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Pushed to the Limit, Managing Your Employer Brand in Troubled Times

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Pushed to the Limit, Managing Your Employer Brand in Troubled Times

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Foregoing employee experience in lieu of cost cutting and business survival actions represents a false choice. How employers answer the question of how they treated people during the pandemic will shape their talent landscape for years to come.

Foregoing employee experience in lieu of cost cutting and business survival actions represents a false choice. How employers answer the question of how they treated people during the pandemic will shape their talent landscape for years to come.

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Pushed to the Limit, Managing Your Employer Brand in Troubled Times

  1. 1. n. n.robertjohnsonUnitingpeoplethroughpurpose. Pushed to the Limit Managing Your Employer Brand in Troubled Times EMPLOYER BRANDING PRACTICES
  2. 2. n. Pushed to the Limit Managing Your Employer Brand in Troubled Times “Now is a good time to work on all those things we couldn’t get to weeks ago.” In a recent LinkedIn post on the state of employer branding, a well-meaning recruiter suggested that since active recruiting has grounded to a halt, now is a good time to work on back burner employer branding elements, things that are not typically addressed when recruiters are in the throes of finding, attracting, and hiring talent. May we propose a different view? Now is the time for employer brands to stand front and center. More than ever, your employer brand needs to communicate the purpose, strengths, and commitments of your company. Focusing on your employer brand in an active voice today does a lot more than protecting your branding assets, it works to connect and reassure your employees that we are all in this together. It adds clarity in a confusing time. And, it shapes the future of your organization. The recruiter in question reflected a perspective that employer branding applies mostly to the talent attraction and acquisition phase in an employee’s employment life cycle. In that context, focusing on employer branding back burner tasks during times of slowed recruitment make sense. That’s not our perspective. n.robertjohnsonUnitingpeoplethroughpurpose.
  3. 3. n.robertjohnsonUnitingpeoplethroughpurpose. n. We believe that employer branding applies to every phase of an employee’s career, from first awareness to retirement. Just as consumer marketers design, execute, and measure a holistic customer experience, we look at employer branding as a continuum that spans the whole employment experience. Employer branding not only impacts awareness, attraction, and enticement to apply, it plays a critical role in career development, employee engagement, and employee retention. Employer branding professionals not only partner with recruiters and talent acquisition teams, we work hand-in-hand with talented people like the employee experience designer, the organizational development leader focused on employee engagement, or the HR team working on improving employee retention. And, as we strive to connect employee and customer experiences, we are using our branding skills to help our companies to create a unified, authentic, and transparent voice. All of this points to a simple premise: we need to be an active leader. Now. What can we do? The issue of employer branding during a pandemic is still evolving. While strategies and tactics still need to be flushed-out, here are three actions to take today that will put us front and center. 75% of U.S. workers believe that businesses need to ensure that employees and their communities are safe from the virus. —Edelman Trust Barometer Coronavirus Special Report, March 2020
  4. 4. Employee safety is more critical than business impact. —Edelman Trust Barometer Coronavirus Special Report, March 2020 n. n.robertjohnsonUnitingpeoplethroughpurpose. Continue a Focus on Purpose Action-Step: Don’t let up on your employer brand’s purpose-driven communications. A focus on an organization’s purpose remains a top priority, particularly for those organizations that are deemed to be purpose-driven. This may seem counterintuitive to some as many organizations are shifting their talent focus internally. It’s important to remember, however, that while we are all now intensely centered on the care of our families and other loved ones, the underpinnings of what makes us purposeful don’t go away. The reasons that we joined a company, or emotionally connected to a particular brand, or passionately advocated on behalf of a cause all still exist. The purpose-driven organization is real. Prior to the crisis, workers were yearning to find higher meaning in their work which included working with companies that place an emphasis on doing greater good. A recent study by the branding firm purpose_brand reinforces this insight as it found that 82 percent of workers believe that brands and corporations are responsible for doing more “good” in the world than just making a profit. Moreover, this study found 80 percent of workers believe that social consciousness can be a genuine part of a company’s brand with no ulterior motive, 77 percent prefer to purchase from a socially conscious company rather than one that is not socially conscious, and 80 percent feel brand purpose and/or marketing and investing in causes that people care about is now a permanent part of American culture.
  5. 5. n.robertjohnsonUnitingpeoplethroughpurpose. n. While these emotional connections may be quieted for now, they have not gone away. Purpose-driven organizations that stay true to their purpose in practice and in employer brand communications will not only reassure talent communities, customers and stakeholders, they will propel themselves into the post- crisis future. An important caveat: authenticity counts. This approach applies best to organizations that have been branding themselves with their purpose. If you have not been using purpose as an employer branding attribute, then shifting to purpose now could be interpreted as being inauthentic and too opportunistic. This is not to say that the impact of the crisis might refocus your organization to a higher purpose – that’s a good thing. Changing branding attributes and narratives in a time of crisis, however, requires careful attention. At the Same Time, Focus on Your People Action-Step: Focus on your Employee Value Proposition (EVP) branding attributes to reassure constituents by stressing safety over financial. As brand marketers, we often shift our branding statements within a brand architecture to showcase the attributes that are important in the moment. This crisis demands that we review our employer branding messages to align them to what’s important: the protection of our employees, customers, and local communities.
  6. 6. n.robertjohnsonUnitingpeoplethroughpurpose. n. Seventy-five percent of employees believe that businesses have a responsibility to ensure their employees are protected from the virus in the workplace and that their employees do not spread the virus into the community, according to the global PR agency Edelman. This expectation runs deeper as Edelman also finds that the majority of workers trust their employers to respond effectively and responsibly to the outbreak, including acting as a conduit for reliable information about the virus. Here’s where your skill in communicating employer branding and EVP attributes adds value. Edelman research shows that employees feel that employee safety information is more critical than business impact information. All of this points to the heart of talent communications. We know how to connect people to our organization’s ‘human’ elements. Lean-in this experience to help leadership, internal communications, and organizational engagement colleagues to shape people-centric messages, those that go more to emotions of safety than the rational of financial impact. Another caveat: be mindful of potential gaps. There is a lot of communication going on. Leadership, HR, legal, corporate communications, and talent communications are all important voices. At times, these voices are competing with each other. Use your employer branding architecture to ensure that messaging is aligned and that you are not communicating facets of your employment experience that aren’t true. Foregoing employee experience in lieu of cost cutting and business survival actions represents a false choice.
  7. 7. n.robertjohnsonUnitingpeoplethroughpurpose. n. Answer Tomorrow’s Question Today Action-Step: Be there for your people. It’s a simple question: what did you do to support your employees through the pandemic? The answer to that question will define you as an employer for a long time to come. In the past, we have used a simple tool called the See/Do Matrix. It’s a way to measure what employees see (and hear) from their employers contrasted by what they experience every day, the “do” axis. Significant organizational challenges – difficulties in attracting, hiring, engaging, and retaining talent, just to name a few – arise when management says one thing but does the exact opposite. How organizations respond today will greatly impact their talent landscape once we get through this crisis. What should we do to ensure that we emerge stronger? 1. Focus on taking care of your people as best as you can. In the event that you have to make hard choices like furloughs or lay-offs, seek out every way that you can to support those who are being displaced. Above all, treat everyone with empathy and care. 2. Don’t lose sight of your employee experience even if that experience is augmented during these times. Foregoing employee experience in lieu of cost cutting and business survival actions represents a false choice. Use your talent communications skills to reposition your employment narratives to support both people and the needs of the organization. 3. Lean on communications tools that allow for agility in managing your employer brand. Take a page from your external branding colleagues and manage your employer brand communications in way that stays within the branding structure, but allows for quick and consistent updates.
  8. 8. n.robertjohnsonUnitingpeoplethroughpurpose. n. In Summary It’s a human trait to retreat in times of great uncertainty. And, it’s hard to act in ways that may feel counterintuitive. We believe that as hard as our lives are now, we are called upon to act. Acting now by focusing on the fundamentals of our employer brands while infusing empathy, kindness, and hope will serve us well today and in the future. Be safe. Sources The Purpose Report 2020, purpose_brand, 2020 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Trust and the Coronavirus, Edelman, 2020 About Us N. Robert Johnson LLC is a specialized communications consulting practice focused on enabling organizations to better compete for talent in today’s consumer-driven communications world. We work in the areas of employer branding, talent advertising, and employee voice. Contact N. Robert Johnson, APR Managing Principal 216.410.5258 nrjohnson@nrobertjohnsonllc.com

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