? Not in our view. For it to be effective you must engage wider stakeholders to ensure that it aligns with the corporate brand and your employees are engaged to bring it to life.

Work with marketing to align the employer brand to the corporate brand

“More organisations are expecting their HR departments to ensure the company has a desired employer brand which is able to attract, motivate and retain the right employees.”

In order to achieve its desired outcome, an employer brand needs to be aligned to the corporate brand. Both are two sides of the same coin, and need to complement and support each other. It is a misconception that the employer brand is just visible to employees or potential employees. In addition to employees, wider stakeholders such as customers, shareholders, analysts and suppliers also see and experience the employer brand and react to it positively or negatively.

A misalignment between the employer and the corporate brand can cause confusion with employees, shareholders and customers alike, attract the wrong candidates and keep the desired candidates away. In order to ensure alignment and coherence of brand messages, it is vital that HR works with the marketing and/or public relations functions. Marketing typically adopts a selling approach whereas HR tends to favour a consultative approach. Both approaches together are a winning combination to develop and embed an employer brand in an organisation.

Engage employees at all levels to live the brand

Employee engagement is a process by which an organisation seeks to increase an individual’s connection to and active support of the organisation’s values and goals.

As the employer brand is all about the employee’s experience working for the company, it stands to reason that employees should be consulted when developing an employer brand that will motivate and retain employees and attract the right staff.

Employees will need to live the brand day to day, they are the face to the customer who will experience that brand through them and they are also the face (through interviews and other interactions) to the potential new employees. If current employees do not understand what the brand means for them and to their area of work, they will not feel ownership of it and will be unable to live it. Employee consultation of the brand is usually done using focus groups, surveys or a working group consisting of a cross section of employees.

Employer branding is a process by which an organisation defines and communicates to key internal and external stakeholders the unique attributes that differentiate it as an employer can expect to receive in exchange for their contribution to business success.

When we think of employees, we must also think of the key segments within the amorphous mass that we call employees: top management, line managers and HR business partners.

Because the employer brand is so intrinsically linked to the corporate brand, top management must also own it and live it, internally as well as externally. For example, if one of the brand value is team spirit, then top management must also show it and not just expect employees to do that. If top management are not on board or only pay lip service to the developed employer brand, then another possibly undesired and confusing brand will emerge.

Don’t overlook line managers

More often than not, when developing and implementing a desired employer brand, organisations forget one of the most crucial employee segments – line managers and HR business partners.

“The people who have to keep the brand alive on a day-to-day basis, and answer any questions on how the brand applies to a specific function or business unit, are line managers.”

Whilst top management and employees have been involved, the people who have to keep the brand alive on a day-to-day basis, and answer any questions on how the brand applies to a specific function or business unit, are line managers.

Direct reports tend to turn to their managers for guidance and answers and, therefore, it is important to provide special coaching and awareness for line managers. If line managers are not brought on board, then the brand message is not owned at that level and will be diluted or not communicated.

HR business partners have a key role to play in coaching line managers and acting as their first port of call when it comes to the employer brand. Therefore, when planning employer brand design and implementation, HR directors must make sure that HR business partners are involved from the start and continuously updated on any activities, and that training, coaching and tools are made available to them.

HR holds a pivotal but not sole role in employer branding. Marketing and public relations must also be involved. However, HR must lead the development of the employer brand, coaching top management and line managers in living and promoting the employer brand and ensuring that employees are consulted.


Bettina Pickering and Janet Windeatt are from PA Consulting, a leading management, systems and technology consulting firm.

3 Responses

  1. HR has to lead the initiative

    Employer Branding, if you ask me would consist of two parts – External and Internal.

    Internal branding as the name suggests is done within the organization. Target audience would be your own employees. When you have each an every employee living the company’s values and vision, I believe you have effectively branded your organization as an employer internally.

    External branding is what you do to people outside the organization. Target audience includes customers, business partners, the industry in which your company exists and most importantly, your prospective employee. When the image potrayed in the minds of all these key targets of your organization matches your values and vision, I believe you have effectively branded your organization as an employer externally.

    A crucial and deciding factor in ensuring that both are in sync is to ensure that there are no gaps between the perception of the organization’s values and vision externally and internally. If someone from outside joins your organization and experiences such a gap, it shall harm your employer branding efforts badly.

    Marketing and PR will obviously have to play a part in this. The internal communications team will also be crucial. To bring them all in sync to deliver the same message across platforms and target audiences is the lead that HR has to take.

    And before I end, I must enforce the point that unless everyone across all levels withing the organization lives the brand and leads by example, it would not be possible to build a positive employer brand.

    Regards,

    Vishal Nagda
    Executive – HR – Employer Branding

  2. HR’s real role in branding
    I’m with Karen, the article is a bit of a non-event. However, I think there’s an even greater issue here than HR and employer branding. I think that Marketing’s role as the traditional guardian of the brand in general is threatened. The most important aspect of brand equity now, in service-based economies such as the UK, is brand experience, yet Marketing departments have little or no involvement in most the elements that contribute to brand experience. They are still largely focused on communication-based activities, using the marketing model developed almost a half-century ago in product-based businesses. The architects of brand experience are primarily the Operations and HR functions. I would argue that HR should take on the mantle of guardian of the brand, not just the employer brand. I don’t think there should be this separate brand thinking, and the best way to ensure that doesn’t happen is to have one function in the organisation lead the brand thinking and activity. That, one day, will be HR, not Marketing.

  3. non-news
    I’m sorry, this article was a bit of a non-event for me.

    Of course it’s not HR’s sole responsibility – it’s a whole company responsibility. And some of us have been of this view – particularly that marketing and HR should work together more closely despite their different styles and agendas – for a long time.

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