Brand new dawn for commercially aware human resources

I had a discussion recently on the merits of the term ’employer proposition’ over ’employer brand’. I argued for using the latter.

Hypocritically, this was after years of trying to distance myself from the ubiquitous employer-brand term because it was, in my not-so-humble opinion, being so badly used. For example: “We have spent a small fortune on sorting our employer brand all of our recruitment adverts have a consistent image library and nine out of 10 external candidates on a feedback form used the same three words to positively describe our brand”.

Yeah, but how do those candidates describe your brand experience as an employer after six months of working for you? In pontificating that real branding is more about evidence – a promise, behaviours, emotion, clever audience segmentation, rather than simply what you sell – I tried to find an alternative term.

In reality, the word ‘brand’ is a great one for the organisational change we should be driving from human resources (HR). Admittedly, I should have stuck with the brand word. Instead of sulking because I didn’t like the way it was being used, I should have done more to challenge the semantics and not sought alternatives. Metaphorically speaking, I got rid of my dream home because I didn’t like the colour of the front door.

The real deal

Branding, in the way marketing has talked about it for years, is about understanding your audience, and honestly selling them that which you can deliver. Branding is not about one single thing, such as recruitment advertising it’s about the whole consumer experience – from start to finish. Take a reputedly well-regarded brand such as hotel chain Four Seasons – it’s the doorman, receptionist, food, ambience, firmness of mattress, politeness of staff, speed of room service, to name just a few things, that define that brand. Not one of those things in isolation can make that brand great, but one in isolation can destroy the brand.

Now substitute those hotel chain brand attributes for bits of the employee experience, and that’s why the term brand is important – it’s about joining HR components together for a great holistic experience. For example, best-in-class learning and development (L&D) is pointless if a substandard recruitment process means top talent doesn’t progress far enough to experience it.

Branding and HR

There’s an even more important reason why we should talk brand within HR. One definition for brand quality is satisfaction. This is your level of brand expectation in relation to the experience. We are living in a service economy brand experience for your consumers is more likely to be defined by your staff than your product. Even if you make products, they still need to be invented, sold, and fixed by people. And as HR guides and directs the recruitment, engagement, motivation and development of talent, thus HR is responsible for an organisation’s overall brand.

HR professionals have spent years justifying their existence, but now have an opportunity to prove the function is about building client satisfaction and, therefore, revenue generation. But how many HR practitioners are right now in the process of redesigning their department in line with best-in-class HR models, rather than those that will have a bigger impact on the organisation’s ability to serve its customers?

HR has a window of opportunity to finally be that commercially vital department. If the function doesn’t seize it, then marketing, or even sales, will wake up to the staff = customer satisfaction = profit equation. This would relieve the function of organisational development, communications, leadership, even L&D – all those things that mean our people perform better with customers.

What would HR be left with? Transactional stuff that can be outsourced anyway.

To maximise this opportunity, the function needs to be open to people not being born and bred within HR. Tomorrow’s leaders in HR may come from marketing, IT or somewhere else entirely. And organisations should be testing for an intuitive understanding of people matters and talent engagement, married to commercial experience and customer management.

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