One of the key tasks for an organisation undergoing a change project is keeping its reputation intact. In today’s social media driven world, it takes just one angry tweet and a split second for an organisation’s reputation to come under fire.
It is important to consider the way those affected by the change and remaining employees are treated during the process and how this could affect your employer brand in the future.
What is an employment brand?
An employment brand was defined by Brett Minchington in his book, Employer Brand Leadership: A Global Perspective, as “the image of your organisation as a great place to work in the minds of current employees and key stakeholders in the external market…”i
How is an employment brand built?
There are many commentators and specialists in the field of employment branding – and a quick search on Google will pull up thousands of pieces of advice on how to build and maintain your organisations employer brand. What most of these agree on is that a strong employment brand is critical to the engagement and retention of talent at all levels in an organisation.
I believe a key driver of an employment brand is in what employees say to others about their real experience working within the organisation. This includes what those who have left are saying as well. This is the most powerful source of communication about the “real” brand of an organisation.
A Corporate Leadership Council paper on the employment value proposition notes that “employees are the most trusted communication channel of potential new hires…”, and then that “the three keys to increase the number of employees advocating for the organisation are “trust, flexibility and organisational values.” ii
Social and business networking have made the business community “smaller” and information about the inner workings of an organisation are much more widely available to outsiders. Additionally, individuals talk with each other much more readily across organisational boundaries. With social media, companies have less control over this message than they ever have before, despite strict social media policies and threats of termination for those who choose to breach these policies. Undeniably, the employment brand of businesses today are significantly influenced by what people say to their personal and professional networks.
What leaders do is important
Through their work on employee engagement, Hewitt Associates found that leadership contributes to “best employer” status in the marketplace. “(It requires) a commitment…not about saying the right things but exhibiting behaviours and making decisions that clearly signal people are their greatest asset.” They established that during times of significant change, leadership is often elevated to the number one or two drives of engagement. iii
In other words, actions speak louder than words when it comes to your organisation's reputation.
Aligned values between employee and organisation
The Hewitt research goes on to identify that people are looking for the organisation to align with their individual values. They observe that “the top three brand characteristics as Best Employers are “caring, recognition and career advancement”. The best employers deliver on their promises to employees. Two critical promises are: to be treated like a valued member of the organisation, and, to have expectations met in relation to development.
Respect is also critical. Employment is very much a psychological “contract” which goes well further than a title, a job description and pay. People contribute and stay around for as long as they are truly valued at a personal level. An employer brand is about the emotional connection people have with a company, more than any printed formal statements about what the company stands for.
Restructuring decisions, especially those which see people let go, hit hard at this contract. Research by the US based Academy of Management in 2008 found that restructures targeting just 1% of the organisation were followed by a 31 percent increase in post-downsizing voluntary turnover rates. The research sample consisted of employee-friendly companies that were invited to be included in the Fortune magazine “the 100 best companies to work for in America”.
So how do you retain a strong employment brand in the face of breaches to the actual and implied promises made to staff?
4 tips for retaining a strong employment brand
1. Acknowledge that you are breaking implied contracts of significance with individuals: HR profesisonals and leaders ofetn isolate themselves from this reality by saying “this is life” and “people have to live with change”. Some organisations adopt a transactional, “let’s get on with it” demeanour. Restructuring is managed firmly without compassion.
In reality, each person who has to transition out of their role is battling issues of self-definition, financial worries, and the daily affirmation of relationships at work now being taken away.
Recognising all of this is the most important step to retaining a relatable and “human” employment brand. Recognition leads to compassion, care and mitigation of the damage otherwise attached to the employment brand of the firm.
2. Ensure a thoughtful and fair process is the first priority for the organisation: In each step of the restructuring project, this priority needs to be the first to be addressed and then exemplified in the behaviours and procedures of leaders and HR professionals.
3. Plan a communication process for employees who have been directly affected and then to reengage those who remain following the change: With those directly affected, think about the needs and interests of each individual. Manage each step in the process with compassion and dignity. Work out a tailored approach for each individual.
Ensure that individuals being retrenched are fully supported in rebuilding their careers. Meet with several career transition providers to ensure that the services offered are suitable for your departing employees.
For the wider organisation, the rules for effectively communicating significant change are:
- Communicate face to face
- Be honest
- Listen to and engage everyone at an individual level and equip leaders to do this.
4. Look after the “survivors” (see more on this here): Support the remaining employees disruption and concerns as well. Explain the support being given to those who have left and encourage remaining employees to stay in touch and offer their support to those who must leave. Engage them in designing the future work within their team or department.
An employment brand exists in the minds of prospective, current and past employees. The activity which creates a strong employment brand embraces the full spectrum of interviews, induction, ongoing practices within the organisation - especially the behaviours of leaders, and what happens in the most testing of times: an organisational restructure.
Achieving a strong employment brand at times like these relies on an organisation taking care of those whose “contract” has been broken.
i Minchington B 2010 Employer Brand Leadership – a Global Perspective, Collective Learning Australia
ii Summary of Conclusions, page ix in “Attracting and Retaining Critical Talent Segments:, Corporate Leadership Council Research, 2006
iii “What Makes a Company a Best Employer” as published in the Hewitt Point of View on Aon website