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Monday, November 12, 2007

Brand building to attract and retain the best talent

- Punita Jasrotia / New Delhi

The IT industry being people-oriented, what differentiates the best from the rest is the “quality of human capital” in every organisation. While there is plenty of talent available, the difficulty comes in finding the talent with the “best fit” to the organisation. Potential employees would like to associate themselves with companies which have a “brand” of success, leadership, people development initiatives and also instill a deep sense of pride and commitment.
Not much effort has been made by organisations to improve their corporate image internally. However, with increasing global competition and a more mature work environment, Indian IT companies have also started looking at this facet of branding.

What is employer branding?

Employer branding is all about the company’s value in the market, a timeless process that in today’s scenario has gained even more significance. It is essentially a combination of the reputation of the organisation, the career offer and the corporate culture existing in the company.
Typically, there are two types of employer branding exercises. One is for prospective employees and the other for the current set of employees. In case of the former, the employer branding initiatives are targeted at building mindshare in potential recruits about the company as a preferred place to work. This can be in the form of communication through advertisements, third-party endorsements through the media or going to campuses. “Internal employees might not know about all the product or solution offerings of the company and it becomes necessary to inform and educate them,” says Mita Brahma, the head of Nucleus Software’s corporate HR department.

Growing importance

Employer branding has become more critical in today’s times, as most professionals are looking at a stable career and establishing a long-term relationship with the company. D K Srivastava, the vice president of HR at HCL Comnet says, “It is said that an unsatisfied customer tells ten people about his experience while an unsatisfied employee tells a hundred. Employer branding reflects the work culture in an organisation. Therefore, it is of much significance. Through right branding, the company can recruit the best talent and reinforce its positioning amongst its employees.”
A survey conducted by Hewitt Associates reveals that more companies are now focusing on employer branding to “attract employees” and keep them engaged. There is a direct correlation between an effective employer brand and achieving business success. It helps in retaining current employees, increasing employee satisfaction, attracting job candidates, and motivating employees in their work, which leads to excellent business gains. The purpose is to use the internal brand as the seedbed for aligning their people programmes to deliver significantly improved business results.
This is evident from some of the recent initiatives taken by organisations to make the workplace more employer-friendly and implement development concepts like “spiritual quotient” and “value-building”. Some companies have gone even further and appointed “internal branding consultants”, targeted to have a better relationship with their employees. For example, Texas Instruments, whose brand mantra is “conscious” and “consistent”, which gets reflected in all their activities, be it company journals, awards or regular meetings. HCL Comnet, whose brand value signifies “exuberance”, has developed a “Force of One” campaign that signifies innovative attitude and the ability to individually make a difference. Or Cognizant, whose employer brand is “Celebrating Work”, which gets reflected in its participative, empowering and transparent work environment.
Cap Gemini Ernst & Young on the other hand, likes to lay emphasis on both internal and external customers. “Paying attention to what matters to employees, and then delivering on that promise, keeps CGE&Y at the top of the list for the most talented employees,” says Atul Srivastava, who heads people relationship management at the company. “The greatest goal of Cap Gemini Ernst and Young is to be the ‘Employer of Choice’, a company that can deliver a wide range of career opportunities, a company known everywhere for its ability to develop top professional talent delivering work of top professional quality. We have used Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as the basis for categorising retention programmes and selecting a broad range of programmes which can best address employee motivation and satisfaction issues,” says Atul Srivastava, the head of people relationship management at Cap Gemini Ernst & Young.
Commenting on the changing scenario, Arun Tadanki, the chief executive officer of, says that it also gets reflected in the kind of advertisements taken out by the companies. “Till recently, employment ads were just showing the job description of the vacancy. The focus in the last two-three years has shifted and is largely driven by the IT & ITES employers, to create a powerful image for the organisation as a “dream place to work”. In the ITES industry, the job of a customer service agent is more or less the same irrespective of the company he is working in. What differentiates one ITES company from another is largely its employer brand image. This depends on a whole host of factors like how successful the company is perceived to be; what is the vision and mission; what kind of work culture they have; what kind of career growth opportunities they offer, etc,” he says. On the contrary, Srivastava of HCL Comnet has a different viewpoint: “We expect to see more innovation within organisations to improve our corporate image. Training programmes, motivational classes, employee career plans have become a common phenomenon now days. These things are employee deliverables. What organisations would be aiming towards is not employee satisfaction but employee delight!”


Pramode Sadarjoshi, the director of Human Resources, Cognizant Technology Solutions, points out that employer branding is not an easy task as it is a long-term process. “It takes tremendous effort and a strategic blend of logic and intuition in the brand-building exercise. The company has to have superior leadership, operational excellence and customer focus, and most importantly people-orientation in a genuine way, for the branding exercise to be successful,” he adds.
Companies have been focussing on more advertising than taking concentrated efforts in building relationships. According to “Riding the Wave” survey (conducted by the Career Innovations Research Group), the future might be in danger for those companies who may otherwise invest too much in mass media and little in personal contact programmes. As per the survey, the most believable forms of communication are not the advertisements, literature and websites, but the behaviour of employees and accounts of their own work experience. Srivastava of HCL Comnet states, “I believe that the most credible forms of communication are not the ads, literature and websites, but the behaviour of one’s own employees and accounts of their own work experience.”
Employer branding is a part of overall branding strategy of a company. For this to happen, the HR department should ensure that there is a constant flow of communication within the organisation and there is no conflict with respect to internal and external image. Both these factors are very significant. “Every single employee should buy into the vision, commitment and ethics of the company and should be a walking advertisement for the company. Doing a major employer branding exercise would be nothing if the company’s own employees do not believe what is being said,” says Sadarjoshi. Agrees R Shekar, the senior vice president and head HR, corporate strategy and business excellence of Polaris Software: “An organisation must adopt a concerted and focused approach to building and maintaining its reputation as a ‘Best Workplace’ and constantly work towards reinforcing this branding through continuous exercises.”
A typical branding exercise would involve identifying the USP (unique selling proposition) of the company and articulating the DNA of the company, highlighting the competitive advantages of this DNA and creating a consistent brand language across the organisation in all forums to all the constituencies. Says DK Srivastava, the vice president of HR at HCL Comnet, “The most significant aspect of any organisation is to realise its inherent values and the image that it would like to project to its audiences. The next step is to evolve the right messages and reinforce those values again and again. And the most important part is to act on what you say. Plain words can’t get a brand. A brand has to be built on action.”
Employer branding is however limited to bigger companies, with very few initiatives taken by smaller players.

Future course

As companies come up with innovative branding exercises this trend is expected to be very popular in the future. It would however entail a lot of effort from the top management. “What we have seen so far is just the beginning. Every company, no matter how small or new, would want to come out with a ‘niche’ image, brand, product or service. So there will be intense competition amongst all the players to get branded for something unique,” says Sadarjoshi.
Experts point out that the next couple of months will witness companies engaged in innovative methods to stay ahead in the race. These may include hiring image building experts to enhance the brand value, providing competitive compensation, enabling foreign postings with dollar salaries and stock options, or offering challenging work environment in cutting-edge technology areas.

Employer branding

Employer branding is a derivative of the following factors:
  • Impressive and consistent track record in business leadership.
  • Demonstrated investment in growth by way of future products, R&D spend, articulation of the roadmap ahead, and viable strategies.
  • The organisation should clearly be perceived as a place where every employee could learn and develop skills in the latest technologies, concepts and knowledge areas.
  • Aggressive, competitive compensation and benefits package.
  • Transparent and merit-oriented performance management system, wherein the polarisation between various levels of performance is both visible and fair.
  • Very high score on the leadership, business conduct and customer satisfaction, or any other parameter evaluated by an independent third party.
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