In recent weeks, some high-profile organizations have had very negative media, from Facebook to Starbucks to Sun Country Airlines. Unfortunately, the list goes on. In each case, organizational leaders were in a defensive stance. They all found themselves having to apologize for oversights, poor service, and blind faith.
While I have not seen their budgets for external marketing, PR, and branding, I would bet that they allot large sums in these areas. What is obvious, though, based upon their public responses to their business failures, is that they do not have a clue what it means to curate, protect, and promote a positive employer brand.
“Employer brand” is a company’s reputation in a job market as an employer. This is not the same as an organization’s overall corporate brand.
Let’s look at Facebook’s calamity over its customers’ privacy. While I believe that Mark Zuckerberg regrets his company’s actions and inactions, he has failed his customers. He is the chief guy in charge and is responsible for everything that happens at the company he founded. It used to be that Facebook was a cool place to work. If you worked there, you told everyone with great pride. Now, I would venture to guess that Facebook employees are running in the other direction when prospective employees ask them what it’s like to work there. Facebook’s employer brand is tarnished.
Starbucks is one of America’s most celebrated companies for its culture. Yet, criticism around its recent treatment of two casually-dressed black men has been rampant on social media. What did they do in response? Kevin Johnson, Starbucks CEO, met with the two men in private to come up with a “constructive solution.” Additionally, they will close more than 8,000 U.S. company-owned stores “to conduct racial-bias training to address implicit bias & prevent discrimination.” While I do think they are doing all the right things in the aftermath of this media crisis, if one employee acts counter to their brand, how strong was it?
Sun Country has issues with customer service. There is no way to paint a pretty picture there. Sun Country stranded 250 passengers in Mexico and made them find their own way home. After the negative media coverage, they reversed by offering to pay them for their tickets and expenses. What many might not know is that Sun Country laid off 350 employees just two months prior to this event. Do you think their employees have a positive outlook about the company? Would they promote the brand? Probably not.
Here are 5 ways that employers can protect their employer brands:
Let’s be clear. Organizations are made up of people. Hiring the right people is the best defense against a tarnished employer brand. If they don’t come through the door, then there is a much lower chance that they can damage the brand you have built. Whether it be the employee who called 911 at Starbucks, or the executive leaders who decided to strand passengers at Sun Country without blinking an eye, they likely represent a portion of the workforce with perspectives that are counter to your employer brand.
Hire right to begin with, and your organization can bypass some of the pain that transpired in these examples.
Treat them right
This will not surprise many reading this. Once you bring in the right people, take care of them. There is nothing that can boost your employer brand more than engaged and loyal employees. These same employees will stick with you through tough times. Even when reorganizations or layoffs are inevitable, if you have done the work to engage and care for your people, they will go out the door taking care of your reputation.
When you treat you current employees with the highest regard, they do the same for your customers and you.
To let your employees know that you will not accept certain behavior, it’s important to enforce the behavior you expect, even at the highest levels. Do not let one person get away with behavior that is not consistent with your employer brand. This could mean that you have express organizational norms and values, and there are some who violate those.
In the Starbucks example, once they complete the racial-bias training, they must track, monitor, and strictly enforce non-compliance with the learning, lest they end up back in the same place.
Lead by example
If you are reading this, odds are you are empowered to change how your organization manages your employer brand. When we look at who we hire, how we treat them and enforce the right behaviors, we must start with senior leaders. Often, if we pinpoint what went wrong with a failing employer brand, we find that leaders were not leading by example.
Make sure that your leadership development programs, your promotion policies, and your enforcement mechanisms include the executive leaders in your organization. You will not only ensure a stronger employer brand, you will maintain organizational trust.
Audit brand consistently
There is no “perfect” company. All organizational leaders will make mistakes. Front-line team members are removed from people who put organizational policies in place. Many executive leaders are too disconnected from their front-line employees and their customers.
This is exactly why organizations need to take the time to audit their employer brand against expectations and against customer, employee, and shareholder perceptions. They must look at the current state often. This consistent look at who you say you are and who you really are is crucial to protecting your employer brand.
If you are not clear on how to do this, seek help. Do not leave your employer brand to chance. In a competitive talent market, you cannot afford to.
Thank you for reading this article. Curate and protect what you have built. If not, you are leaving your employer brand in the hands of others.
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