Guest speakers at Atomic DNA’s Strategic HR Breakfast, January 15th 2019- from Left to right the people are: Sarah McDonough, Director at Atomic DNA, Dr. Mary Collins, Senior Executive Development Specialist at RCSI, Caroline McAniff, Head of Recruitment and Employer Branding at EY and John Ryan, Chief Executive Officer at Great Place to Work Ireland.
A strong employer brand is essential to win the war for talent — and directly affects employee engagement and business performance.
That was the key message from Atomic DNA’s Strategic HR Breakfast on January 15th, the first in a new series of events for HR directors and senior professionals interested in connecting with peers to discuss and explore trends and challenges in HR today.
Atomic DNA’s Director, Sarah McDonough led the discussion which focused on a subject that’s top of mind for many HR professionals today: ‘Employer Brand — Nice to have or business growth driver?’ We discussed how a strong employer brand can connect and engage people internally to drive business performance, and invited John Ryan, CEO at Great Place to Work Ireland, Dr Mary Collins, Senior Executive Development Specialist at RCSI, and EY’s Head of Recruitment and Employer Branding, Caroline McAniff, to share their thoughts on the topic.
Here are some important takeaways from the discussion that may support others considering an investment in their Employer Brand to drive business performance;
Employer branding is not corporate branding, but that doesn’t mean the two should exist in silos—they should work in tandem.
What we learned from the discussion is that authenticity can’t be faked; it’s obvious when an employer brand and corporate brand promote opposing messages. That’s why it’s important to think of an employer brand as an offshoot of the corporate brand, one that conveys the same message, but serves a different purpose.
Getting clarity internally on what an organisation stands for, and being true to that, is paramount to earning trust not only from existing employees but also potential employees, who increasingly seek out authentic organisations who may share the same values as they do.
We’ve moved away from a world of broadcast storytelling to one where stories can and should be generated and shared from within. Something powerful happens when people feel connected to the organisation they work for; people feel proud to be brand ambassadors, putting themselves forward to appear in recruitment marketing campaigns, share their own story on the company blog and promote content on their social channels.
The key insight from John Ryan during the discussion was to create a strong employer brand and stay true to it, even if that means sometimes admitting that things could be better – being authentic as a leader is more important than being polished all the time and people will connect to that.
Trust is the foundation of every great relationship, not least an employer-employee one. And it goes both ways; employees must trust in leaders to make the right decisions for the company and for its people, while those in charge must trust that people will make the right decisions for the business.
Communication and transparency go a long way toward building those trusted relationships. By letting everyone know what’s going on everywhere in the company—challenges as well as successes—and involving staff at all levels in decision-making, it fosters a sense of ownership and accountability that ultimately creates a high-trust organisation.
When employees don’t trust their manager or the company they work for, it has a negative impact on everything from morale and productivity to the bottom line. But when employees trust and feel trusted, they become brand advocates and are more likely to refer great hires.
Vulnerability isn’t a word often associated with business, but when it comes to an employer brand, it’s key to building connections in the workplace.
Oxford Dictionaries defines ‘vulnerable’ as ‘exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally,’ but in broad terms, it means putting yourself out there regardless of the outcome. Being open. Brave. Showing your human side.
When leaders embrace vulnerability—whether it’s being open about mistakes, asking for input or sharing a personal story—it paves the way for authentic communication, which helps build trust and encourages employees to do the same.
Building a diverse team is an essential step toward building a strong company culture but diversity in the workplace means nothing without inclusion.
Though the two terms are often put together, it’s worth remembering that they are not the same thing. If an organisation focuses on diversity, it won’t necessarily get inclusion. But if an organisation gets inclusion right first, diversity will likely follow.
People want to work in places where they are respected and appreciated; they don’t want to feel like a box that needs to be checked. It’s the difference between having a seat at the table and having a voice at the table. By creating an inclusive work environment where people of all identities and backgrounds feel welcome, valued and understood, it will speak volumes about who the organisation is and what it stands for and will naturally attract a more diverse workforce.
With four generations in the workplace, from Baby Boomers right through to Gen Z-ers, employers are tasked with managing different mindsets, communication styles and work ethics, as well as building an employer brand that appeals to all.
Dr. Mary Collins’ insights and research on this area were very well received by our breakfast attendees. The discussion focussed on why instead of dwelling on generational differences (and running the risk of playing into stereotypes), it’s important to consider what stage in life employees are at and what their needs are.
For instance, younger people may want more work-life balance, but so do employees nearing the end of their career who may want to spend more time on other interests. Similarly, employees in their 30s and 40s may look for career advancement and Gen Z are also interested in opportunities to grow and develop.
We also spoke about the ‘Quarter life crisis’ phenomenon where increasingly, those in their mid 20’s feel completely overwhelmed by the expectations that they have set themselves (and indeed set by society) on what they should have achieved by the time they reach their mid-20’s.
Stress and anxiety can hit all and every age group so the key message was to encourage and create a work environment where people can talk and get the support they need. No two people are alike, regardless of generation, and everyone is inspired and motivated by different things. Get to know each person individually and use that understanding to create an inclusive workplace.
The value of a strong employer brand cannot be denied, but embarking on a mission to invest in an employer brand requires resources, internal endorsement and support across the organisation.
Companies that take the time to invest in building a better employer brand and company culture see a significant return, namely higher quality applicants and increased retention rates as the recruitment process has attracted the right candidates from the outset.
Caroline McAniff shared her experience on this within EY when they invested on their Employer brand to reposition EY as number 1 for Graduate Recruitment.
It is clear that gaining internal support for investing in and developing an employer brand is crucial to getting the initiative off to the right start. Change starts at the top, so presenting the company leaders or an influential ally with a clear and compelling business case for an employer branding strategy is a critical first step in building a strong employer brand.
Ireland is on track to reach full employment and the war for talent is ongoing across all sectors. A strong employer brand will help organisations attract and retain high-quality candidates and support real employee engagement which ultimately drives business performance.
The key takeaways from our discussion are:
- Build an employer brand that matches reality.
- Don’t be afraid of vulnerability; people will connect to and respect that.
- Start with Inclusion and Diversity will follow.
- Don’t make assumptions about what different generations need in the workplace. Ask and build an Employer brand for everyone.
- Creating an Employer Brand for an organisation needs support from the leadership team to ensure it gets the right resources and focus.
- When an Employer Brand is authentic, different and in tune with employees it can drive business performance by ensuring the right talent is attracted and retained in the organisation.
The talent market has changed, see how your Employer Brand stacks up.