The fine line between customer and employee networks

Your customer communities could be the gateway to fresh talent for your organisation. Andy Curlewis of Ochre House looks at the growing convergence between customer and employee networks.

Building communities to tap into top talent on a global or local basis has crept up the HR agenda. In an environment where change is the “new norm”, organisations have recognised that building a network of engaged, potential talent that can be pulled on when needed provides a competitive advantage.

However, as budgets remain tight and organisations look to do more for less, HR functions struggle to get board-level buy-in for developing and managing communities. After all, isn’t the biggest objective for business leaders to make more money? But, as the line between customer and employee becomes increasingly fainter, could the solution be a convergence of the client and staff networks?

Andy Curlewis

Andy Curlewis,
director of brand, digital and communications,
Ochre House.

Who are more important: your people or your customers?

For HR professionals and business leaders, this is often the key question to ask. When you are investing in developing any community, do you devote your time and money to attracting top talent or more customers?

This question is along the lines of the “chicken and egg” analogy. Without your customers you have no need for your people, but without the right people, you risk pushing away your customers.

Added to this, you have to consider that sales and business critical staff come from the same pool as buyers and suppliers. If this is the case, surely there is a need for integrated branding across all aspects of the company’s networks and community?

The simple answer is yes, but there a number of considerations to take on board. Firstly, there needs to be an alignment across functions – from sales and marketing to line managers and HR. This doesn’t just require consistent messaging across the board, but also the involvement of each business function in developing and managing the community.

It is also important to bear in mind that combining your talent and customer communities may be a new concept for business leaders, so you will need to change existing mindsets to get people behind the initiative. As such, HR should be prepared to justify why this convergence is not only necessary, but also beneficial.

Also, someone needs to take accountability of the communities and ensure all relevant internal departments are included. This is a perfect opportunity for HR teams to not only step up to the mark, but also ensure they are driving the talent agenda through these networks.

Perhaps the biggest issue to address though is getting the buy-in from the board. This comes back to the chicken-and-egg question: is the CEO looking to bring in more talent or more clients? While the converged community could bring in both, HR professionals need to put this solution into context of the real commercial issues facing their business.

What is a community?

It is perhaps important at this point to define what we really mean by a community. As the talent management function continues to evolve, we are moving from the operational pipelining and tactical pooling of candidates, to a more strategic approach of developing communities.

What makes this new network different is the sheer volume and pace of interaction. A truly beneficial community includes all talent and stakeholders with consistent messages being pushed out to all contacts. And with the new technology and social media channels now available, collaboration, participation and open dialogue are hugely important.

Always bear in mind that engagement is key. The community you are building will be made up of clients, employees and potential employees, so share insightful and truthful information which would be relevant to these audiences.

Finally, a community is a long-term, strategic commitment and will require maintenance in order to really see the benefit.

From Facebook friends to engaged employees

There are a number of examples that highlight the increasing overlap between the talent and customer community. Take the Hard Rock Cafe Firenze. In February 2011, it set up a Facebook page to use as a platform to recruit people close to the venue. As the page drew more interest and staff hires were made, the new employees switched from using this platform to apply for jobs, to arranging shifts, lifts to work and even events.

This in turn began to drive more people to the page who were engaging with the network as customers. Now, nearly two years since the recruitment site was set up, there are more than 109,500 community members. The line between the customer and employee engagement has all but disappeared, bringing the clients closer to the staff and the company itself.

Looking forward, Hard Rock Cafe now has a huge community at its disposal, all of whom are already engaged with the brand and potential talent that can be tapped into when needed.

When you consider the potential a converged community like this has, in line with the stark statistic that only 10% of the recruitment market is active, the need to combine networks is perhaps more important. Given that much of the talent you are looking for will be “passive” candidates, these communities open your organisation up to a wider pool of contacts.

Tapping into this passive talent can be a challenge, but remember that in the customer lifecycle, at many stages they could become a potential employee and vice versa. And as we move away from commodities-based sales, a career can in fact be the most sophisticated sell of all. Creating a conjoined customer and employee experience then is vital.

Finally, remember that it is not the people that are the blockers, it is often the system. HR professionals need to unlock the real pain for the CEO before building the business case for talent communities. Only then will it be possible to get business leaders on board.

Andy Curlewis is director of brand, digital and communications at Ochre House

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