It’s been about a month since the 2014 SHRM Annual Conference in Orlando. By now, those of us who attended have settled back into the realities of our jobs and day to day life. We’ve probably filed away our notes and stashed our swag, but have we thought about what we actually learned? Have we spent any time at all considering how we can take some of the ideas we gathered and put them into practice?
One of the concepts that particularly rang true with me was the notion that Human Resources professionals need to start thinking more like marketers, an idea offered by David Novak, CEO of Yum! Brands. Maybe I’m partial to this idea because my college degree was in Marketing, and though I’ve been practicing HR for over 16 years that marketing mindset has remained with me. Or maybe I just believe the idea is not only genius, but necessary in this age of social media and transparency. Either way, the concept really resonated with me.
I think that whether we realize it or not, Human Resources professionals have always been (or at least should be) more similar to marketing professionals than not. Marketing professionals promote the business brand to the outside world; HR professionals must be the keeper of the employment brand and the story of what it means to be an employee of our companies to both the outside world (potential candidates) and inside world (current employees). However, that line is even more blurred now, thanks to the ubiquitous nature of social media which allows nearly every employment related decision we make to be broadcast or challenged, and every claim we make about the reality of working at our organizations to be either be validated or debunked publicly. Everything we do within our organizations, decisions that we used to generally be able to keep tightly under wraps, can now be put on display for the world to see. Take the recent employee termination at Cracker Barrel, a story that caused quite a bit of an uproar on social media, and one of just many examples in recent years. Perhaps we’ll never be able to prevent these types of stories from leaking, and every good HR professional knows there are always two sides to a story with the truth usually somewhere in the middle. But good HR professionals should also realize that perception becomes reality, and with that we now also have the opportunity to be more proactive with our efforts, to assume the mindset of a marketer and shape the employment story that’s on display to the world.
Branding the Employment Story
Just as our marketing departments promote our business’s brand to the outside world, HR should be promoting our employment story to the outside world. And ideally, that story should align with the business brand so a cohesive, united message is being disseminated. Here’s the value proposition that our brand offers our customers, and guess what? There’s a similar proposition as an employee. A company’s social properties, both general company platforms and employment related platforms, are perfect places to shout out what it means to be a part of our companies. Facebook pages, LinkedIn pages and groups, Glassdoor pages…good HR departments should be leveraging all of these to tell our stories. But it doesn’t stop there; if we are truly thinking like marketers, we’ll realize that our messages need to be part of an integrated strategy with our story being told in any communication we have with our potential candidate public, and that includes our career pages, every job posting, and even our message in any interview we conduct. We need to be promoting our employment story at every possible opportunity.
Ensuring a Cultural Match
A good HR department will also realize that promoting a great employment story is useless if our reality doesn’t match what our story asserts. There may be some debate as to whether or not HR really has control over the culture of a company, and though we may not be able to entirely create it, we can certainly guide it. We can do this through hiring for cultural fit; by advising and guiding our managers to make decisions in the spirit of our culture; and by helping our managers see that the culture they create within their individual departments ultimately plays into the overall culture of the company. It is generally accepted wisdom that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers; stories of bad employment experiences, typically attributed to bad managers, can permeate our employment brand through Facebook posts or Glassdoor reviews, making good old fashioned word of mouth sharing multiply exponentially. Human Resources departments alone may not be able to create a culture, but we can certainly be keepers of that culture; a collective conscience of the organization.
Engaging Our Employees in the Story
Ultimately HR alone can’t tell our employment story, at least not as effectively as it can be told. We can’t neglect the value of using our employees as brand ambassadors, or conduits for sharing our employment story. Those social properties mentioned before? It’s one thing for an official company or HR message to be shared, but how powerful when that message comes directly from your employees? What’s more believable – a slick, programmed message from a corporate department, or real-life stories and experiences shared by the very people living and working within that company culture every day? It again comes back to that concept of word of mouth marketing or personal endorsements, whether they be stories on your careers page, blog posts written by employees, YouTube videos featuring employees on the job, or positive Glassdoor reviews.
We’ll likely never eliminate all of the negatives, and we’ll probably never make every employee happy, but by thinking like marketers we can ensure that we’re leveraging and promoting all of the positive stories waiting to be told and buzz waiting to be shared about our organizations.
About the Author: Jennifer Payne, SPHR has over 16 years of HR experience in employee relations, talent acquisition, and learning & development, and currently works in talent management in the retail grocery industry. She is one of the co-founders of Women of HR, and is currently the Editor of the site. You can connect with her on Twitter as @JennyJensHR and on LinkedIn.