Losing your brand

Tough times aren’t an excuse to stop acting like an employer of choice

A great many corporate reputations were sullied in the last year, as the economy slumped and corporate leaders were forced to take drastic actions to keep their organizations afloat.

For HR departments this could have long-lasting and troubling ramifications.

Many experts maintain the war for talent isn’t over, only in the midst of a transitory ceasefire. Recruiting the best talent will continue to be a decisive success factor, they say, and the best talent want to work for companies that have a reputation for treating employees well.

But some companies and some managers say things have changed and believe they can get away with not treating employees well.

There is increasing evidence to prove organizations that can find and hold on to top talent outperform their competitors, said Graham Brown, manager of people strategy, Andersen’s human capital group in Toronto.

Not long ago, companies were talking about becoming an employer of choice and building an employer brand that would attract people and make it easier to recruit top talent. That was sound strategy but as soon as things started to get a little bumpy many employers abandoned it, he said.

“A lot of organizations got very short-sighted,” said Brown. Promises and commitments were forgotten and in many HR departments priorities were shifted from finding the best people to cutting costs.

If, in a downturn, the organization stops paying top dollar, when it one time boasted of being the best at compensating people, what are employees going to think, asked Brown.

“It sends the wrong message.” If that image of being an employer of choice is tarnished not only will it make it difficult to attract new employees, it also undermines feelings of loyalty current staff may have had. Employees want to know that employers will keep their promises even when things get tough, said Brown. “They are saying, ‘Don’t just be a fair-weather friend.’”

Aside from pressures to reduce head count or payroll, in cases where the organization is still hiring, HR is feeling pressure to cut the costs of the recruitment process. Big mistake, he said.

Part of the problem is HR often can’t prove that spending money to build an employer brand and recruit top people is a value-added proposition, he said.

“How do companies measure how effectively they recruit? They measure cost per hire and days required to fill the job. If that is what you measure, in a downturn you would likely try to reduce cost per hire and reduce days per hire,” he said. But simply trying to minimize costs will end up hurting the organization because you could hire the wrong people.

“What you tend to do is lower your standards,” said Brown. “You interview your shortlist and if you don’t find the right candidate you shouldn’t just settle for the best one of the group, you should look for somebody else.”

It has been proven the difference between a top performer and an average performer is very significant, and therefore of great importance to organizational performance, he added.

If HR wants to prove it is worthwhile spending money and taking the time to find the right people for the organization, they should measure the quality of the candidates and the number of hires who are worthy of promotion, and the number who demonstrate the core competencies of the business, said Brown. It is the age-old problem for HR, but if the organization wants to perform, it will take the time and spend the money to find the best people for the job, rather than just fill the position as quickly as possible — even in a downturn.

Latest stories