Whenever I begin working with a new client, my first task is to understand the landscape. Often what people think they want is not always what they actually need. They look at what appears to be a solution, but without asking the right questions. This often focuses on inputs rather than outputs – we want some staff training/focus groups/workshops as opposed to what is the business outcome we want to achieve?
Don’t aim to solve problems. Innovate
A question I was asked recently by a COO for a large financial institution with regard to some EVP work was, ‘What is the problem we are trying to solve?’.
Often we look at things from the point of fixing problems. We look at solutions to fix a problem. But fixing a problem only take you back to where you before. True innovation looks to take you beyond where you are now to a better place. This results in a business with increased value and ultimately better financial returns.
Where employer branding – and perhaps more precisely, employer brand management, succeeds is where the focus is on business outcomes and with a seat at the top table. But this has to be backed up with a genuine business case that demonstrates a clear link between the strengths of the employer brand, high levels of engagement and financial performance.
Where the conversation gets lost is delving too deeply into the methodology too early, For example spending too much time on how the EVP is going to be developed rather than the value output. It’s also the wrong place to start a conversation. The gain is not just the cost benefit, but the increased value and performance benefits a strong employer brand can deliver.
Many employer brand initiatives still begin with a desire to implement a more attractive and cohesive message that builds a stronger level of internal and external engagement whilst aiming to create a stronger appeal to the candidates they are looking to attract. However, the basis should begin with a more direct assessment of how the value is going to be measured.
Aggregation of Marginal Gains
The ‘aggregation of marginal gains’ is a concept that has become popularized by the success of the British Cycling team and their success in the Olympics and the Tour de France*. It demonstrates the importance of focusing on the smallest of details – e.g. recruitment, retention, levels of engagement – the level of certainty of achieving measurable goals becomes higher. Attention to the smallest details but focusing on the marginal gains that can be achieved in each and every area.
In recruitment, as an example, some of the top level business outcome objectives might look something like this:
1) Lower rejection numbers, decrease admin, improved candidate experience to achieve increased measurable efficiency and cost reduction.
2) Reduction in collateral costs achieved by creative consistency and global creative framework (Shell reportedly reduced theirs by 75% when moving to a global framework) .
3) Increased ‘pull’ factor through stronger brand awareness resulting in improved recognition amongst target groups, increased propensity to apply, improved quality of hire – measured by applicant/hire ratios, post-hire engagement, retention – NPS scoring against employee engagement/customer satisfaction.
Retention is another example and where marginal gains can contribute significantly to the overall business output. Not only in cost reduction – e.g. the replacement, on-boarding and induction of new employees, but in engagement, productivity and alliance with the organisations goals and values. This might begin with identifying particular subgroups and clustering employee types (e.g. new hires, senior management, shift workers).
I’ve recently seen first hand the recruitment process, on-boarding and induction that McDonald’s UK have developed as part of their employer brand. In both its technology and communication it is first class and it shows how this investment has paid off with direct financial benefits. Formally defining its EVP in 2005 its overall employee turnover rate fell from 80% in 2004 to under 38% in 2010. Its 90-day crew turnover rate declined from 25% in 2004 to below 5% in 2010*.
Other definable outcomes should also extend to on-boarding, engagement, internal communication, diversity & inclusion. Not all outcomes will be quantitative – there may be some qualitative ones too – but ultimately the only aim should be how the employer brand will improve the business condition.
Employer branding weaves through recruiting, retaining and engaging people to deliver business success. It is not just an issue for HR, it is a business issue. Always focus on the business outcome, not the methodology.
*A good selection of case studies and examples related to this can be found in the book, ‘Employer Brand Management,’ Richard Mosley 2014