Crafting a Lofty Employment Brand: A Costly Proposition

What a difference a decade makes. Ten years ago the U.S. economy was emerging from a slump, and as corporations maneuvered to garner a piece of the growth, it was clear that there was going to be a war for talent. In the years that followed, news story after news story spoke of the shortage of technology workers, while the same issues silently struck retail, healthcare, construction, and almost every other industry you could think of. In the midst of the war, the concept of “employer of choice” branding took hold, and it seemed everywhere you looked this company and that company were now employers of choice! But being an employer of choice is a lofty goal. Real employers of choice do not self-proclaim the status; they receive it as an award by those people who know them best: their existing and potential employees. That’s not to say that employer-of-choice status is not an engineered thing; it most certainly is. Developing an employer brand, or an organizational brand for that matter, is a very strategic activity. A brand takes time to build, and can have a dramatic impact on corporate performance, both positive and negative. As we have seen this past year, brands which took numerous years to build can be destroyed in a matter of days when firms come under public scrutiny for business practices that don’t live up to the standards set forth by the brand. Passing Scrutiny All corporations, if subjected to enough scrutiny, would yield numerous skeletons in the closet. Each of these skeletons could cause damage to an organizational brand and, more importantly, to the bottom line. While you may not believe your organization has much to hide, there are many things about your organization you as a recruiter do not know. In recent years numerous corporations have been hit with news stories that in reality had nothing to do with the business, other than that the individuals involved were associated with it. A brand should be able to survive such scrutiny; unfortunately, many organizations try to paint such a glorious picture that the slightest bit of scrutiny can destroy the brand. Target the Attainable, Be Honest When it comes to branding in the employment function, recruiters need to make sure they are developing an employment brand their organization can live up to. Statements about the culture, values, people, programs, and core skills of the organization must be tested with current employees and newly hired employees to see if they believe the organization lives up to the words. Time and time again, organizations have been surprised when testing identified that employees’ views were often radically different than those management would expect. In one retail case, testing identified that many of the views management expected to be expressed by the part-time labor force were actually expressed by the retail managers, and vice versa. The Costs of Failure Failing to craft a brand that others see as honest has some fairly stringent penalties. While those penalties most relevant to recruiting include increased turnover among new hires, and increased difficulty recruiting top talent, more severe penalties can range from massive loss of market value to scrutiny that results in government investigations and civil lawsuits. Being Honest Doesn’t Mean Being Homogenous While honesty in branding is critical, don’t go too far. One of the most critical mistakes recruiters make when crafting and implementing tools that help establish a brand is that they go bland. But the primary goal of developing a strong brand is to differentiate your organization. Unfortunately most recruiters craft value propositions (sales points) that fail to distinguish and can be easily executed on by competitors. Examples of such statements include:

  • “Discover all that’s possible. We hire highly talented people that are looking for an opportunity to shape the way people work and play!”
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  • “Our benefits program is designed to attract, energize, reward, and retain talented people who will produce superior business results.”
  • “Join us for an opportunity without boundaries; push the edges of what you can be!”

Each of these examples seems great. But what could stop a competitor from saying the same thing? The answer, of course, is nothing. Conclusion It appears as if we are once again emerging from an economic slump (knock on wood), and soon the war for talent will once again go full scale. There will be winners and losers in the war, and those that win will use branding as a weapon in securing their success. Think hard about your brand, craft something unique, test it, and most importantly, live up to it.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



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