Do Companies Need to Treat Employees and Recruits More Like Customers?

Today, the hunt for a new job is treated much the same as the hunt for a new product or service.
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Earlier this year, Harvard Business Review published an interesting report charting what millennials across the world want from work. Their hypothesis was that, to date, much of the research done on millennials has been skewed towards a more Western population. Their findings point to some key differences across cultures that hold important implications for employers.

The HBR report takes a new perspective on an issue that has been challenging many employers in recent years: how to attract, retain and develop the next generation of leaders in a rapidly evolving, global business environment. Much of the focus has been on millennials, the 18-34-year-old population, but the next generation of leadership extends to anyone under the age of 40. These are the people who grew up with technology. They are more mobile in every sense of the word. The proliferation of all things digital has made them sophisticated and empowered consumers of information, and they are used to shopping around. This is true across all aspects of their lives – they search for new jobs the way they might search for new products and services. They are also different from their predecessors by the emphasis they place on getting something more from their job than a paycheck. More than any other generation, they want purpose, connection and flexibility.

Companies across all industries are jumping into high gear, restructuring their recruitment and development programs to better accommodate this new wave of leaders. This is especially true in high-pressure industries like investment banking, where work-life balance has historically taken a back seat. Earlier this month, Goldman Sachs announced a slate of new initiatives designed to make its junior bankers happier – and encourage them to stay with the firm longer.

Programs such as these are critical. But for firms to truly maximize the value of their employer strategy they must also focus on their employer brand — building out their employer value proposition rather just relying on their corporate brand reputation to engage prospective employees. Just as corporate brand strategy can be a powerful business asset, so too can the employer brand help fuel strategic human capital goals.

Traditionally, the employer brand was driven by HR. But as this recent HBR study found, times are changing. Primary responsibility for the employer brand now falls with the CEO or with marketing, rather than recruiters or HR – a strong indication that employer branding will likely gain greater strategic importance in the board room moving forward. And in a world where the hunt for a new job is treated much the same as the hunt for a new product or service, marketing executives might be ideally positioned to take the lead in developing and deploying the employer brand.

Marketers have spent the better part of the last decade identifying the most effective ways to build brands and experiences that connect their firms with the digitally empowered customer. It seems natural that they will be able to extend this to employees and recruits.

Where to start in building a powerful employer brand? As with any type of branding, information is key. You need to do the research to understand what employees and recruits are thinking. This could be through an online survey, focus groups, or even informal conversations. Whatever the methodology, the goal is to get the insights you need to develop a compelling and consistent value proposition that addresses employee and recruit perceptions (or misperceptions) and motivations.

While the concept of an employer brand is certainly not new, the importance of a clearly defined and powerfully communicated employer brand has never been greater. Whether marketing or HR executives take the reins, there is an opportunity to leverage the lessons learned already in connecting with the digitally-savvy customer to connect with the next generation of leadership.

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