Move over marketing, HR’s got this one (Guest commentary)

In push for scarce talent in Alberta, HR is often driving the brand
By Mark Szabo
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/10/2011

We are seeing a fascinating trend in Alberta: Many HR departments are driving their company’s brand communications.

Significant structural changes in our marketplace have important implications for organizational leadership. These changes are demographic, legislative and economic. Each is separately and in combination pushing HR departments to drive their company’s brands forward, often more aggressively than their marketing counterparts, as companies compete for a dwindling pool of resources.

Demographically speaking, retiring baby boomers are starting to put pressure on companies that rely on experienced, senior employees.

With many head offices in Alberta, there is arguably a disproportionately high pressure on companies to compete for senior staff. That competition is forcing companies to find new ways to differentiate themselves and the more senior the target market, the more value the differentiation process needs to offer.

Targeting university graduates will be very different from targeting senior experts but they will both need to get some value out of the communication process.

Legislatively speaking, the changes in income trust legislation are being felt in the employment market, as companies that were formerly trusts are making the switch to operating companies. Not only is this creating different kinds of corporate structures, it is creating entirely new corporate cultures.

With that comes a demand for new types of employee skills, many of which are skewing towards more experienced mid-level and senior staff. So HR departments are in the unusual position of being the vanguard of their company’s brand — a role normally played by marketing.

Economically speaking, the province is doing well and we are all inundated with portents of doom from the impending labour shortage. Regardless of whether this will be true, perception drives economic behaviour.

In an economy like Alberta’s, which is not driven by consumer goods, HR departments are not equipped with the infrastructure or experience of a marketing department. Companies that can provide marketing communications infrastructure support to their HR departments will rapidly gain an important edge in the talent battle.

The steps companies must take are relatively straightforward but will require support from senior management:

Articulate what you believe: Potential employees are drawn to companies that believe what they believe, senior staff even more so. They work for reasons that go beyond features and benefits, just like we are all attracted to companies that stand for more than their product attributes.

To win at this game, employers must be able to articulate what they stand for, and here’s a hint — it’s got nothing to do with benefits, salaries, the kind of work or the mission statement. It is visceral and speaks to the emotional core where decisions are actually made. For a great summary of this, search YouTube for Simon Sinek’sTEDx talk on great leaders.

Communicate what you believe: Once you can articulate what you believe, communicate it. And we don’t mean just ads. As Sergio Zyman, former chief marketing officer at Coca-Cola said, “Everything communicates.”

How do you present yourself at job fairs? How do you describe the roles you’re looking for? Do your communications look professional and appropriate for the quality of your brand? Does your website reflect who you are and what you believe in? Does your workplace reflect the values and culture of your brand? Are you fully exploiting the opportunity to add value to your target market through social media?

Mark Szabo is vice-president and managing director at Karo Group in Calgary. He can be reached at or (403) 266-4094.

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