Protecting Your Employer Brand

With the global competition for talent heating up, employer branding is becoming an increasingly important competitive strategy during periods of change and downsizing.  The actions taken during downsizing often have a lasting effect on potential talent attraction and retention.

The great news is more companies are doing it really well. Effective handling of the sensitivities of workforce change and redundancies can negate potential damage to a company’s retention and engagement and the right actions can even strengthen a company’s reputation and brand.

The following are a few pointers that can protect employer branding during this important period.

  1. Sweat The Little Stuff: Often it’s the really small details that make the most impact on people’s experience. It’s not unusual to see companies who have given generous redundancies be plagued by ill-will because they’ve neglected the seemingly smaller but what staff may consider ‘equally important’ elements. These little elements may seem inconsequential in the scheme of things but when an individual is experiencing major uncertainty small details feel big. Examples of these vary from person to person and may range from sensitivity regarding timeframes for return of mobile phones, to not giving someone the time to provide a handover.
    In particular it’s important to acknowledge a person’s contribution – the most generous redundancy never replaces the importance of saying “thanks for your contribution”. These words matter. The companies that have taken the time to acknowledge their staff’s contributions through a morning tea, some choice words or other genuine action have often reduced or eliminated the ill-will felt during these difficult times and in some circumstances evoked sympathy for the Managers/company for being in the current circumstances.
  2. Talk Often & Openly: How often you communicate, what you communicate and how you communicate are critical to your employer brand. Many companies put all their focus on managing their media statements and shareholder communications, only to miss the real opportunity to communicate with the people who truly shape their brand, the staff.Every communication is important, big and small. It’s important that a strong focus is placed on providing the right information in the right tone in the right forum at the right times. This needs to include consideration for optimising all potential communication forums from social media and PR through to team meetings and the water cooler. It’s also important who is delivering these messages. At times it’s important that the CEO and leadership team deliver key messages and at other times it’s more appropriate the team’s immediate Managers are involved. On occasions a script may be needed but it’s important not to sacrifice genuine listening and conversations. Communications quality can be helped through keeping managers informed with accurate, current information and through providing coaching and training on how to manage potentially difficult conversations with their people.
  3. Actions Have Meaning: Trust is one of the first elements to be damaged during times of restructure and is quickly and easily displaced by skepticism. People quickly tire of rhetoric and lip service during periods of change so it’s important to follow through on any promises. So much is happening during periods of transition that it’s easy to say one thing and then simply forget to follow through but staff keep track. Make sure all promises at all levels are tracked and accountability is maintained. Actions speak louder than words. Employers that promise timely information and quality support and then deliver it are respected and held in high regard by staff and the public. Additionally look for ways to take actions that will help your people. This may be via identifying any redeployment opportunities, through providing outplacement support or by assisting people to find suitable opportunities in your industry. One company recently simply passed on industry job vacancies in its internal newsletter. This small action spoke volumes about the value it placed on its staffs’ future welfare.

Workforce changes are a common aspect of today’s business environment but handled well can be a positive reinforcement of your work culture and ethos. When these processes aren’t managed appropriately the pervading sentiment from affected people can be anger, when handled well the pervading sense is often a touch of sadness about moving on. These are the people who will be advocates for your organisation in the future. How will your actions define your brand?