Human Resources Ignore Branding Because they Often Ignore that the World is Changing; That's Why HR is Failing So Often.
From all the articles of this blog, the one discussing how Human Resources can be problematic to your brand is the most popular of all, the most discussed on Facebook and counting the highest number of re-tweets.
This interest demonstrates the dichotomy there is today between how human resources are operating vs. employees and management expectations.
They are surely not matching!
From Marketing to Operations, everyone understands the importance of branding: it differentiates your products, services, etc. from your competitors’.
But Human Resources?
“I’m working in HR, not in marketing. Why should I care about branding?” can you hear them thinking – if not telling loud and clear!
It is a fact that most Human Resources-related courses or schools do not include branding or marketing into their curriculum:
HR students are taught (in the best universities and I quote from them) from Managing Diversity and Dispute and conflict management and resolution to Organizational metrics, analysis and development or Talent management and Employment law – among much more.
But nowhere can you see anything related to branding or marketing.
HR professional cannot be (entirely) blamed:
They are not prepared to a quickly changing world.
Universities and schools are to be criticized – they do not adapt.
On the other hand, it is part of any Human Resources department to manage changes in the enterprise whenever necessary.
Obviously, they do have a problem recognizing firms’ new needs and adapting to them – those in charge of handling resistance to change are the first to resist!
For years, even the employment branding concept did not even exist, the HR world was limited to employment functions exclusively.
Since, and in less than 10 years, things have dramatically changed.
Competition entered the Human Resources world; the concept of ‘market‘ is not limited anymore to the relationship seller / buyer where the seller is the company and buyer is only the client, but a new relationship appeared where the seller is still the company, but the buyer is now the employee.
You will say that at a time of economic downturn and soaring unemployment, this theory is invalid.
In fact, it is quite the opposite:
It is when times are challenging that this concept is truer than ever.
Let me explain why.
Competition is fierce:
Your company is competing against other firms that sell more or less the same products or services as yours – sometimes of a better quality, sometimes not.
On the other hand, the pool of clients is shrinking dangerously; your clientele base being dramatically hit by the crisis too.
Therefore, in order to survive (because you know only the best will go through this difficult period, and many will disappear before it’ll end), you need to be on your toes, and be the best among all your competitors.
But your competitors know that too, and they will do all there is in their power to bring you down and them survive.
At the end of the day, who will warrant you success? Who will build the best products in your factories, offer the best service in your shops?
They are the key to your survival.
You say that unemployment is high in your business area, and because of the crisis, unfortunately, it will get even worst; then why worry about employees? They will be queuing outside your doors to get a job.
Except that you don’t want any employee.
You want the best employees; those who will fabricate perfectly the item that will please your buyer and will not come back for default and get you bad words on social networks.
You want the best employees; those who will welcome your customers with a genuine smile and will handle them in a professional and caring way, in order to ensure their return business and positive word-of-mouth.
Those employees, your competitors want them too because they are not legion.
Those employees usually do not need to look for a job:
They are already employed, and if for any reason they are on the ‘market’, they don’t stay available very long – they quickly receive an offer.
Because in a highly competitive market money (salary and benefits) is not all, you need to attract them the same way you attract new customers.
Of course, you’ll say that there is the ‘Best Employer’ concept.
It is a concept of yesteryear – even if many companies did not get to that level yet -, because the employment market is not stable any longer, and in particular the youngest generations are not anymore dedicated to a company: they are dedicated to themselves.
Hence the need of branding.
A Best Employer is a company I want to join and work for and develop in for many years.
A brand I work with is a brand I am proud to tell my friends I represent because I look good working for it, because it’ll look good on my CV (resume), and I’ll work with them (vs. working for them) as long as I believe it is beneficial to me.
Two different worlds.
The new economy world is a world where most Human Resources departments did not enter, and in most cases don’t even know it exists – they are still at the Best Employer concept for the most advanced ones!
This explains why your company may dramatically lose market shares (clients) and eventually may not see the end of the crisis.
You need the right employee at the right position.
You want that employee to be extremely motivated, because if they are not, your company may die.
Human Resources will answer that this is the job of Operations to motivate its employees.
This time, it is only partially true.
It is the job of Human Resources to hire pre-motivated employees – therefore developing a recruitment branding strategy to attract only the best candidates -, as well as ensuring to develop and implement new and innovative policies aimed at guaranteeing that if they decide to stay with your company, employees are satisfied and that their motivation level never goes down because of HR-related issues.
Unfortunately, in many firms, HR department - because of their policies (or lack of) - can be nicknamed The Great Demotivator!
In order to be efficient and ensure company’s durability, Human Resources should work hand-in-hand with Branding and Marketing departments.
As explained in previous posts, the main reason being that your company’s first client is your employee.
We should never forget that the quality and features of your products / services, pricing and other market penetration tools are becoming more and more useless as – if they are good enough and worth of attention -, your competitions will mimic and upstage your efforts in less time than you needed to develop and implement them!
It means that only your brand and the power and strength of its image and representation in people’s mind will allow you to succeed.
Once again, it gets back to your employees, as in the eyes of your clients they are eventually your brand (indirectly if you fabricate goods that are sold through third-parties, or directly if you run a consulting firm – for instance – or a shop).
Your workforce is your brand to your market.
But are they your brand to their own eyes?
To be able to answer yes, you need to implement few (not so) simple rules:
Understanding is believing
You have a greatly designed brand.
Your market studies show that your customers like it.
What about your employees?
Do they know what is the meaning of the brand?
What is the story behind the brand?
(Every successful brand has a story – Coca-Cola and its secret recipe, Facebook was created because Mark Zuckerberg got turned down by the woman he loved, Louis Vuitton built its first now famous trunks following a complaint from Empress Eugenie who found the trunk in usage at the time not convenient -, if yours don’t have one, you have less chance to succeed: everyone likes a good story!)
Do they know your customer promise?
If they don’t, how can they deliver it?
They not only need to be informed, they also need to be marketed so that they believe in your brand.
You spend a fortune crafting your brand’s identity, develop your unique communication strategy, select carefully your advertising agency, etc. because you want your customers to get the right message.
What about your employees?
Your Human Resources department spent another fortune hiring a consulting agency to design perfect vision and mission statements; if they still had some cash left they went all the way to add four or five values with the beautifully designed posters that go with.
In some cases, some trainings are even given to employees about those values.
And that's about it.
Where is the brand you developed so expensively?
Not once the HR department mentions the customer promise, because they are Human Resources, not Marketing or Operations, remember?
Like most of your colleagues, you forgot that your employees have the greatest impact on your customers:
They are the real heart and soul of your brand.
How many times did you – yes, you reader! – had an experience that contradicted the commercial that drove you to that business?
“We’ll take more care of you” said British Airways at the worst time of its history – when passengers of all classes were more than poorly treated.
If your employees don’t know about your brand’s promise and – worst – don’t believe in it, you better close business early during an economic downturn before you have no other choice than filing for bankruptcy!
Human Resources must be interested in company’s bottom line as much as any other department.
They must realize that employees are not a commodity, a resource.
They are people (internal customers) and must be treated with the same respect and attention that Branding, Marketing and Operations are treating their (external) customers.
If employees believe in the brand, they will deliver.
Human Resources are not an island
The HR department must stop operating as if they were alone in the world, producing rules and policies that have a direct negative impact on the bottom line because they ignore the real world and how the company operates.
They must quit implementing policies direct from a textbook without verifying first if they were valid in the industry where they are to be implemented – there is no such a thing as ‘one fits all’ in Human Resources -, and what will be their impact on staff morale - hence, once again, on revenue and company's profits.
Let me give you an example:
I personally know of a company that had been implementing for decades a bonus policy – obviously coming directly from some theory developed by a famous university professor who never worked in the real world - that had a direct extremely negative impact on their workforce, creating a multitude of unhappy employees, year after year.
The negative effect on business was hidden for a long time because that firm was lucky enough to benefit from a very favorable economic environment.
Unfortunately, when the recession came, that company was the first to be hit:
The unhappy workforce was not able to deliver against a much better and efficient competition – workforce at the origin of the poor reputation this business earned in the past, due to deficient ‘traditional’ Human Resources management (among other negative issues in this particular case that made things only worst).
These workers did not believe in their company.
How could they be expected to deliver?
A 2015 Insider Monkey poll states that the fast food chain in the USA rated as the best to work for, In-N-Out Burger, has a return business in average 6 to 7 times more than any of its competitors – except for its second, Chick-fil-A, where the gap is only 2 to 1.
In both cases, as with Google we discussed in many occasions already, the Human Resources department plays a great role in the organization.
This example shows that policies should not be made for what is perceived at first to the benefit of the company:
They should be developed to the profit of the employees – because, at the end of the day, the company will benefit too.
Human Resources department must urgently learn to think differently
Policies are not the backbone of the enterprise. Employees are.
Therefore policies must be developed to enhance workforce life at work and at home (work / leisure balance), so to ensure their will to work to better address customers’ needs which eventually leads to a much improved bottom line.
Many major corporations and government bodies understood that already:
For instance, Germany's Labor Ministry banned in 2013 its management from calling or emailing employees after working hours- except in emergency of course.
Volkswagen did the same a year earlier, and since more companies followed suit such as BMW, HP or IBM, each leader on their market.
Branding, Marketing and Operations are working hand-in-hand to develop a brand that will please the (external) customer and will attract them to your business.
Branding, marketing, Operations and Human Resources must now work hand-in-hand to adapt the brand to please the (internal) customer so to deliver the customer promise.
Failing to do so, in those very challenging times, will only speed up the fall of your company.
Are today’s Human Resources teams able to face that challenge?
What do you think?