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Build HR strategy around the brand

A brand is not about the creatives or a logo alone, it is much deeper than that. It is what you say through each and every communique, every policy and the way you drive the business.

Print Edition: Feb 6, 2011

An unspoken truth well known in the human resources community is that "often, the most admired companies may not be the best companies to work for". A brand is not about the creatives or a logo alone, it is much deeper than that. It is what you say through each and every communiqué, every policy and the way you drive the business.

If this is true, then why should we not apply this to an employer brand as well? It is time that HR thought of converging and synchronising the messages of an employer brand with that of an overall consumer brand. With the explosion of knowledge and choice, today's talent very explicitly expresses its aspirations and the means to achieve these. Surveys such as the BT Best Companies to Work For reflect that the talent and consumer markets are converging.

Pankaj Bansal
Pankaj Bansal
Integrate your employer brand with the overall customer brand message. A future employee is not just looking at what you offer in terms of role or compensation. A prospective employee clearly researches on what your overall positioning with the customer is, how you are better than your competitor in all respects, whether your personal aspirations match with the overall organisational portfolio and, above all, whether you are delivering what you are promising as a brand.

Surveys also reflect that the maximum recall of an employer brand is within the same target segment where the customer brand is addressing the communication - clearly reflecting the fact that both are converging. Employees are more willing to work with brands that they identify with - which suit their personality and their overall vision about themselves.

Wipro and Tata have a diversity of brands under their portfolio, drawing mass appeal to all age groups. Microsoft and Google, true to their brand definition, are more liked by a metro audience - yippy and below 30 years of age. Hindustan Unilever and Tata Motors, given their sturdy and stable brand image, appeal more to respondents from Tier-I and Tier-II towns in the age group of 30 to 35 years.

Today, HR and business are aligned. Then why not align employer and business brands? At the end of the day, if they are not same, they are not different either. If this is true, then why should we not apply this to an employer brand as well? It is time that HR thought of converging and synchronising the messages of an employer brand with that of an overall consumer brand. With the explosion of knowledge and choice, today's talent very explicitly expresses its aspirations and the means to achieve these. Surveys such as the BT Best Companies to Work For reflect that the talent and consumer markets are converging.

"The biggest myth is that money is the sole driver. People 25 and below attach more importance to a conducive work culture than compensation"
Integrate your employer brand with the overall customer brand message. A future employee is not just looking at what you offer in terms of role or compensation. A prospective employee clearly researches on what your overall positioning with the customer is, how you are better than your competitor in all respects, whether your personal aspirations match with the overall organisational portfolio and, above all, whether you are delivering what you are promising as a brand.

Surveys also reflect that the maximum recall of an employer brand is within the same target segment where the customer brand is addressing the communication - clearly reflecting the fact that both are converging. Employees are more willing to work with brands that they identify with - which suit their personality and their overall vision about themselves.

Wipro and Tata have a diversity of brands under their portfolio, drawing mass appeal to all age groups. Microsoft and Google, true to their brand definition, are more liked by a metro audience - yippy and below 30 years of age. Hindustan Unilever and Tata Motors, given their sturdy and stable brand image, appeal more to respondents from Tier-I and Tier-II towns in the age group of 30 to 35 years.

Today, HR and business are aligned. Then why not align employer and business brands? At the end of the day, if they are not same, they are not different either.

The nexgen employee
Enough has been written about the perceptions and aspirations of GenY, which, looking at facts, appears quite far fetched when compared to reality. This enigmatic workforce, with an average age of around 24, is seen to be lazy, with poor work ethics and very individualistic and money-driven. The Best Companies to Work For, 2011, survey has exploded these myths and thrown at us a different reality. The same generation would love to work with companies that are not big in size, companies that help them maintain a work-life balance and connect to the overall purpose of the organisation.

Because of the level of education, GenY believes its work should have meaning. More than ever, this generation is seeking opportunities which do not just make them another employee number, but give them work with an overall purpose. The highest contributing factors to stay in a job are opportunities to grow through career progression and adequate learning opportunities.

The need to balance work with personal goals is the second-biggest factor. This population is a work-life balance enthusiast. GenY wants to work smarter, not harder. The biggest myth is that money is the sole driver. People aged 25 and below who are at the beginning of their careers and in growing organisations, attach less importance to compensation and benefits than to a conducive work culture. It is time that employers realise this shift and differentiate in the way they deal with this workforce.

Entrepreneurial vibe
India is witnessing an unprecedented interest in entrepreneurship. From the point of being considered "good for nothing", entrepreneurship has come a long way, to almost being celebrated. This has been made possible due to the change we are seeing in our cultural value system.

Culture is of great importance to entrepreneurship, because it determines the ethos of people. It trains people along particular lines. It conveys a sense of identity. It enhances social system stability. It creates enterprising and risk bearing people.

The survey is a clear reflection of this. Employees aged 30 and below want to work and grow with organisations that are small and mid-sized, and are in sunrise sectors. Employees want to work with organisations that provide newer roles or opportunities to learn and experiment in the same roles.

India now has its own bunch of angel investors, showing that the entrepreneurial ecosystem is coming of age. India's big growth is fuelled by the small and mid-size segment. Indian entrepreneurs are today looked at with a lot of respect. People are moving away from just a trader-entrepreneur mindset to a scale-entrepreneur mindset - where an entrepreneur is raising funds and building pathbreaking business models.

This growth of the entrepreneurial ecosystem is also helping the workforce to see these organisations as an important part of the employer segment. You now have enough "Brave New World" ideas and "faster, better, cheaper" models to explore in business.

Sifting through the talk
In last year's study, we discovered that it is not the supervisor that people leave. This year's study has exploded the myth of compensation and benefits being the primary driver of change.

Aspiration: When the Indian workforce talks about the "best companies to work for", they aspire for idealism; an organisation would be a fantastic place to work for if there was a culture of meritocracy and transparency and a culture that promoted work-life balance.

Perception: However, when it came to thinking on what will make them change a job, the highest contributing factor was a "Good Role" followed by a combination of two factors - "Compensation and Good Work Culture".

Reality: When we asked people about their current job (reality), 60 per cent were satisfied in their current roles. People who are not satisfied are looking at both "Compensation" and "Good Work Culture". Better compensation is really an outcome and not the trigger for a change.

We will have to look into the prism of "Reality" through "Perception and Aspiration" - when we gauge the three of them in one go, "Good Work Culture" with "Opportunity of Learning" is what people are asking for, and not higher "Compensation & Benefits", which is a common belief. Let us not misconstrue the end as the means.

So What's the HR mantra to chant?
HR finally has come from backroom to boardroom, and has truly started playing the business enabler role. This has been made possible through building deeper understanding of business issues, automating HR and quantifying its basic functions. However, the changing regulatory framework and highly inconsistent demand-supply market has thrown new challenges for HR. It has to undergo fundamental changes both in terms of structure and delivery.

HR heads have been redesigning teams to enable such an HR transformation. However, business is still giving a lukewarm response to it. Transformation is not about another role change exercise in the organisation. This needs to be purely an outcome and resultoriented initiative, rather than just a role redesign of HR. Typically, this initiative is still driven through an "internal focus" approach, rather than by results to business.

HR teams need to be more oriented towards a solution-designer role rather than contracting out the thinking work, merely focusing on operational and transactional roles. Rather than defining roles and designing initiatives for business, the opposite needs to be done. Define business outcomes HR would deliver and then restructure HR roles, tools and service delivery. HR teams have to be better programme managers and implementation champions. The new portfolio and designations might look like "Workforce Productivity Enhancement Manager", "Sales Force Transformation Champion", "Compliance Manager", "Talent Supply Chain Manager" or other roles for cost optimisation and improving the quality of the workplace.

By developing a clear understanding of business needs and construct the framework on top of that, the agenda for transformation will not only take off but surely show visible and early results as well.

The writer is Co-founder and CEO, PeopleStrong

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