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What is Your Employment Brand Telling Prospective Employees?

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Why do people join your company? If they are joining for the right reasons, the chances of retaining top talent are much greater.

Research suggests that a high percentage of companies have taken the initial step of developing an "employment contract," which clearly defines the employee "give and get" - the performance and behavior that is expected of employees and what they receive in return (e.g., opportunity, development, reward and recognition, flexibility, etc.).

The problem with an employment contract is that it doesn't answer the fundamental question of why employees choose your company rather than another. This is the question answered by an "employment brand."

Consider some examples of company employment brands.

A new MBA joins McKinsey & Company more often than not for advancement - to get on a fast track for general management positions. And the firm delivers both by protecting its brand for developing top talent in the marketplace and by maintaining a strong direct and indirect placement capability for exiting consultants.

ExxonMobil has a strong leadership development process and a well-developed system of technical development. ExxonMobil sells itself as a talent developer first, whereas McKinsey is offering advancement.

Other organizations focus their employment brand on balance. Join our company if you are looking for flexibility, support for family and a chance to have a life outside of work, they say. For example, Price Waterhouse Coopers, a firm that gets high marks in Fortune's survey of top companies for women, offers its employees job sharing, a compressed work week and telecommuting options. The same is true for Wegmans.

Finally, some companies emphasize affiliation, being part of something important and meaningful.

These four orientations - advancement, development, balance and affiliation - presented here in a 2X2 matrix, are the primary emphases of a company's employment brand. Test for yourself where your company stands. Imagine you have 100 points to distribute in total in defining your company employment brand. How would you distribute them?

Once you and your colleagues have identified the employment brand that your company emphasizes, five questions need to be asked:

1. Is the brand clear to customers and employees? If we asked a random group of your targeted customers, current employees and prospective new employees, what would they say?

2. Does the employment brand make sense given customer expectations and competitive challenges? Will your employment brand help the company meet its goals? If not, what changes are needed?

3. How well are you getting the message out? If you look at the various ways in which you communicate your employment brand to current employees and future employees, how effective are your methods? What changes and investments may be needed?

4. How aligned are your HR systems and practices with the employment brand? How aligned, for example, are performance and reward systems with the brand? If balance- and flexibility-based, are employees managed consistently with that promise? If affiliation-based, is teamwork a critical element of who is hired, how the organization is designed and how people are assessed?

5. What changes or improvements make sense? Ask yourself, what can we do in the next 30 days to improve the brand-behavior connection? Then act and repeat.

What is your organization doing to define and live its employment brand? Write and let us know your experience.

Jon Younger is a Partner of The RBL Group, a firm providing consulting and executive education in strategic HR and leadership. Jon leads the Strategic HR practice area and is also a Director of the RBL Institute. He is co-author, with Dave Ulrich and three other principals at The RBL Group, of "HR Competencies" (SHRM, 2007), "HR Transformation" (McGraw-Hill, July 2009) and many articles, and last year logged client work in 35 countries.