Wondering why organizations find it hard to engage employees? Unclear why communication directed at employees doesn’t get the attention it deserves? Confounded by how employees continue to distrust organizations? The answer can potentially lie in how organizations view employer vs employee branding.
Look around you or at your workplace. Employees are no longer bound by organizational boundaries. They get satisfaction from more than just working for an organization or one project. The degree of personal development and autonomy they receive can decide how long they want to continue their association with the organization they work for. In other words, viewing employees as brands and therefore investing in employee branding can benefit organizations more than employer branding.
Recently, I had the opportunity to be on a panel discussing employee advocacy and brand ambassadorship. PRune is a knowledge sharing platform that brings together practitioners to engage on topics shaping the world of public relations. In our conversation topics such as employees’ motivation levels, the role of leaders, the impact of social media, channel usage and managing millennials were covered as we decoded what it means to engage employees in a constantly evolving business environment.
To appreciate employee branding means to first understand what is taking place in the world of work and at workplaces. Also, understanding the future of employee-employer relationships is critical. Employees today and going forward will hold the key to organizational success. Research studies have indicated a rise in employees’ influence – some place it at 2X more than leaders. Others mention that employees’ social media reach is often 8X more than what corporate accounts can deliver. Also, employees produce more content than earlier and are actively talking on or against organizations – with or without their employers’ knowledge. Lastly, managers aren’t the center of an employee’s world. Employees have a direct connection with organizations and wield immense clout. With increasing autonomy at workplaces, expectations that employees work on demand and dwindling trust levels between employees and employers make it even more difficult for companies to count on promoting the brand externally without viewing employees as drivers of engagement. Considering organizations are an amalgamation of personal brands, it is wise for companies to consider employees as their next ‘new’ product and help promote them in ways that are mutually agreeable. Gaining a win-win situation is when employers accept employees as brands.
Since employees already have their own personal goals and aspirations and often join organizations to partially fulfill them, it will help to understand and partner with employees for shared success.
To be able to do this, organizations also need to adapt and quickly. First, they need to re-imagine their structures and approach to dealing with employees to make it more flexible and more accommodating. Second, they need to hire people who have an open mindset, enabling conversation with employees as brands. Third, the culture within needs to change to be more inclusive and enabling. Organizations and communicators need to let go of control and focus on partnering and influencing. Fourth, finding employees who are keen to work in an environment where they can be themselves and yet contribute to the collective wisdom inside organizations are the type of people you need on your team. Lastly, the role of communicators has changed – from ‘owning’ communication to now, ‘enabling’ employees to be their best selves. That means, revisiting channels and modes of engagement, truly listening to employees, involving and empowering employees to partner, co-create, advocate and communicate on behalf of the organization. The skills that most communicators today need to change to suit this new expectation at the workplace.
Investing in employees’ personal brands may sound counter-intuitive. Most communicators and HR professionals fear to lose them to competition. It works in fact, to the organization’s advantage when they focus on developing and honing employees’ talent and strengths – in the long run, employees value the investments to their development and progress, they can also become ‘intrapreneurs’ within a safe set-up and continue to work as consultants and carve a niche for themselves, internally and outside.
Overall, organizations can’t operate the way they do currently and still expect the performance of the kind they had decades ago. Facing the realities today can help shape the organizations of tomorrow.
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