For many companies today, it’s more difficult than ever to attract and retain great employees. Organizations have had to adapt their strategies to better align with the millennial generation’s workplace preferences and expectations. They also have to work harder to keep their employees: according to Gallup, 51 percent of U.S. employees say they are actively looking for a new job or watching for openings, and millennials in particular are more likely to switch jobs than any other generation.
So what can you do to make sure you are attracting and retaining great talent? It all starts with having a strong employer brand. I sat down with two of Padilla’s employer brand experts, Barry Saunders and Natalie Smith, to better understand what an employer brand is and why companies should be paying attention to theirs.
Q: What is an “employer brand” and why is it so important?
Natalie: To put it simply, your employer brand is the perception your stakeholders have of what it’s like to work for your organization. It can have a major impact on your ability to attract and hire the type of employees you want working for your organization. That impact can extend beyond employees to customers and other stakeholders, so it’s important to understand what your employer brand is – and isn’t.
Barry: Your employer brand is the employee version of the brand story. In the same way that we might take the master brand and tell it a little differently to shareholders or customers, we’re taking that master brand and focusing on what matters most to employees. It drives motivation and momentum; it answers the question of why we do what we do.
Q: What do great employer brands have in common?
Natalie: Great employer brands take the time to understand what their employer brand actually is, and not just what they’d like it to be. It has to be consistent with the actual employee experience. This means involving employees in defining the employer brand, so that it feels authentic. Companies with great employer brands start with an understanding that employees are their greatest asset. They create an environment that allows employees to grow, learn and contribute in meaningful ways – and then they get out of their way.
Barry: They also have a clear purpose, and the company organizes its business strategy around it. Employees know their roles and responsibilities in delivering on that purpose, and development, training, reward and recognition programs are clearly linked to it as well. It’s a great driver for employee engagement, for those who do it well.
Q: What are signs that your employer brand may need some help?
Natalie: Assuming that your salary levels and benefits are competitive, and the work itself is (or should be) interesting – difficulty getting qualified candidates to apply for open positions and/or difficulty retaining new employees would be signs that your employer brand may need some help.
Barry: And in addition to recruitment/retention issues, your employer brand needs some help if you’re sensing a morale problem – if your employees have become a bit robotic. They do their work, but they’re starting to question why they do it or what they’re trying to achieve. Often leaders get so consumed with operations and finances that they forget they also need to inspire their employees through the mission of the business. Employees perform better when they understand the company’s purpose and mission, know their role and feel their leader is helping them in the right direction.
Q: So, you’ve created your employer brand – now how do you successfully roll it out?
Natalie: I would say that you don’t actually create an employer brand; rather, you uncover it. And if there is a gap between what you uncover and what you aspire to, take steps to close that gap. Successful rollout is going to look different for every organization, but start by soliciting your employees’ help. They can be your best ambassadors – or not.
Barry: I can tell you how you don’t do it, and that’s through one-way communications like posters and mouse pads with the new brand slogan. When you roll it out, you need to communicate what it means for them – what’s the immediate application. It can’t be just a bunch of words; you have to implement new behaviors and processes that reflect the brand. They have to see how it will make their work better.
Q: What’s your biggest piece of advice for companies when it comes to creating a successful employer brand?
Natalie: Understand what your employer brand actually is vs. what you would like it to be. Make sure your employer brand matches the employee experience. View your current employees as partners in the employer brand journey, and involve them in the discovery, rollout and maintenance process.
Barry: Realize that it’s one version of your overall company brand. It’s the same story, coming from the same platform, but different elements matter differently to different people. So work with employees to build that foundation – listen to them, and understand what matters most to them, inspires them and motivates them. Otherwise, it’s just an exercise in futility.
Barry Saunders is a Principal of Joe Smith, the brand consultancy of Padilla.
Natalie Smith is Senior Vice President at Padilla.