02 December 2016 12:49:30 IST

Build a strong employer brand

While promoting a brand, employers rarely focus on employees

How often have we heard platitudes like “Our employees are our most important assets”; “We are only as good as our latest team” and “Every day when our employees go down the elevator our brand value goes down with them”?

Many companies realise the value of the brand, but when they talk of branding, their attention and energies seem to be directed solely towards customers and investors. Very rarely, if ever, does it veer towards employees. So let’s spend a little time understanding this concept of employer branding and see what companies should do to build a strong employer brand. The starting point is the realisation that employees are just as important a target as investors and customers.

Who’s the champion?

Every brand needs a champion. While it is difficult to deny the value of the HR director and her importance, I have some reservations when it comes to her ability to champion the employer brand.

She certainly furthers the name and does what needs to be done, but in an ideal world, propagating the brand and its values to the world at large should be done by someone higher up in the hierarchy. And who better than the CEO?

What’s the vision?

In talking about and building an employer brand, a factor that is often underestimated is the importance of the brand’s vision. It is important to remember the idea of a brand like Starbucks — which is about creating rewarding everyday moments, all centred on coffee.

This is what drives the company and every one of its employees all over the world. Does your brand have a clear vision? What efforts have you made to communicate it internally so that your employees first know the vision and then internalise it?

What’s your position?

Positioning is extremely critical in brand building, where a brand differentiates itself from its competitors. While most discussions around positioning seem to feature in the realm of marketing, it is equally relevant for employees and HR as well.

How differentiated is your brand in the eyes of current and prospective employees? Is it relevant to them? How? And if the brand has a distinctive position, is it being communicated to its employees clearly and consistently?

Internal communication

Employees fully involved with the brand are the ones who are extensively communicated with. In my experience, you can never reach a position where you believe you have communicated enough with your employees. A company must think of innovative ways and means by which it can reach out to its employees.

Are they operating in silos? How much do they know about your company, its customers, its values and principles? You may be surprised at how little aware they are. I remember, at one of our multinational clients, its dynamic CEO had made a habit of walking down the office and stopping by employees’ cubicles, quizzing them on the company’s stated values. People who gave the right answers would get instant gifts!

Research is key

Very often, managers have misguided notions about their own brands. Employees, on the other hand, tend to be detached about the same, and often disinterested in its exploits. So how do we understand the extent of their apathy or interest?

Research done by an external agency with focus groups can throw up interesting findings. You will also notice interesting differences in attitude and approach among those employees who are from different time bands. For instance, freshers tend to view a company differently from those who have spent, say, five years in an institution.

This analysis becomes useful when you are trying to identify a set of brand champions who can initiate bonding activities and propagate vision and values in interesting ways. This method might have a greater impact than a top-down method that seems thrust down the throat of employees.

Relentless execution

Let’s remember that building an employer brand is all about attention to detail and careful execution. It helps if the CEO is a champion of the cause and the brand. It is important to invest in external research which can be objective. Keep an open mind to problems that you may have to face.

Have a clear strategy and ongoing internal communication with employees. And engagement goes beyond TGIF parties, by innovatively opening up channels of communication. Keep checking employee morale at frequent intervals.

It’s not easy but, when done smartly, the efforts bear disproportionate results. Are you ready to think about your employer brand?