Employer Brand & ‘The Psychological Contract’
Having spent some significant time of my corporate career working on Employer Branding, there are few personal facts which I would like to share with you all upfront; how so ever we associate this sub-function with the HR department, which is partly true, the operational roots of this entity in fact lies in Marketing.
Employer Branding was my favourite subject in college and one impactful reason was that it dealt with one of my favourite words, ‘brand’. Since I started my post graduation studies, for some strange reasons I also developed an instant liking for Advertising, PR and Branding. Even though these fields were not directly intertwined with my area of specialisation, Human Resources, still I loved these topics. I went out of the way to learn about these concepts. Never did I know that come my third semester and I will be exposed to something called ‘Employer Branding’ as an elective. I developed a fondness for this subject.
Thanks to my professor at TISS, the way he unravelled the topic in front of me made me realise that this will be the most ‘creative’ subject which I will study. The famous Employer Brand case study of SouthWest Airlines is still vivid in my thoughts.
I have interacted with many non-HR professionals and have discussed with them what they think about Employer Branding. I had a simple explanation for all of them. I just suggested they replace the word ‘Product’ in Product Branding with ‘Employer'. Soon after, there were many answers pouring in and soon this concept started making sense to them.
That’s why I keep harping on the fact that operationally Employer Branding is to do more with Marketing than HR. In fact I have come across some organisations where the EB function is actually a part of Marketing. To my mind, that really makes sense. Obviously there will be a constant working relationship with HR.
If you are a marketing professional or a brand manager phrases like – trust, brand perception, brand segmentation, brand loyalty et al will be relatable isn’t it? All these product/ brand management jargons are applicable to Employer Brand as well. Like I said, just affirm that your product is an employer.
To my mind, the simple actionable to develop and maintain a good employer brand is to uphold the ‘psychological contract’. This is a contract which an organisation unconsciously gets into with a new employee. It talks about the promises that the company (brand) makes with the potential employee (product), be it career growth, coaching & mentoring, open culture, compensation etc. If the new employee senses that the organisation has breached this contract, the dissatisfaction creeps in and ultimately she/he will quit and will be a potential negative critique in the industry thus hampering your employer brand.
There are a few other important facets of deploying and maintaining the employer brand. The most important point is the clarity from the leadership team on how they would want the potential employees to perceive the brand as. Once the apex team is clear with the brief, it’s time to analyse and take a stock of the current employer brand perception – internally as well as externally.
Gaps are bound to linger which will give a fair amount of idea on the future course of action. Firstly, internal improvements projects, irrespective of the functions need to be taken up to align the internal perception to the brand brief. But this won’t be an overnight affair and might take months. Once this is fixed it’s all about communicating this perception, which to some extent is now a reality inside the company, outside. The external communication plan has to be meticulously crafted and executed and should have a 360 degree approach; ideally no external brand touch point should be undermined and left out. Once we are able to do this successfully, chances are that you might actually get what you want, the targeted or potential employees.
Now comes the most important part, living up to your created perception, your promise - The Psychological Contract. The organisation needs to develop a clear process of defining and tapping into the experience of the employees to figure out the gaps in the adherence of the psychological contract. If this process is done well, the organisation can keep executing the improvement actionable pointers, which will keep reducing the gap between the perception and the reality and the ‘desired brand’ will live on!
In the end, if this concept is given the due credit by the leadership team, it can dig deep in any area of the organisation only to deploy constructive criticism which will help drive the ‘brand performance.’