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Employer Brand - "If you build it, they will come"

Charu Malhotra speaks to Rullion about the importance of having not just an employer brand but an authentic employer brand, built on reputation and a true reflection of your business' DNA, it's culture, purpose, environment and values.

Is your organisation a true reflection of its brand?

A quick Google search for the words 'employer brand' brings up 3.75 million hits. A search for 'employee value proposition (EVP)' brings up a mere 86,400. Aside from the obvious focus shift from the word 'employer' to 'employee', which is rather telling in itself, the staggering difference in the search results shows which one is generating the most buzz.

Yes, 'employer branding' definitely has a more a sexy ring to it than EVP, which let's be honest, sounds like a health condition, although in a way it is, for organisations at least. As technical as the term is, EVP, could be regarded as the cornerstone and foundation of all employer brands, or in the words of Global Resourcing and Employer Brand Leader, Charu Malhotra, "Your employer brand is a mirror of what you stand for as a business. Purpose, values and environment are all reflected.”

Charu has been working globally with in-house resourcing for big corporate clients both on permanent and interim basis for 12 years and can count among her impressive list of current and past clients, Ferrero, Primark, Smiths News Group, Unilever, Vodafone, Baker Hughes and BP.

She defines employer branding not in the sense of its technical definition of "the identity of a company as an employer of choice" but as "what individuals, channels, customers say about you when you're not there... in the pub, when you're out with friends".

Though a strong employer brand is important in recruiting, Charu says attraction perception is only one element. The second is retention. "There is no point having a very strong employer brand i.e. saying you're an organisation that's great to work for from a career perspective, from a values perspective, from a rewards perspective, line management development, great leadership skills, if when someone joins the company their experience and their impression is completely the opposite," she says.

The Google factor

If someone was asked to answer in a split second what global company they would name as having a strong employer brand, most would probably say Google for its award-winning recruitment and retention strategies that are well known enough not to have to go into any detail here.

Asked about this, Charu says not a week goes by without seeing some article about how many steps its takes to be hired by Google. "It's got a mythology behind it. Is it a good example of an employer brand? I think they use their technology and consumer brands really well but are they the best example? Probably not, but they are an interesting example."

For Charu, the hard graft of creating an employer brand happens at unknown companies in places like Basingstoke, she says, and you don't start by working backwards, putting out a glossy image and hoping it will do the trick in attracting lots of potential talent.

"You don’t start with social channels. You start with employee value proposition, you start with inside first, talking to your employees and understanding what makes them stay what makes them want to come in every day, what's the culture and values, what's the DNA?" Charu asks. "You have to start inside out; research to find out what makes your culture great. It's like holding a mirror up."

Being real

Charu is clear that EVP is an exercise for the Board and the leaders of the company to hear "warts and all" what is it like to work in x country, x function, x shop floor. She says that very often that mirror can be a bit harsh and may have ingredients the board doesn't want to hear about "and that's when you get a glossy generic employer brand created, but it won't be true". That's why EVP is more important, she insists.

Indeed, employer branding is a hot topic. Over 3.75 million hits can't be wrong. Charu says this is because recruiters are struggling to attract, hire and retain. The UK workforce is also very unengaged, she says.

This is partly because more often than not, when people go into work they are expected to leave their 21st century tools at home or in the car. These, Charu says, are now a part of life. People use their mobile technologies while having conversations and doing other things and employers can't expect them to behave like part of their lives ceases to exist once they enter the front door. "We are digital beings and companies will have to adopt that philosophy. The ones that don't will be obsolete," she says.

EVP, she continues, is much more than employer branding. The purpose is to create an authentic employer brand so when people come in they know what to expect. For example it's no use lying if an organisation has a culture of very long hours. By coming clean on this and other values, a potential candidate can remove themselves from the equation and no-one's time is wasted on failed hires or frequent staff turnover.

"It's not about glossing up and attracting everybody," says Charu. "It's not a numbers game. It's not about wanting to attract thousands of people to our jobs. We want to attract the right people. We want the people who visit our career site to see a true reflection of what it’s like to be in that job. It helps candidates not waste their time. That's what an authentic employer brand does."

"If you've got flexible working, free parking or a gym then that's fabulous. Don't keep it hidden. Amplify what is good. Every company has good things about it, start using those ingredients before the person is hired because that will be part of the attraction."

Organisations also need to remember that it's not all about designing a new career website having glossy business cards or fabulous posters in reception and then using cut and paste job descriptions. Charu suggests making them more compelling by talking more about the brand and what the organisation offers rather than listing off a string of requirements for the candidate.

"But there is no point saying your Google if you’re not," she cautions. "Focus on what makes your company different, from the one down the road. The average job description doesn't tell you that."

Mirror, mirror

To create that authentic employer brand through EVP strategies, recruiters should begin with research, talking to employees, vendors, agencies, stakeholders, shareholders, customers, and carrying out engagement surveys. Charu says it's also important to stay away from generalisations. For instance, not all Millennials want x,y, z. "I think what we're seeing in my industry, in recruitment, in HR, is very knee-jerk, putting everyone in boxes. Managers want that but that's not how life works," she says.

Recruiters should particularly speak to those employed in the previous 12 months, how they were recruited, through social media, word of mouth, referrals or maybe because they were desperate and any job would do. "Research is really important."

Too often Charu says she has heard recruiters say 'let's go on LinkedIn', or 'we've heard all Millennials are on Snapschat so let’s do something there'. If your candidates or new hires say they don't go anywhere near Facebook and have never been on LinkedIn but say they spend their time on Google Groups or elsewhere, for instance, Charu says recruiters need to listen. "Think about the messages", she adds. "What is going to attract and keep a marketing manager, a HR director? It's based on lots of different factors. If you go generic you end up talking to everyone and talking to no one.”

"One of the core messages when creating an employer brand is that the sequence is really important. There's very often a rush to go straight into tactics 'we must be on LinkedIn', 'we must be on Facebook' and doing what everyone else is doing. But the starting point is research. It's not being a sheep and following everybody else."

Go fishing where the fish are

Now that you've done your EVP homework, it's time get that authentic employer brand out there right? Well, yes and no. Before taking that leap, Charu says it's really very important to remember that it's not a matter of "job done" and that an employer brand "is a living breathing thing" just like a company's objectives and values are living and breathing and evolving all the time.

"It's not a project that you start and finish. It's really key that when you create an employer brand you're re-jigging it, you're looking at it from an intricate perspective, you're looking at it from what your business is like today so your employer brand will need to change as your business evolves," she says.

"It's very much going back to that personalisation and when you've established that, go fishing where the fish are. How do you get that message out there? It's really about understanding what and where people are and where they spend their time. You could spend thousands setting up on LinkedIn when the talent you want to hire never goes on LinkedIn. It's like the assumption that every Millennial is on Snapchat."

On top of that, Charu advises that there is no point setting up a Twitter feed if you don't have somebody looking at it from a content perspective. She says an organisation could have 15,000 followers but never tweet a thing.

Also, social media is not the only way. "It's not about being obsessed with social. Social is a great channel but if your target’s not hanging out on social, you focus on that," she says, adding that if potential candidates for their particular needs are to be found at conferences and exhibitions, those would be the places to go.

Can't run, can't hide

In today's digital world no organisation can escape scrutiny so having an authentic employer brand is far more important than having 'just an employer brand'. Sites like Glassdoor let an organisation know what's going on inside their businesses, Charu says, adding that rather than trying to control the message, companies should listen to the message.

“Ten years ago I would have gone down the pub and told five people. Now I'll tell 5,000, so that mindset and change needs to happen. It's not about controlling the message," she says.

"People are more likely to vocalise bad experiences than they are positive but again with Glassdoor, if you have an engaged workforce, if you have great values, it's satisfying to have your employees saying good things about you. Nothing is more powerful than the employees saying that. That is how things have changed if you're looking ten years ago ."

Charu says that over the past five years studies have shown that trust in CEOs "is going down and down and down" but trust in peers is becoming higher. So even if "lots of CEOs" are out defending their employer brand, "it doesn't feel authentic or real unless it’s backed up by data", Charu says. "But your employees... the most important thing is to start listening to what it is that people are saying about you."

"True and authentic is really important. Look at your organisation from entry point i.e. attraction to how you exit somebody because that's as important to your employer brand, in that if circumstances change they would be happy to come back."

So the bottom line - to slightly misquote the Kevin Costner film, Field of Dreams - is: "If you build it, they will come".

Charu Malhotra can be contacted on Linked In and on Twitter @cm_charu


Do you want to unlock the potential of your employer brand? Find out more information about attract, Rullion’s talent attraction service here.