[Podcast] Employer brand – How important is it?

Posted in : HR Updates on 10 May 2019
Mairéad Regan
Clarendon Executive
Issues covered:

In the third instalment Hugh and Mairéad discuss how we can use Employer Brand to our advantage, just how important it is and what it can mean for your organisation to improve your employer brand.


Interviewer: Welcome to HR Bitesize Podcast, in conversation with Mairead Regan and Hugh McPoland from Clarendon Executive. Clarendon Executive works with companies across NI to help maximise their leadership capabilities across all aspects of the employment lifecycle from executive search through to organisational and staff development.  

Clarendon's expertise spans the private, public, and third sectors. The firm focuses on identifying talent at board and senior executive level across the management disciplines, including general management, commercial marketing, and digital, and operational effectiveness leadership roles such as operations, finance, risk compliance, technology, and HR.

Clarendon have recently been joined by Hugh McPoland and Mairead Regan as associate consultants. Hugh is previously director of HR at BSO. Hugh has a considerable track record in organisational change along with considerable knowledge and experience in assessing the leadership credentials of directors across the public sector. Mairead also joins Clarendon as an associate consultant supporting both post-hire executive development and senior executive performance and progression. Previously Group HR Director at UTV Media plc, Mairead has more than 25 years' experience in HR at a senior level.

This podcast is a must-have listen for any HR manager or director, covering hot topics such as work-life balance, authentic selection, stepping up to director level, change management, and the importance of employer brands. Our easy-to-digest format makes this short but informative podcasts perfect for listening to at leisure, in the car, or during your lunch break.

How can we help establish the employer brand?

Importance of employer and HR branding, attracting the right talent, firstly, maybe we'll just start by touching on what is an employer brand and how can we as HR get our organisations to take it a bit more seriously?

Mairead: I mean, simply put, your employer brand is your reputation as an employer. And all organisations have a brand, whether it's by accident or deliberate. And quite often, the ones that are by accident are the ones that perhaps are more negative. So it's about the culture, the mission, the values, the rewards offered, the whole experience of the employee with the organisation. And it has become something that's incredibly important to your business.

It used to be, I think, a buzzword, but I think it's now core to a business because when people are choosing to work, to join an organisation, it's really important. They will suss out what the reputation of that employer is before they join. But it also will impact on the degree to which employees engage with that business while they're there. And also when they leave, are they advocates for that business? So it's the lifetime of an individual with the organisation.

But I think what's really critical is, is it by accident, or is it deliberate? And there are things that an organisation can do to create that branding and to get that message out into the world, what the brand is.

Hugh: I think that's absolutely right. It is reputation. But you can, like all things, manage reputation. And those organisations who proactively set out to create a positive brand through a range of activities, and perhaps at the lowest levels doing some stuff about corporate social responsibility, it depends upon the nature of the organisation. If it's a small manufacturing company connecting with the community, that community says, "These people sponsored the local football team", and doing small things like that, that builds upon the brand.

But when you go back to the organisation, it is about how you treat people, and people talk to people. I was once taught by a marketing executive that if I have a bad experience with an airline, I will tell at least five people. Those five people will tell at least another five, and they'll tell another five. Very quickly, that bad news spreads. Good news doesn't spread quite so quickly, bad news does. I think organisations need to be aware of that. 

Particularly, I think it was McKinsey who coined the phrase "war for talent" way back in the 1990s. I think certainly in the next two or three years, we will find employers really competing for talent. And people will go to those who treat them well, who have that sense of purpose, and be able to give back to society in some way, rather than simply having people watch the clock, driving relentlessly in performance, and not necessarily invest in their people.

That news will get very quickly around your market sector. But if you work closely and develop those good . . . what we would describe as good HR practices, but in reality good management practices, people will also say, people who leave will say, "I liked working there, but I needed to grow. I needed to do something different", a whole host of reasons for people leaving an organisation, but they can go away with a very strong sense.

I left the health sector a year ago. I loved the health sector. It gets a really bad rap as an employer, and in reality, it isn't. You know, it's got difficult challenges ahead of itself, but it has some of the best people working in it. Some of the best terms/conditions of service, but we can't manage that reputational thing, which so many people have been critical about at the moment. And, you know, I think the new HR strategy will try to deal with that in the health sector.

But it's about trying to manage that as best you can, and even in the finance sectors, people talk to each other. If nurses talk to each other about which ward is good to work in, that soon gets around. All of a sudden, there's a recruitment problem for a particular ward, and that's very macro level. It's the same for employers. They need to understand that how they treat their people becomes public knowledge. There are people . . . WhatsApp groups are particularly powerful because it's encrypted, you can almost say what you want in those, unless subject of major investigation, and that easily gets around.

And people need to be very careful about ensuring that the people that work with, the people they recruit, are actually good talented people, and that experience is a positive one which they can talk to other people about. So it is about reputation. And you build that reputation by having good modern HR practices.

Do your policies reflect the real working experience?

Mairead: And it can't just be about rhetoric. It can't just be about, "Oh, we have a lovely policy that says our mission and our values are . . ." It has to reflect the genuine real employee experience of working for that organisation. 

I think a really important part of this is for an organisation to put time into discovering, finding out, "What is the perception out there in the marketplace of what is working in this business?" I mean, there are some obvious ways of doing that. You can have focus groups, both internally and externally. But I think a really useful resource is to talk to candidates who have been through the process and been successful, but maybe even more importantly, candidates who . . .

I mean, talk to the agencies that they've come through. When an agency talked to an individual and suggested coming forward for an interview, what was the word on the street? Use those resources to find out what people said. "Oh, they wouldn't want to work with you because of X, Y, or Z", or, "Yes, you are a good employer". And find out what the candidate's journey is like. What is being said about your business in areas like that?

And then also look out for particular jobs. What number of applicants are you getting? What is the quality of the applicants? Does that say something about your business and what you're offering? So it's the very practical things that actually say, "What is the brand of this business?"

A positive employer brand?

Hugh: I think it's important . . . as you were talking, Mairead, I was thinking about a story I kept telling people many years ago, and it's about employer brand. It's a positive employer brand, but sometimes it identified the motives of an individual.

At one of my previous employers, there was a person had applied for a job in the same location. It was in a health centre. I'm not going to go into details because it really is . . . I think it's a funny story. Worked in the same health centre. Worked for a GP practice. Applied for the job as a health service employee, direct health service employee. When I asked, "Why do you want this job?" the answer was, "Your sick leave is better".

Great question, you know, going back to the recruitment podcast. Great question because you got the motives, and you get to find out what's going to happen after that appointment.

But that was the reputation. So some things are really good and attract perhaps . . . I think organisations that have really good work-life balance policies, really good track records about diversity, will attract people who like that sort of thing.

And that creates your brand and you get the people who are interested in work-life balance committed to organisation. You get a good diverse pool of applicants, both gender and all the other Section 75 areas.

So it is about making sure that you're very clear about what you want to do, but the people you have, treat them well because they will talk to you. There's always that issue about you still have to please your customers. If you're a commercial firm, you have to deliver the bottom line, and that's getting that balance.

But if you want an employer brand . . . I can think of people who would actually say, "Yes, I'm going to use that company because I know they're good to their employees".

And the way in this morning, I just caught the tail end of an advert. Apparently there's an advert around in the States for Gillette and it's created a massive reaction. I haven't seen it yet, but people are now saying, "Boycott Gillette".

Brand impacts upon recruitment, and people will start changing that whole process. I don't know what they've done, but just one intention has unintended consequences. And if you treat one member of staff badly, they will tell five people, who will tell five, who will tell five. All of a sudden, in your own community, in your marketplace, you're a bad employer.

Employee Proposition

Mairead: And it's looking at what's been referred to now as the employee proposition and making that compelling. So in the past, it would have been, "To work for us, it's a permanent job. Your terms and conditions are good. Your salary is X". As you say, Hugh, the sick leave was very good, the maternity leave.

But it's now much more about the psychological contract almost, is, "What is it like on the wet Wednesday morning when you have to come into this business? What is it like? How are people treated? What are the management behaviours in this business? Do we live up to the values which we state in our paperwork? Do people feel that they are trusted? Is there good communication?"

It is so much more than just the terms and conditions now, and the reality is people will look into that. If you want to attract good candidates, spending time on your employer brand will ensure that the individuals who look at you will discover what you're like. So they will almost preselect whether they come forward. So you're going to attract a higher quality of candidate with a better mix of skills. 

So you're going to see shorter recruitment time. You're also going to reduce recruitment costs. LinkedIn believe that because of their employer branding, they have saved 43% on their recruitment costs. I mean, that in itself, if you're going to spend less money wise, time wise, and get better candidates, who as a result of that, and as a result of your brand, are very engaged with your business, that's a win-win for everybody.

Hugh: Absolutely. I think those people who do invest in creating a positive brand, the retention rates are higher. It reduces your overall costs, increases your bottom line, and it just makes good business sense to have a good employer brand.

But again, in some of the other discussions we've had, it's okay having a paper brand. It has to be a living process. It's great to say, "We will invest in our people". Now all of a sudden, their training is cancelled at the first sight of a financial difficulty, which happens more frequently than not. But it's about saying what you want to do, and actually doing it, and then people will pass that message on, that good news on, and you will find more good people come to you and it will improve your organisational performance.

Mairead: And if more and more individuals are looking to find out that information in advance of even applying, rather than expecting that they will pick it up from talking to other people, I think work needs to go and to look at . . . again, we're coming back to social media footprint. So put the time, get involved . . . HR should get involved with the marketing individuals, with the brand specialists, to look at, "What are the messages that we're putting out there? And if somebody goes to our website, if somebody goes to our LinkedIn, if somebody goes to Instagram, or whatever social media, what are the things that are going out there?"

And it's not just about the theoretical "here’s our mission and vision values". It's the examples and the real-life cases. You talked about somebody supporting a community football team. What are the stories that people will say, "Do you know, I like the way they operate"? Yes, they may make such and such widgets, or they may provide such a service, but on top of that, they're giving back to business in the community. They're giving back to the voluntary sector. They encourage individuals to volunteer. It's all the other things outside of the hard HR terms and conditions. It's about the psychological contract.

Interviewer: And while we're on that, what we talked about the cusp of this war for talent, you know, this is going to be so important for organisations to work on it now. So when we get to that point where we are really in the midst of that, they have this ahead of them.

Hugh: The good organisations already have it. You think of the multinationals, their employer brands are really out there. And I think it's perhaps the medium-sized, smaller organisations, and even some of the public sector organisations really need to think about what is . . . and I know it's one of those technical HR jargon-y things that a lot people don't like. It's the employee proposition. What is it you're selling to your employee?

They're very clear about what they're selling to us as customers, but what are they selling to future employees? And is that going to attract the right people that you need, as an organisation, to be successful?

This article is correct at 10/05/2019

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Mairéad Regan
Clarendon Executive

The main content of this article was provided by Mairéad Regan. Contact telephone number is +44 (0) 28 9072 5750 or email Mairead.Regan@clarendonexecutive.com

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