Disruption is forcing Canadian HR leaders to rethink how they will achieve their objectives for the remainder of the year. Instead of longing for simpler times, forward-thinking leaders should focus on an area that is squarely in their control and one that can drive growth and promote employee engagement more than any other - strengthening their organization’s employer brand.
Employer brand refers to an organization’s reputation as an employer, but it’s quite a bit more than that. In addition to salary and benefits, opportunity for advancement, the financial health of the business and workplace culture, employer brand is about the entire employee experience – from attraction and recruitment through to how employees live an organization’s values and deliver on the brand promise for customers every day.
Employer brand was previously once the sole domain of HR, but as the war for talent escalates, other areas of the business are starting to take interest and share responsibility. However, many organizations fail when it comes to driving engagement and developing a strong employer brand. After all, employee and organizational communication is a chronically misunderstood channel and my agency’s own CMO Lab research confirms this. According to our survey, most CMOs ignore employee and organizational communications entirely, leaving out some of their brand’s most vocal and authentic advocates.
So, what can communicators do to address these challenges and grow the reputation of their organization’s employer brand while driving growth? Here are some best practices to consider:
Prioritize Face-to-Face Communication:
Though face-to-face communication is widely understood as the best form of communication, it is seldom used consistently across an organization, nor is it prioritized by executive management. Face-to-face communication typically dies from an executive’s best intentions to get out of their office to meet with and listen to employees. While listening tours and office visits for executives can be met with eyerolls, the fact is they are important - and they work. It takes more than email to develop a meaningful relationship with employees, and face-to-face communication is critical for nurturing one.
Drive Real Engagement
Whether in an office or on a factory floor, employees don’t need managers to give them all the answers. What they need are the goal posts and a clear understanding of what the optimal outcome is. Employees want to know how they can leverage their experience and contribute to the business. They want to be involved in the problem-solving process. When they are tapped for their expertise and involved in planning, employees are engaged and feel pride in what they do.
When rewards are focused on the outcome and not on the process, there is a strong tendency to emphasize the “do” and not the “why”. As a result, priorities are often poorly communicated, and more often than not, decisions lack explanation. Leadership needs to promote understanding and rationale for decisions among employees, otherwise the decisions can be perceived as poorly planned and ill conceived.
In the absence of communication, a vacuum is created, and employees are left to fill in the gaps and reach their own conclusions about their employer’s aims and motivations. Rumour, speculation and uncertainty about organizational priorities and intentions thrive in this environment. Even in the best cases, this can be perceived as lack of planning and ignorance on behalf of management. As a result, engagement gaps can become accentuated. Generally, there needs to be greater consistency in how information is shared across an organization. Fractures emerge when one location has information that others don’t, and this is true also for employee hierarchies. Communicating with clarity and consistency is key and there are many digital tools to help organizations prioritize and distribute their information.
Employees seek recognition for their training, skills, experience and contribution to the business. They feel engaged when they use their experience and collaborate on special projects that contribute to business goals. Organizations should focus on creating more opportunities for collaboration and enable management to recognize collaboration and initiative.
Even in this environment of disruption, executives have an important opportunity to continue strengthening their employer brands and promote real engagement with employees. By addressing the challenges above, focusing on the best practices outlined here and devising a deliberate communication plan and strategy, C-Suite leaders get closer to achieving their growth ambitions.
Jeff Roman is a corporate communication and reputation management consultant working with organizations to strengthen their employer brands. He is Senior Vice President at APEX PR in Toronto.