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Sunday, 12 May 2013 14:52

Make people and branding your recipe for success

Make people and branding your recipe for success

Human resource management or HR is quickly developing into a cutting-edge sector within companies, responsible for spearheading crucial strategies that are imperative to the survival and success of businesses.


Long gone are the days when HR was just the place where employees went to check on pay slips or fetch leave forms. According to Dave Ulrich, Professor of Business at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, core HR strategic concerns are changing and becoming more about linking the inside of organisations to the outside.


This means HR practices can have a direct positive impact not only on a company’s employees – but also on their customers and clients. Putting people and brand at the core of a company’s strategy follows the wisdom of some very successful leaders. Warren Buffet, for example believes that assessing the intangibles – company brand and competent leadership – prior to assessing the balance sheet yields the best indicator of future financial performance.


His view is confirmed by research at Stern School of Business, NYU. Between 1960 and 1990 75 to 90% of the market value of a firm could be predicted by financial performance. Since 1990 this percentage has dropped to 50% in both up and down markets. The other 50% is tied to value not directly linked to physical assets, in other words the intangibles.


At Apple everything is geared towards these intangibles and adds value to the brand. The results speak for themselves.The brand tells customers what they can expect from the product or service. The employees deliver to those expectations. If a company does not deliver on its promises, it will not be successful. It seems a logical fit then to alignbrand and people together under one executive, but surprisingly few companies do this.


One company that saw the value in this approach was Santam, back in 2007. Margaret Nienaber was appointed as Executive Head of the combined portfolio and she says: “As a people and brand team we work towards getting employees to buy into our brand, encouraging us all to become proud brand ambassadors for our company.”


The outcome was overwhelmingly positive for Santam. The company in 2009 was named as the Best Company to Work For (in the large category) and in 2008 rose from 4th position up to 18th in the Ask Africa Orange Index Service Excellence: Personal and Commercial Insurer of the Year Best Insurance Company.


Nienaber moved on to Standard Bank Private Clients (SBPC) as Chief Executive of the South African business, taking her passion for people and brand with her and personally spearheading the integration of the two. Private Clients takes care of the wealth portfolios of 3,000-odd high net worth clients as part of a global business. It does not advertise, there is no PR, there is no public positioning of the offering. This is a business that relies solely on referrals, which means on its service and performance record.For SBPC the focus on people and brand has translated into significant profits. The worldwide Assets Under Management exceeds $10bn, which is 90% growth since 2008. Profitability is estimated to have grown by 270%.


It becomes even more important to align employees with the brand in the digital world. A negative review on a complaints site such as , Twitter or YouTube that goes viral puts paid to sophisticated advertising. People pay attention. The video, “United breaks guitars” resulted in 12 million plus viewings of negative publicity for the American airline. Employees are on display more than ever and have to be “on brand” all the time.


Getting employees to buy into a company’s brand involves them understanding inside out, exactly what the customer value proposition is, who the target audience is and what customers are promised. Then the focus is on matchingthe employee experience with the customer experience.


This is trickier. For instance, a company that stands for delivering “uncompromising service” to customers has to set about translating the specifics of this service ethic into recognition schemes, stories and presentations and differentiated pay and incentives for performance for employees.


Moving deeper into the employee experience, there are some things that people want from work that are constant: to work for a company and colleagues with a good reputation, to do interesting and meaningful work, to have opportunities to grow personally and the money to pay the bills and grow one’s personal net worth. Recognising what people valueindividually and grouping the elements into tailored and targeted packages will enhance employee experience.


Events and communication are key elements in marketing to customers but are also important to rounding out the employee experience. HR should plan in-house events and procedures to reflect the values of the brand – and ask if customers are being treated in the same way as employees.


Aligning people and brand can be challenging. The strongest lever in creating corporate culture is executive behaviour. This has been established in many research studies. Executives set direction, they communicate their ideas, they invest in technology and shape how people think, act and feel. They need to personify the company values.


Companies will know they have been successful when the results become evident in the business - in the client feedback, attraction and retention of the right people and strong valuation of the firm by the market.

Published in Human Capital
Monday, 22 April 2013 10:00

Who Moved the Cheese?

Who Moved the Cheese?

I was determined, when considering this insert, not to allow it to become another one of those rather boring and rather mechanical, "how to" type of articles on talent acquisition! The problem is, how do you make a "done to death" subject like talent acquisition, interesting, informative and innovative? The answer I felt was, to interview "talent" and see what "it" wanted, to allow itself to "be acquired"!

Employer branding: Who are you? And what do you stand for?

In today’s business environment, managers are increasingly challenged to achieve the best performance from their employees. Productivity is driven hard and is supposed to be underpinned by innovativeness and creativity, but many argue that this cannot be achieved in a productivity-driven environment.

For some, the issue of employer branding seems irrelevant unless you are a technology driven, creative, young business. However, increasingly, employees are influencing market perception of a brand or product and companies need to manage the impact of this closely if they wish to achieve the desired results that come from a committed, focused team of people.

Companies are urged to consider the individual needs of all of their employees and to ‘reasonably accommodate’ all of their employee groups. At the same time, our teams now reflect a diverse set of skills, experience, education, backgrounds and cultures. As the world becomes smaller through the use of technology, globalisation and the shifting trend in business to chase opportunities rather than customers, we see that intellectual and human capital become the foundation of competitive advantage.

If we picture our organisations as a puzzle, the pieces each look different and are shaped differently, but all make the picture come alive when they are correctly positioned. Whereas previously, dress code and operating norms were defining factors and so we insisted that everyone look the same to give credibility to the brand, we now see passion, service culture and commitment to the brand as the glue that holds that pieces together.

Several opportunities exist for companies to positively manage their brand on a practical level.

Using social networking as a means to capture a larger audience and gain commitment to growth, technology, news and opportunities is a powerful tool that many companies have not yet adequately understood, and not yet assigned to a department or individual.

Retrenchment processes provide an opportunity to engage with labour, to provide opportunities for re-skilling, retraining and working with employees to set up small businesses or switch careers. If managed correctly, this allows the demand for downsizing to become a positive opportunity for brand messaging.

BEE programmes, delivered effectively, communicated widely and managed strategically, provide competitive advantage through bursaries, community development, supplier programmes, employee retention and skills development, mentorship and graduate programmes

In our Africa division, we see the ongoing challenge to try and ensure that African operations emulate their global sponsors. The behaviour and attitude of staff members can undermine the credibility of advertised messages and so the commitment to the brand is a powerful collaborator within teams that culturally and otherwise have very little in common.

Recruitment drives, internal skills development, community development, employee engagement and wellness programmes, internal communications strategies, balanced scorecard models and many other mechanisms exist to ensure that the brand is positively positioned and that key people are taken care of, but amidst all of this, lies the ongoing challenge to manage diversity in such a way that it aligns with the brand and converts potential into excellence.

Published in Employer Branding
Defining ‘Employees’ in 2012 – And How to Engage Them

Over the past twenty years, everything that companies have deemed ‘the norm’ for workforce behaviour has changed. Employees no longer sign up for a lifelong career, the leadership term for the average CEO is five years or less, and competitive advantage is driven by continuous innovation. If the natural state of business is a continuous flux, how can companies rely on their employees to drive their vision - if employees see their positions as temporary?

In 2012, it is no longer possible (or desirable) to create ‘jobbers-for-life.’ This has driven the evolution of new tools for leadership in its struggle to find ways to engage and utilise the resources that employees offer. This has included internal marketing. The discipline is no longer a blunt retention tool. Rather, it is a precision sabre that should be focused on escalating employee engagement quickly and creatively - in order to maximise productivity and innovation in short time spans.

So, what does the average employee in 2012 expect as a basic pre-requisite?

Firstly, communication is not an end in itself – it must be effective communication. In an instant, interactive and visual age where everyone has a cell phone and is on a social network – the medium of communication has become critical to cutting through the clutter.

The regularity and nature of communication emanating from leadership is essential. The biggest reason for the changes in hierarchy is that everyone - not just the CEO ­- has access to information. This means that the authority of the executive team must come from different sources. These include authenticity, honesty, insight and timeliness – as they are unique qualities that leadership can bring.

The counter is also true. Organisations that are not democratic about their information will lose the loyalty of employees because information will soon be leaked to other sources – usually via the Internet. Keeping information to themselves leads organisations to their own demise, forcing employees to trust external sources.

Thirdly, employees want companies that are engaged not only with them but with the society in which they live. According to tomorrowtoday.uk.com, 83% of 20-somethings and young employees will trust a company more if it is socially and environmentally responsible. Seventy-nine percent want to work for a company that cares about how it impacts and contributes to society. Internal marketing that supports the employees’ own view of the world and their value systems are far more likely to create lasting, productive relationships with employees. It’s no longer about the company’s message filtering down but about responsive action to the employee voice.

Internal marketing is no longer optional. In a world of product parity and high people mobility – a sound internal marketing strategy can manifest competitive advantage where none exists. But to make your employees a differentiator requires the following: a sound strategy; the company stipulates a financial commitment to engaging employees as a cost-of-doing business and not simply as a PR exercise; that employees are engaged on a continuous basis and not only at crunch time; and importantly, that different platforms and mediums are used not simply to communicate but to connect with employees in new and creative ways.

When last have you or your workforce felt intrigued by a development at work? When last have they been so inspired as to tweet about it without prompting. When last have you seen mobile communication, flash animation, e-cards, webcams, videos and portals integrated into an internal marketing programme – something that you and your employees experience elsewhere on a daily basis via YouTube, Facebook, etc?

Using every platform possible and engaging with employees builds excitement – it not only motivates but gets the employee to really sell the company. For example, if security of tenure and a pension fund is no longer what people are working for – then let’s find new ways to reward them. And one of the simplest ways for any company is to facilitate experiences (not just work experience but life experiences) and to share the wealth of knowledge inherent in an organisation. Organisations that allow the employee to share the value generated in terms of knowledge, technology, experience and exposure through strategic and tactically-clever internal marketing will be rewarded with employees who don’t simply fill seats - but actually apply their minds to their jobs.

Internal Marketing Campaigns: Can You Put A Number To It?

Can we create a measure for internal marketing campaigns? That’s the eternal question and it still remains pretty tricky. However, the evolution of the discipline and access to technology by employees has made measurement more possible, if not easier.

Where measurement becomes tricksy is in separating out the variables that impact on the campaign or programme, not unlike above-the-line or direct marketing, but maybe a little more difficult because of the sheer number of internal issues affecting employees attitudes, perceptions and behaviours.

If what you want is to identify and separate the factors that influence the outcome of a campaign and to determine whether the results you got were because of something you did or because of something someone else did – then there is only one way to do it. You would have to go through the laborious and costly process of controlled studies – which is impossible to do for every internal marketing campaign. So, you would need to decide about what is realistically measurable.

These would include:

a) Efficiency of channel: Did your message get to the right people at the right time?

For example: what were the results of using new media rather than traditional media. How far into the target market did the medium reach? This mix would depend on the individual organisation including factors such as access to technology, internal distribution and event attendance. You may be surprised to find that new media works in the most unlikely organisations. For example: many people have access to cell phones and sms’s can be sent cheaply in a range of languages, offering the critical advantage of over-coming language barriers. The trick is to try a range of mediums and track which combination works best in your company.

b) Effectiveness of communications. Was your message read, understood and remembered?  

This is where technology can really come into play. Of course, you could do a ‘tick-the-box’ option on a questionnaire at reception. But you could also use random webcam interviews, on-line competitions and messaging integrated into team-building activities to test recall and memorability. As always, the key to effectiveness is: creativity in the initial campaign, consistency in communication and importantly, taking the time to consider what would reach the most people in an impressionable way. It’s not about the message. It’s about a focus on the people receiving the message and that requires the most intangible but most magical of elements – creativity!

c) Impact on employee behaviour. Did people change how they behaved? Generally, internal marketing campaigns are executed for three reasons: to motivate employees, to change culture or to orient employees to new systems/products. Each of these objectives can also be measured differently. This may include, for example, a perceptions audit, if the aim was to motivate employees. Or focus groups and customer feedback to ascertain culture change.

d) Business impact. Did the changes people made as a result of the campaign affect productivity, profitability or the customer experience? Here’s where the people responsible for internal marketing campaigns should work closely with the other parts of the business to take a base-line measurement of the results that would be meaningful to the business. It would be advisable to decide on specific targets in advance. For example: a 7% improvement in customer experience. It would also be prudent to ensure that the other criteria for effective change can be met such as: providing employees with the necessary tools to do the job.

Depending on the duration, you should measure at various points in the campaign. You will be able to refine measurements to suit your organisation as campaigns are executed and you’ll also have the option of refining the campaign to iron out any bugs and take advantage of what is working well. However, good communication is underpinned by imaginative and creative campaigns – so don’t let an attempt to provide ‘proof’ undermine the heart of the campaign.

Published in Employer Branding
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