Thursday, September 9, 2010

Employer Branding : a missed opportunity

Employer branding is increasing in importance, says this article published in HR Review this week. There are nearly three times more HR professionals actively working on employer branding today than there were four years ago. Naturally, it occured to me to do a little research on just how many of these Employer Brands are leveraging the potential of CSR to attract great people for whom sustainability values are important.

My findings are that, whilst Corporate Responsibility is often mentioned in the Careers Section of most corporate websites, persuading potential recruits that the Company is responsible, committed to diversity and adheres to a set of values, they usually miss the point. The point, I believe, is not so much that a potential recruit is looking to join a responsible company, though this is important, but that the potential recruit wants the opportunity to make a difference. The potential recruit want a job that offers meaning beyond the payslip. Something that can be their own little piece of changing the world. New people want more that just to be a part of something that saves the planet, they want to BE something that saves the planet. Few of the Employer Brand messages I have seen are leveraging the full potential of this opportunity to attract the best and most sustainability-oriented people.

The Procter and Gamble career website  focuses on the way P&G hires people who are individualist-type achievers. The Employer Brand is built on the proposition : We hire the PERSON, not the position.  The site showcases 5 superhero individual achievers - a scientist -salsa dancer who works to protect children against abuse, an HR German Paralympic Wheelchair Fencing coach, a Systems Analyst who is a DJ with an "electrified ego" and similar. Wonder-Candidates who make me question how many of P&G's  130,000 employees make this grade or even want to. There is a sustainability section in the P&G careers website,  but I don't see anything which explicitly promises that new recruits will have their chance to do their bit for society and environment.   

Tesco's careers website  prominently displays the corporate commitment to sustainability, with the main focus being  Tesco's impact on communities, combining the elements of sustainability and caring for the local community as strong elements of the corporate identity. However, the focus of Tesco's career communication is "a great place to work".  Why join Tesco ? Be treated with trust and respect, work for a manager that helps you, have an interesting job and an opportunity to get on. Duh. Is that it ? Doesn't sound all that inspiring to me. Seems to me that the sustainability mesage is not truly embedded in this Employer Brand.

Verizon also gives prominent positioning to the Corporate Responsibility programs of the Company as a core part of their careers website. Verizon tell potential employees:  "At Verizon, we believe passionately in using our vast technical, financial and intellectual resources to accomplish something equally significant – making a difference in our communities. Verizon is doing some terrific work to improve people's lives, like expanding accessibility, improving online safety, and providing opportunities for better and faster broadband connectivity. That's just part of our mission to create a great place to work while giving back to the customers we are privileged to serve." This comes a little closer but still misses the mark. It's about the Company, the opportunities it offers as a great place to work and for career building, but it does not emphasize the promise to the individual new hire that s/he will have the opportunity to make a difference. It doesn't seem to me that this Employer Brand communication has truly embedded the CSR approach.

General Electric's career website doesn't offer any additional insight.  Aligned with the corporate branding message and called "GE: Imagination at work", the core proposition in Why GE? is about unparalleled opportunities to build careers and capabilities, extraordinary opportunities and enormous potential, and exciting and dynamic challenges of a lifetime. Wow. So many superlatives in such a short webpage. How about: Working at GE will give you the opportunity to make the world a better place ? Guess that one wasn't sexy enough for the copywriter.

Even Vodafone, one of the CSR-minded companies I most admire, also does not embrace the concepts of sustainability in their Employer Branding communications. Why join Vodafone ? Because you will connect with great people, have the opportunity to develop and express your ideas. Even better, your opinions will be surveyed as part of the Company's recular employee surveys. Hey, that's really something. But not something enough. Not something which embeds sustainability as part of the employer proposition. How about: Join Vodafone and make  your personal footprint count towards a sustainable future ?  (Ok, I am not a copywriter, but do you get the change in the focus of the message ?) 

Now to Intel. "If you are looking to make an impact, Intel is the perfect place...." Sounds promising. The focus is on personal  impact and not only how great the Company is. "At Intel, it's not just what you make, it's what you make possible. Here, you'll be part of developing the better, faster computing platforms the world is waiting for. From innovative processor architectures to state-of-the-art wireless technology, you can have a hand in breakthroughs that have a global impact."  This is closer to what I would be looking for in an Employer Brand that embeds CSR and Sustainability messages, through, even here, there is no direct mention of these terms or concepts. Just adding a few words would make the difference: ... breakthroughs that have a global impact and advance global sustainability... for example.

I have looked briefly at several other careers websites from the Global 100 Most Sustainable Companies and add a few more insights here : Baxter International  (the "doing work that matters" tag line gets close, but is not leveraged in the rest of the site) , Diageo  ("celebrate what you do" does refer to advancing responsible drinking programmes, but doesn't really talk sustainability) , L'Oreal careers focuses on passion for the job, but not much about sustainability, Inditex has nothing about sustainability, Nexen is focused on shareholder value and big opportunities, Roche's career site tag-line is "Make your Mark, Improve lives"  which is a nice generic concept, but doesn't really get full treatment once you dig below the surface. I could go on ....but I will spare you for now.

I will round off with the best example I have found which is SAP. Here the core concepts of personal IMPACT and global SUSTAINABILITY are blended together very effectively. Also there is a great employee feed where employees say things like : (Alexandra: "Rode my bike to work, will go home by metro. Am researching icon trends and thinking about ideas for visual trends" and FredericSales (@CarbonImpact)  "Ending Demand Generation Day talking 2 the CIO of a retail co. With 30 stores now, paper & pen is no longer an option for reporting. Agreed.") The SAP employee volunteering program also features as a part of their career proposition. Very nice. Very sensible. Very sustainable.

To sum up, I am not sure who drives the approach to the Employer Brand in most businesses - whether it is an HR role or a Marketing role, or a combination of both. It doesn't seem to me that the Sustainability Officer is doing this. The opportunity to embed and leverage sustainability messages to create a distinctive Employer Brand which is aligned with the rest of the Company's corporate CSR communications, and focuses on the individual opportunity to make a difference is one which most companies are completely missing out on. This is one of the tests of whether the  culture of Corporate Reponsibility is truly embedded at the core, or still seen as a little project you do in addition to doing your business. If you are an HR Manager, my recommendation is STOP! REVIEW NOW your Employer Brand and your careers communications. Start stalking sustainability to the thousands of potential recruits whose desire and ability to change the world can deliver for your business.

It is time for HR to wake up to CSR !

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional. Contact me via  on Twitter or via my website


working girl said...

Elaine, this is a terrific post. Way to call companies on lip service to sustainability!

Cathie Guthrie, said...

I have always been struck by the relatively level playing field businesses consistently insist to compete on; each business trying to outsell the other by laying claims to the greatness of their products or services versus the products or services offered by a competitor when functionally, their products and services offer about the same value. By overlooking the inherent importance of their core business values, their organizational DNA, the stuff that binds like a centripetal force, they are neglecting an important marketing platform and the resulting proposition for prosperity and success. The scope of this platform need not be limited to an engaged talent pool, but would also extend to consumers seeking to support businesses whose values are aligned with their own. I loved how you gave this perspective the profile it deserves.

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