12. October 2022 By Dirk Pothen
How can an employer brand survive the effects of rapid growth?
Whether you’re talking about Adidas, Apple or Amazon, branding and logos shape the image of a company. Manufacturers and retailers have been working for decades to master the art of branding, which now has a role to play in recruiting, too.
In classical marketing, a brand generates demand, fosters sales and allows companies to charge higher prices. A brand is not something remote or superficial. An investment in branding brings tangible economic benefits. This is also true of activities on the labour market, which often fall under the umbrella of ‘employer branding’ and have a direct impact on target achievement and KPIs. Typical activities include positioning the company as an employer, developing brand communication and implementing measures.
Companies that are able to create a reputation of being a good employer have excellent cards on the job market. This makes it easier to reach prospective employees, lowers recruiting costs and increases the likelihood that an employee will choose to join the company. These are all advantages that can determine the future success or failure of a company in times when there is a shortage of skilled workers, which is considered one of the barriers to growth across all sectors of the economy. This is particularly true on the market for IT professionals, where top talent with qualifications in sought-after fields such as artificial intelligence and workers with experience with basic technologies are in short supply and in strong demand. Local small and medium-sized companies are competing with the big players in Silicon Valley for the same skilled workers. Employer branding is one of the factors that determine whether or not a company remains competitive on the job market.
As a company grows, it needs more workers
The way a company deals with the issue changes as it evolves over time. In the early days, the entire team could fit in a large conference room. This makes it easy for companies to develop an employer brand and communicate it uniformly across all channels – both internally and externally. Every month, a few new employees join the team. The team ensures that the newly hired staff quickly understand and embody the key pillars of the employer brand. Things are different if the company operates several sites or if a large number of new employees join the company every month and have to find their place within the firm.
It’s a challenging situation for everyone involved. As a company grows, so does it need for staff. New employees generate additional growth, which creates the need for even more workers. If done correctly, this creates momentum that puts the company on a path of growth and keeps it there. However, in a dynamic environment like this, there is a significant risk of the culture fraying or messages becoming diluted, with all the negative consequences that would have for recruiting. Therefore, in phases of rapid growth, staff responsible for employer branding need to focus on a number of aspects in particular.
What to look out for in employer branding
Compared to traditional marketing, companies have a crucial advantage when it comes to employer branding: by being good employers, companies have dozens, hundreds or even thousands of brand ambassadors. If activated, this can be one of the most important tools in an HR manager’s arsenal. The existing team plays a critical role in shaping the perception of their employer on the job market, which is why the employer brand plays an equally important role in how the company is perceived by people both inside and outside the enterprise.
Employer branding is built on four pillars and the foundation that supports them. Managers need to pay close attention to these aspects in order to unleash the full potential of individual measures, even when the company is growing at a rapid pace.
Economic success as the foundation
A company must produce strong financials in order for prospective employees to view it as an attractive employer. If the general conditions are not right, efforts to build and maintain an employer brand will ultimately fail. At the same time, financially strong companies offer exciting opportunities to work on projects and are able to invest in everything from the development of technologically innovative products and platforms to advanced training.
Pillar 1: Be responsible
You do not create a brand by listing off values in a PowerPoint presentation or posting notices in the company canteen. A brand is manifest in the actions of people in an organisation. Every employee plays his or her part in building a brand. This is more so the case in employer branding. Every employee is a role model, which is why the company needs to ensure that all employees are involved in the process of brand building.
New employees only recently made the decision to join the company a few weeks or months ago. More than anyone else, they are great ambassadors for the company. The onboarding process plays a crucial role in that respect. This is when management has to meet the expectations they created during the recruiting process. In this phase, they establish the conditions necessary for new members of the team to understand the values and adopt the culture. Events or programmes to welcome new employees on board, mentoring schemes and regular feedback sessions are all great ways to create understanding and maintain enthusiasm.
Pillar 2: Be transparent
Companies must clearly define values and rules. All employees at all levels of the company must stand behind the rules and values with conviction. If managers break down core elements of the corporate culture and make them tangible and relatable in terms of the employee’s day-to-day work, they will achieve greater acceptance. This could be something as simple as greeting people when you meet them in the hallway or stairwell. Or it could be something as complex as giving priority to the company’s interests over individual target agreements. Working with examples or referencing real projects or conversations can be of help here. Presenting what is and is not deemed to be desirable behaviour in this way enables you to make difficult-to-grasp concepts more understandable. A story about a manager who has the door to her office removed says a lot about the leadership culture at a company.
Transparency is also ensured by holding events where imparting aspects of the corporate culture is as important as coming together. Group breakfasts or after-work events as well as Q&A sessions with management are all potential options.
Pillar 3: Be vigilant
As described at the beginning, having to integrate a large number of new employees in short order is both a blessing and a curse for the employer brand. Despite taking great care during the recruiting process, managers cannot rule out the possibility that a promising new hire might fail to live up to the expectations placed on them. This could relate to their professional skills and abilities. The cultural fit plays an equally important role, however, since new colleagues whose values and conduct do not mesh with the corporate culture have the potential to tarnish the employer brand. This is especially true for executive-level staff. Through their actions and because they serve as role models, they have a significant influence over the work environment and how their teams operate.
Having a work environment where these types of risks are recognised early on is crucial for maintaining the integrity of the employer brand. This does not mean being on the constant lookout for mistakes or monitoring the activities of employees. Quite the opposite. Openness and vigilance are needed, not an environment where staff are spied on or report on each other. Recognising misconduct, addressing issues and effectively managing situations should always be the goal. One of the factors here is the swarm intelligence of employees. If a majority of employees identify with the culture and embody the values, divergent behaviour will be spotted early on in most cases. Managers have a multi-layer plan at their disposal for just such cases. This includes meetings, training programmes and, if nothing else works, termination of employment.
Pillar 4: Be creative and dynamic
The same applies to both traditional branding and employer branding: what was new and fresh one day is standard practice the next day and old news after that. Being satisfied with the status quo is the beginning of the end of an employer brand. A company that grows dynamically needs a dynamic brand. This is a task for the HR department and for all employees as well. Every employee can ensure that new ideas are generated and, more importantly, implemented in their team or department.
The company as a whole has its part to play, too. It’s not about gimmicks fed to staff week in, week out. The aim is to create activities along the employee journey – meaning all contact points that employees have with the company – in a way that accurately reflects the employer brand. This could include providing high-quality equipment for working away from the office or having modern offices with recreational facilities or food trucks where employees can grab a bite to eat during breaks or after work. Or it could be something like setting up a foundation to provide fast, hassle-free assistance to employees in times of need. Coordinated measures are a guaranteed way to increase a brand’s appeal. If a company manages to surprise employees over and over again, they have already achieved quite a lot in terms of employer branding.
As the blog post has shown, building an employer brand is mission-critical, especially when the job market is tight, and it helps a company remain competitive, too. As paradoxical as this may sound, the challenges a company faces increase in times of rapid growth. If management is aware of the situation and the possible consequences this may have, they can take measures in response early on. It is important to maintain the momentum and level of innovation from the early days while at the same time thinking and operating on a larger scale.
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