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Employer Branding: Engaging and keeping talent from the start PDF Print E-mail
Written by Alfonso Jim√©nez   
Wednesday, 07 December 2011 19:56

Why is talent important?

In a knowledge-based and service-oriented economy, competition actually takes place over one key issue: the talent of those involved in the business and engaged in the company’s success.

In the past, the competitive advantage of organizations focused in other factors: capital, financial assets, raw materials, specific technologies, patents or licenses. Nowadays, all the above are no longer barriers to competitiveness, but instead, most are widely accessible. In most businesses, the only driver for competitiveness is talent.

Moreover, talent, understood as the result of multiplying people competencies (what they know and, more importantly, what they can do or even what they can potentially be able to do if developed right) times their level of engagement, is a very rare asset.

Developed economies are experiencing a demographic crisis, in which there are less and less people and at the same time, the educational and professional level of those few is also lower.

For instance, in Spain, the number of young nationals is progressively decreasing from 30% of the overall population to the current 19% and moving towards 14% in the next few years.

The number of young people with studies aligned with labor market needs is only 35%. This is, 65% of the Spanish young population today will not get a degree with will prepare them in order to enter the labor market, a college degree or a technical/professional degree.

Companies not only complain about the level of technical competence, but also about other professional competencies such as communication skills, teamwork, etc.  More so if we consider the commitment and engagement factor, which is where we can find the widest gap between what companies demand and what the young generation is willing to offer.

From my personal experience, I would add a third factor to this definition of “talent”: a global view of the world.

This global view entails being educated, trained and prepared to understand the reality of a market which is more and more global every day, as well as an attitude of serving our customers wherever they may be.

In my view, if we think of any random company, there are very few professionals who would fall within this definition of talent.

Key implication: talent is important, but it is also tremendously scarce.

Why is Employer Branding used in order to attract talent?

Employer Branding is about applying marketing techniques to the labor market, in order to get our targets (in this case, those talented professionals required by our particular company) to want to come and work for us.

A company has one single brand, however this brand may have different characteristics, even conveying differing messages. Employer Branding begins with defining the attributes of the organization as an employer, as a place where people work and grow.

Employer Branding, just like other brand elements, has a strong emotional component, as we enter a dimension of expectations and perceptions.

Employer Branding has a lot to do with creating expectations, in potential employees, about what it is like to work for a specific organization, but it also has a lot to do with the experience and perception of those same employees once they have joined our ranks.

Let´s explores the two sides of Employer Branding.

On the one hand, there is an external side to it, which is about telling the market who we are as a place to work, through the use of different tools and techniques, the goal of which is to create an external employer brand which is as close as possible to the desired image, reinforces our actual employee value proposition, creating external recognition and strengthening the company’s overall reputation.

There is also an internal perspective, whose goal is to generate employee engagement and satisfaction with the company, leveraging a set of management tools, with a special focus on an ongoing process of “selling” the brand and the employee value proposition. The final goal is to turn our employees into “brand ambassadors”, who contribute to external recognition through their opinions, comments and perception.

The virtuous circle of Employer Branding

Getting started is not easy. The key lies in managing to set this virtuous circle of internal and external initiatives in motion.
Employee satisfaction will have an external impact which, together with the effect of other marketing tools will contribute to creating a “public image”, an employer brand. This, in turn, and in combination with public recognition, will make employees feel a stronger sense of belonging.

This holistic view of Employer Branding is the result of bringing together multiple experiences and practices around the world. Different cases focused on different aspects internally and externally, however, in order to make a difference, we need to make sure we are considering and acting on both dimensions. Concentrating only on internal or external actions will not have the desired impact.
How do we manage to obtain a specific employer brand?

In the late 90’s, and as a result of our research in the field of the labour market, our team identified certain structural talent gaps, which led to the subsequent “battle to attract and retain”, as well as develop, key talent.

In view of those results, we decided to look into specific practices companies where undertaking in relation to Employer Branding, and came up with a taxonomy around 7 different types of actions (drivers). Four of them, internal in nature, influence the degree of employee engagement and commitment with the company, and their role as “brand ambassadors”; the other three are related to managing our employer brand externally, in the labour market and in the business and academic community.

The first driver is the company purpose and its ability to be attractive in the labour market whilst creating and maintaining emotional links with current employees. Corporate identity, our innermost values, make up our employer brand. An organization without a purpose, or with a purpose which does not appeal to employees will have to accept employees with a short-time or no real commitment, without any sense of belonging or long-time perspective. This does not necessarily mean that the corporate purpose must be “humanistic”, but adequate to the type of employee the company requires. People need to feel linked to the organization, not only for what they receive in exchange for their work and efforts, but also through the company vision, and aspirations.

The second driver would be all people management processes. All are opportunities to reinforce the brand, and some of them will be a key part of the employee value proposition. The demands of the younger generation go beyond salary (still the most relevant factor) and slowly approach intangible aspects such as more free time to better balance their personal and work life, personal and professional aspirations, a need to feel part of something important, etc.

Given these new needs and demands from the employee side, companies have the opportunity to complement their monetary salary package through the use of an emotional salary covering those developmental, social and emotional needs of current and potential employees. It would be a mistake to believe that people working in our organization leave all emotional considerations as they come to work and only use the cognitive side of the brain during working hours… In those hours, they also use the emotional side of the brain, just as much as they use the rational side in their leisure time. Reason and emotion influence every aspect and action of our lives.

Emotional salary, however, does not require a sophisticated, magic formula, but instead a continuous effort to understand what our colleagues looks for and needs in their personal life and in their job, at each point in time, as well as a creative attitude which will help us design organizational structures, work environments and people management policies flexible enough to provide individualized satisfaction.

In times when employees show more freedom and autonomy, all aspects affecting their spare time and their work-life balance will need to be considered. People are making it clear that life is short and therefore needs to be enjoyed fully. Work must not produce uneducated people.

Being able to offer a work-life balance environment is, undoubtedly, is difficult, especially in industries where competition is fierce and demands employee flexibility and even sacrifice. This is more so in cultures such as ours, in Spain, where long working hours are still looked at in a positive way. This means that the challenge goes beyond designing and implementing work-life programs, but it requires a new way of doing business.

One of the strategies trying to tackle this lack of balance is flexibility at work, meaning both time flexibility (being able to choose and adapt working hours) and place flexibility (working from home, etc.). Obviously, flexibility is not applicable to every job or every individual. It must make sense.

Being able to provide a work-life balance environment has many advantages. Firstly, the level of turnover due to “burn-out” would decrease. An increase in productivity is also to be expected as employees have the ability to adapt their working hours so that they can take care of their personal or family needs, allowing them to perform fully once those needs are taken care of and off their minds. Lastly, creativity also increases as people with balanced lifestyles are generally better prepared to understand today’s society and be inspired by it, being able to come up with and implement new ideas in their job (how to work more efficiently, how to better help clients, etc.).

The third driver is internal communications. Most of the case studies we looked at took some kind of action regarding internal comms, a key issue for generating a positive attitude toward the organization as an employer.

Getting the most from every other internal driver requires some kind of communication initiative at some point of the process. Communication impacts and shapes people’s perceptions of the employee value proposition.

Most companies would barely pass the test on internal communications. Hardly anyone makes the effort… Most corporations need to reconsider how they manage the way they manage information internally in order to strengthen employee commitment and sense of belonging.

In a highly competitive environment such as ours, communication will become a significant issue, and will evolve at the same pace and along the same path as the concept of Employer Branding.

The fourth key driver is a competent management team. This is important for a number of reasons: they are in charge of developing strategies, designing and implementing plans, networking and managing partnerships… but most importantly, they are responsible for managing people.

How people are managed is another very common area for improvement in companies, as it is also the most difficult in a manager’s agenda.

Managers have a very important role in conveying “the promise”, the employee value proposition the company offers, and also in demonstrating and acting on this promise in everything they do.

The likelihood of finding a company with a strong employer brand and a poor management team is very limited.

The fifth driver would be selling externally what it is like to work in a given company, which in turn has an effect on the target labour market. Potential initiatives can be considered at two levels: working to create and to convey key messages about the company as a place to work in any piece of external communication, such as the corporate web page, annual reports, commercial or employment brochures available at stores, etc. A second level would require designing and developing a specific employer branding plan which would structure all potential initiatives to position the company as an employer in our market.

Sixth driver: managing what schools and other educational institutions in our recruiting network are saying and communicating to their students about us as a place to work.

Career advisors have a strong influence on students when it comes to entering the labour market; and students are a highly demanded resource, as they are still full of energy and commitment while it is still early and have no previous working habits we might need to re-shape…

The relationship with the educational system is often managed via their career centres. However, in our opinion this has a minor effect on student perception about a specific company. Direct contact between the organization and the student is the best way to create and maintain a relationship: internship programmes are a good way to start this relationship. Other high-impact initiatives include developing a case study on our organization to be covered in the curriculum or having one of our top management teach a specific class. Both contribute very positively to the employer brand.

Finally, the seventh driver would be communicating and spreading our employer brand among opinion leaders and other potential influencers in our target labour market. This was one of the critical factors in the US experience, however, identifying clear opinion leaders and influencers in the European market has proven to be rather difficult. Professional associations can only be found for a few trades and specialties, such as architects, lawyers, engineers, etc. In those cases, it would be worth considering them as potential players to include in our corporate and employer brand strategies.

Final thoughts

Talent is becoming more and more important, but it is also increasingly scarce.

Companies, independently of their business situation and even the economic environment, will need to make an effort to attract and engage the best (for them).

In order to do that, the employer brand will be a must.

Having the right employer brand is not something that happens overnight, but requires time and resources; actions must be framed within a plan, and follow a well thought-through rationale.

Every employer brand requires a well-defined employee value proposition which encloses our key attributes as a place to work, those we have decided we need to emphasize in our labour market. It is also necessary to be aware of where we stand and where we want to go in employer branding terms.

Generating the employer brand also requires starting a virtuous circle from external reputation to internal recognition and engagement, and viceversa.

Our employees need to become brand ambassadors. Four internal drivers can help: an attractive and engaging purpose, competitive people management processes reflecting best practices, capitalizing on internal communications to get the most return, and having the best in our management team.

Additionally to the role of our employees as brand ambassadors, there needs to be a formal strategy for communicating our employee value proposition externally, both through existing tools and channels and also incorporating a specific plan targeting our labour market. Special attention must be paid to universities and other educational institutions of our interest and other opinion leaders and influencers who can help us convey the right message and build our employer brand.


About the author

Alfonso Jiménez is Managing Partner at PeopleMatters, Professor at IE Business School, member of  Top Ten Management Spain, President of the People Management Committee at Asociación Española de Directivos (AED) and co-author of “Employer Branding: Managing Brands in order to atract and retain talent”, Editorial Almuzara (2009).

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