3 Simple Steps to Start an Effective Employer Branding Strategy

3 Simple Steps (Newmanity)

By Filipa Larangeira, CEO of Newmanity Business

For the past 4 years, Lisbon has turned into a very attractive tech and startup hub. On a personal side, the city is fantastic to live in, with relatively low cost of living, sunny and warm weather most of the year, and a world-renowned culinary scene. From a business perspective, Lisbon provides access to great talent at a low cost, when compared to other global tech hubs.

For any startup enthusiast, innovation addict or people-lover like myself, this is all so thrilling! You can feel the international vibe on the streets, while cafes and restaurants are getting better and trendier. New companies - local and foreign - are popping up in every corner. This means more jobs, more ideas, a better economy, and most importantly for the Portuguese: new hope for our amazing country.

On the other hand, this also means that more players are now present, quickly draining the previously ample tech talent market.

The European commission estimates that by 2020 there will be more than 900,000 job offers in the IT sector in Europe, and that in Portugal, the shortage of resources will reach the 15,000 mark.

These numbers can be alarming for most tech- based companies that truly depend on great talent to innovate, develop and ultimately, thrive.

In this environment, many started considering their  “talent attraction” (read “hunting”) strategies and buzzwords like “Employer Experience” and “Employer Branding” entered the lexicon.

I’ll writing and speaking about the first concept soon (find me at the Employee Experience Bootcamp on February 8th, 2018, in Lisbon).

But for now, let me elaborate on the second term: Employer Branding.

Earlier today, I had an insightful conversation with a friend and trusted partner about the portuguese tech and startup scene. During my conversation with this friend, he asked a very pertinent question:

“What is it about Employer Branding that my clients are desperately asking me to do it, even though I mentioned to them several times that this is not my core business?”

Here’s what I believe is missing in many of these strategies: proper market research.

A good market research means that you are looking for quality data and best practices within the sector you aim to approach.

The problem is that many companies are requesting these studies or strategies from external providers that have no experience with talent development, company culture and people management.

And by “experience”, I don’t mean reading Laszlo Bock’s book or Buffer’s blog - although these are great resources to use.

How can anyone advise or build a strategy in an area they lack experience in? How can we attract talent if  we don’t first understand what “talent” represents for an organization?

Or even better: how can we honestly speak about a product - an organization - without first going through the challenges of developing or managing one ourselves?

The result of these marketing-driven “employer branding strategies” is frequently this: lots of cool ideas with low to no ROI (Return On Investment), but big media buzz.

And the consequences of these campaigns can be even more detrimental than just lots of money wasted by companies (or drained marketing budgets):

Purely Marketing-driven employer branding campaigns can cost your company's reputation, which in an extremely competitive market may mean running out of business.

In a globalized world, where Millennials that value transparent communication will represent 75% of the workforce by 2020, alluring talent to a company that doesn’t really live by the values it communicates can be a big “shot in the foot”.

I often tell clients that creating false expectations in a candidate is one of the worst things they can do these days. It’s much better to be truthful about the pros and cons of a company - as no company is perfect - than overselling it and ultimately, having team members who feel like they were betrayed.

For example, if you’re a tech company but your product is not groundbreaking, be honest about it upfront, as developers will soon be demotivated with a lack of intellectual challenge.

Employer branding is not only about viral videos, university events or innovative meetups. Just as Company Culture is not only about fresh fruit, happy-hour drinks or ping-pong tables.

These are all perks or initiatives that can be carefully considered when designed and implementing an effective Employer Branding Strategy, but they are not themselves the “strategy”.

So where do you start your employer branding strategy?

My advice is pretty simple and straightforward:

1. Get your house in order first.

Assess what your actual - not desired - company culture is. This means conducting surveys (I love Office Vibe for this purpose!) but mostly, speaking and listening to your employees. You need to understand how they feel about your company and whether they have suggestions to improve morale and work conditions.

Be willing to ponder and change what the majority of team members suggest, even if this means doing what nobody else is doing. For example, substantially decreasing working hours without decreasing salaries. You may be pleasantly surprised by the increase in productivity, motivation and creativity from this simple change alone. 

2. Look for organizations that have high retention rates, well-being/ happiness levels, and customer satisfaction scores (these 3 factors should be considered together).

This means researching online, but nothing beats human interaction: ask people that work or know someone within the companies you’re benchmarking. Observe what they’re doing and see what can be applied to your business reality. Also reach out to customers of those companies because a great culture always impact the whole value chain.  

3. You may need to make bold and honest decisions.

If you continue to do what you’ve done, you’ll get what you always got. Following the results of your benchmark analysis, your action plan may require deep transformation within your company. And by “company” I mean “people”.

Remember: these changes should start with the biggest influencers within your organization, namely top leadership and middle management.

I always like to end my posts with a positive note so here it goes:

There are many small, medium- size and large organizations that are doing it right. It can be a coffee shop around the corner, a new startup on the block or an established business that is around for years with loyal employees and customers.

Feel inspired by those and follow your own path because no business is equal to the next.