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If You Don't Have a Brand, You Cannot Have an Employer Brand

Here is something to think about on a Tuesday: You are only attractive if people like to look at you! Let's consider this for a while when it comes to the employer branding concept. Who are we talking about? Who is looking who? Is it the employee looking at the company? Is it the company looking at the brands on the candidates' CVs? What is branding? Are we confusing branding with reputation? Have we just renamed reputation to brand? Does every company have a brand? Is there such a thing as an employer brand? And why is HR claiming this concept?

Unfortunately, I went down this rabbit hole, and I am not smarter. Even the definitions vary: "Employer branding is the representation of a company as an employer. It’s the image a company projects to attract and retain talent."

"CIPD research defines an employer brand as '...a set of attributes and qualities, often intangible, that makes an organisation distinctive, promises a particular kind of employment experience, and appeals to those people who will thrive and perform best in its culture'." 

If you want to change your HR practices, here are 365 things to consider:

So, let's look at the branding options:

  1. How attractive the company is to the candidate? Big brands like Nike, Google, Tesla, etc., aren't attractive because of their HR practices, values, vision, etc. They are attractive because their product is a brand—because they are well known. People want to work for them because it looks good on their CVs, and other employers like to see it on one's resume. It makes candidates more hireable, which brings me to my second point. 

  2. How attractive the candidate is to other companies? We all say, "Look, she worked at..." and think the person is qualified and competent. By the way, it is not true! But why do we think that? Because we believe that those big brands have it all together, which, to a certain degree, is true. They have robust systems and structures that keep them organised and well-functioning, unlike unknown smaller companies where you usually find chaos. What type of employee comes out of a chaotic company? Right, those who don't know the basics, and if you hire them, you will have to train them on the fundamentals of the role. I have seen how non-branded hotels operate. Wow, it was the Wild Wild West and employers and employees know that. 

  3. How attractive HR practices, such as working conditions, policies, and salaries, to candidates are? And here is the kicker: big brands will have that covered most of the time because they can afford it, and if they don't treat employees well, their product brand and revenue will be in jeopardy. They are not pleasing employees with friendly HR policies to attract and keep them. They are protecting their brand and revenue. Look at the average length of service for these big guys. They don't care about employees; they care about their brand reputation, which equals money. Despite all those employee-friendly HR interventions, people don't stay around for long. Why? Long working hours and high-stress environment. So the brand will bring people in with no effort (you don't need to waste time and money on EVP) but the conditions will drive them out therefore, HR's effort should be invested in this area. 

It turns out that HR's actions do nothing to decrease turnover rates or attract candidates. Both employees and employers want to see the actual product brand on resumes, and employees are happy to put up with the stress for a while to make sure they have that brand on their CVs. I have yet to see a company where people work for their HR policies, the company's values, vision or mission. People go for the brand and the money; this is what attracts the majority of employees. You could offer the same money and policies to people at a branded and a non-branded company, and they would opt for the brand most of the time. However, that brand was not created by HR. It is a brand/reputation created by the product designers and the marketing department. HR has nothing to do with it. 

If you don't have a brand, you cannot have an employer brand. Not every company has a brand or a reputation. Most companies don't have any. Those are the average ones nobody knows or talks about. They have no brand or reputation. Reputation/brand is for the very few, and it can be either very good (people want to be associated with it) or very bad (people wouldn't go near it). So, maybe it is time to stop wasting money on the "employer brand" nonsense. If you have a good product, you have a brand, you just have to make sure that your HR department matches your brand with the right policies and practices. It also must include no long working hours, quality managers and leaders, and manageable stress levels so people will stay a little longer. Tesco and HSBC are doing quite a good job with that. 

You are only attractive if people like to look at you on one's CV. This is what it means to have a brand. Are you one of those? And if you are not, how are you attracting people? You need to figure something out as your brand is not pulling anyone in, only low-quality candidates that are rejected by others.

PS: Maybe we have swallowed the employer-brand pill without any evidence.

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