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Is employer brand an HR responsibility?

Janet Windeatt and Bettina Pickering 
PA Consulting Group
HR Zone
18 March 2008

The employer brand defines what is unique about working for an organisation. But is it HR's responsibility to promote a brand that can attract and retain employees?

While the concept of an employer brand has risen in prominence in recent years, every organisation, no matter whether it chooses to proactively develop an employer brand or not, has one. Therefore, more organisations are expecting their HR departments to ensure the company has a desired employer brand which is able to attract, motivate and retain the right employees.

However, is the employer brand an HR only responsibility? Not in our view. For it to be effective you must engage wider stakeholders to ensure that it aligns with the corporate brand and your employees are engaged to bring it to life.

Work with marketing to align the employer brand to the corporate brand
In order to achieve its desired outcome, an employer brand needs to be aligned to the corporate brand. Both are two sides of the same coin, and need to complement and support each other. It is a misconception that the employer brand is just visible to employees or potential employees. In addition to employees, wider stakeholders such as customers, shareholders, analysts and suppliers also see and experience the employer brand and react to it positively or negatively.

A misalignment between the employer and the corporate brand can cause confusion with employees, shareholders and customers alike, attract the wrong candidates and keep the desired candidates away. In order to ensure alignment and coherence of brand messages, it is vital that HR works with the marketing and/or public relations functions. Marketing typically adopts a selling approach whereas HR tends to favour a consultative approach. Both approaches together are a winning combination to develop and embed an employer brand in an organisation.

Engage employees at all levels to live the brand
Employee engagement is a process by which an organisation seeks to increase an individual's connection to and active support of the organisation's values and goals.

As the employer brand is all about the employee’s experience working for the company, it stands to reason that employees should be consulted when developing an employer brand that will motivate and retain employees and attract the right staff.

Employees will need to live the brand day to day, they are the face to the customer who will experience that brand through them and they are also the face (through interviews and other interactions) to the potential new employees. If current employees do not understand what the brand means for them and to their area of work, they will not feel ownership of it and will be unable to live it. Employee consultation of the brand is usually done using focus groups, surveys or a working group consisting of a cross section of employees.

Employer branding is a process by which an organisation defines and communicates to key internal and external stakeholders the unique attributes that differentiate it as an employer can expect to receive in exchange for their contribution to business success.

When we think of employees, we must also think of the key segments within the amorphous mass that we call employees: top management, line managers and HR business partners.

Because the employer brand is so intrinsically linked to the corporate brand, top management must also own it and live it, internally as well as externally. For example, if one of the brand value is team spirit, then top management must also show it and not just expect employees to do that. If top management are not on board or only pay lip service to the developed employer brand, then another possibly undesired and confusing brand will emerge.

Don't overlook line managers
More often than not, when developing and implementing a desired employer brand, organisations forget one of the most crucial employee segments - line managers and HR business partners.

Whilst top management and employees have been involved, the people who have to keep the brand alive on a day-to-day basis, and answer any questions on how the brand applies to a specific function or business unit, are line managers.

Direct reports tend to turn to their managers for guidance and answers and, therefore, it is important to provide special coaching and awareness for line managers. If line managers are not brought on board, then the brand message is not owned at that level and will be diluted or not communicated.

HR business partners have a key role to play in coaching line managers and acting as their first port of call when it comes to the employer brand. Therefore, when planning employer brand design and implementation, HR directors must make sure that HR business partners are involved from the start and continuously updated on any activities, and that training, coaching and tools are made available to them.

HR holds a pivotal but not sole role in employer branding. Marketing and public relations must also be involved. However, HR must lead the development of the employer brand, coaching top management and line managers in living and promoting the employer brand and ensuring that employees are consulted.


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