Because you can and you care: Role of HR in employee branding

“A lot can happen over coffee!” This was reiterated once again when I met with my long lost buddies. The conversation started with the usual banter and touched upon topics such as the World Cup(read Suarez), elections and selection of cabinet ministers, books and music, ISIS,  PSLV- C23 launch and finally reached the much obvious- WORK! Just like old times, when we never missed a chance to pull each other’s leg, my friends(read IT and finance nerds) spoke about their ‘trysts’ with various companies. It ranged from a recent disastrous experience called ‘hiring interview’ to a performance appraisal ‘sham’. One spoke at length about his experience with a company in the course of his employment search and he swore that no matter what, he would never advice anyone about an association with the organization. Another spoke about implementation of ‘people engagement’ activities that started with lots of fanfare and gung-ho but failed to sustain the steam and mentioned sardonically, that this company was awarded for implementing innovative engagement practices. One of them spoke about how his self-confidence plunged to an all-time low, after the recent performance appraisal cycle and how despite multiple requests and efforts to understand the gaps, he could not find a consonance between the efforts put in and the ratings awarded. As the evening progressed, the topics went back to the ‘happier’ days, and we parted, promising to connect with each other regularly, in order to revisit ‘the best days of our lives’. For me, the evening was more than revisiting the fun B-School days and I took back lot of ‘food for thought’. I pondered over the various conversations that I was a part of, and as I introspected on the experiences shared, something provoked me to think about how an HR could possibly make a difference in all the above scenarios.
 
-Can HR play a role in making work environment a motivating and conducive one?
-Can HR influence their employees (both prospective and current) and brand the organization as an employer of choice?
-Can HR give their employees experiences that they could boast about?
-Can HR make employees (both prospective and current) feel respected and wanted?
-Can HR want their (both prospective and current) employees to act as brand ambassadors?
 

The answer without an iota of doubt was a resounding ‘YES’! And while every organization is striving to be an employer of choice, it is important to be aware that every ‘moment of truth’ can be a pitch for claiming a spot in the ranks of being an employer of choice. Wikipedia defines employer brand in the most simplest of ways: Organization’s reputation as an employer. However, do awards and external surveys solely help build this reputation? NO! Surely these aspects influence external perception and image of the organization, but I strongly profess that an organization is only as good as how the employees (both prospective and current) experience it in real time!

In various studies, employer branding is linked directly to quality talent acquisition, talent retention, employer value proposition, etc. which helps build a positive image for the organization and makes an association with the organization, an aspiration. I, however, have a different take on this. Should we brand our organization only to attract and retain? Don’t we need to look at ways to make people feel genuinely respected, accepted and valued? Think about this, how many times, have you, failed to revert back to an interview candidate who does not ‘seem to fit the bill’? How many times have you said ‘I will get back to you on this’ and never got back? How many times have you planned out initiatives without looking at how it would positively impact your employees (both prospective and current)? How many times have we introduced interventions only for a ‘check in the box’?

Yes, it is these things that really matter and in the following paragraphs, I am going to share some tips that can be starting points and can get you to think about how HR can play a huge part in influencing employees to believe that the organization is concerned, forthcoming, transparent and respectful.
 
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While there are many touch points, I am considering few ‘top of mind’ thoughts to get all of you, irrespective of function or department to think about how you can make a small contribution to make your organization an employer of choice.

A traumatizing interviewee-employer saga: ‘The position is on hold’
How often have we used these words or maintained ‘mum’ after interviewing candidates? How often have we maintained a deafening silence even after reading the umpteenth follow up mail on the status of an interview from a candidate? The worst that one can do is to not revert to a candidate. He/She may not want a detailed feedback on his/her performance, but as a sign of respect for the candidate’s time and efforts, we must revert. More often than not, it could be  negative, but irrespective of what the end result is, one must remember that the interview experience is the candidate’s first experience of the organization and in a way the recruiter/coordinator is the ‘face’ of the organization to him. When we do not revert to candidates, we are also making a grievous error of making the candidate feel disrespected and not cared about.

A road less travelled: ‘I will get back to you on this’
Picture this, you called the customer service hotline for a query and were told ‘I will get back to you’ and never heard from them again. How would you feel? Frustrated? Cheated? Irritated? Well, my friend, it is the same when you say this phrase to a prospective candidate or an internal employee. More often than not, the latter is not afraid of the negative and looks forward to honesty and transparency. So, while you might be scared of sounding rude or think that this is the best way of retaining a neutral tone, think again. The recipient is a person who goes back with a trust deficit, despair and hopelessness. Always remember to close the loop. Each individual wants to hear the truth and not a diplomatic answer. If there is something that you can’t disclose, explain the situation and the context. I am sure you will be relieved as well as not lose credibility.

Passing the buck: ‘What can I do? It was not in my hands’
When you take responsibility of a task, it is important to take accountability too. It is important for you to help people get clarity. Rather than saying it was not in your hands, explain the reasons of the outcome. Spare some time to hear the other side and if required act as a bridge to ensure that the person is not left alone to swim against the tide. Passing the buck may seem easier, but if you want to genuinely make a difference you must take the efforts to walk the talk.

Looking back and moving forward: ‘This is a current standard of doing things’
Sometimes, one has to challenge the status quo even if things are apparently going fine. Always strive to do something bigger and better. Sometimes looking at the past can prevent you from doing this. Look at unsuccessful employees as potential future recruits, look at oppositions as opportunities to learn and improvise, look at new ways to connect with your employees (both future and current), look at ways to be transparent and share as much of relevant information as you can and build this in your day to day work and all your interactions. Voila! You will see the difference almost immediately.

Assumptions can be injurious to health: ‘We have done this because we thought this was what you wanted’
Assumptions are the last things to build your ideas on- whether it is about making a conclusion about a candidate based on his CV only or first impressions of another or designing interventions that you think might be beneficial to others. Always ask and be open for suggestions and feedback and take a neutral view, when in doubt. Make your HR journey collaborative – before starting something new and also after you have implemented something. Spend quality time with others and focus on nurturing relationships.

Context is the key: ‘This is something world class companies are doing’
Context is crucial and I always believe that no matter what, if the given context is not suitable, no matter what you do, the end result will be a disaster. Therefore, it is very important for us as HR people to understand the given situation. You can never suggest something that has worked elsewhere or even in your past employment and use it sans context in your current role. You cannot run training programs which will not help your current employees. You cannot ask people to give suggestions, when you aren’t going to use them. You can’t run engagement programs when the basic hygiene factors do not exist. While suggestions may be welcome, as people partners, we must look at ways to make a difference to their lives and I bet it is going to make a difference in an organizational context.
While these are few ‘top of mind’ suggestions, I would like to end with the famous words of Maya Angelou, which in itself speaks about what HR or people managers should strive to achieve: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” It is time to make people you interact with feel special and the time is NOW!
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Because you can and you care: Role of HR in employee branding

by Luna Daniel time to read: 8 min
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