The Case To Solve Bad Management: Employer Branding?

It’s a disaster.

Hopefully, that is not your opinion of this blog post! That word has been used countless times, especially in this political climate on both sides of the aisle, but it can also apply in the business world when the subject of a workplace environment is brought up.

Many of us have been in environments where bad management has driven people away from companies. Bad managers are the #1 reason why employees leave a company. We don’t need to look very far to find examples (just look at Uber). But is there a remedy to this problem? Can the solution to bad management be as simple as implementing employer branding strategies?

Before we answer this question, let’s dive into what employer branding means. Employer branding, or EB for short, as defined by Universum (considered to be the leading EB consulting firm in the world), is “the process of promoting a company, or organization, as an employer of choice to a desired target group, one which a company needs and wants to recruit and retain.”

If I may also add, this also includes what a company’s reputation is as a place to work both inside and outside of the organization.

Your company already has an employer brand, whether they are aware of it or not. Your company has a reputation as either a favorable, unfavorable, or neutral place to work, and that reputation is mostly, if not completely, established through your employees. Whatever experience that they have in the workplace, positive, negative, or otherwise, will be shared in some way, shape or form, usually through social media or through a site like Glassdoor. As Dustin Clinard, a Managing Director of the Americas at Universum put it, “Your employer brand is what people say about you as an employer when you’re not in the room.”

Sometimes an employee’s perception of their employer can be shaped, fairly or unfairly, by who their supervisor is, or by who’s in charge at the top. A good portion of online reviews on a company are centered around managerial styles and decision-making. If management mistreats employees, breaks promises to them, or makes poor decisions that end up not being good for either the company or its employees, it’s no surprise that that company will receive plenty of negative reviews.

But back to the question at hand. Can the solution to bad management be as simple as implementing employer branding strategies?

In my opinion, the answer is this: bad management cannot be solved by employer branding, but people’s perception of your company as a result of bad management can change for the better as long as your message is authentic.

It all goes back to your company’s EVP. Its EVP, or employer value proposition, is the foundation by which your employer branding principles are built upon. Everything you do from an employer branding standpoint stems from your EVP.

An EVP is essentially an agreement between employer and employee—what an employer can offer of value (besides compensation) to their employees (ex. trust, collaboration, learning/development, work/life balance, etc.), and what an employer can expect out of their employees (ex. team player, accountability, initiative, etc.). An example of what can be included in an EVP might be something that involves innovation. Every company wants to be innovative, but if management does not create an environment where innovation can thrive, that does not lead to a credible EVP, and thus, defeats the purpose of your employer branding strategy.

You see, employer branding is very unlike those funny commercials you see on TV. Those commercials only sell the positive attributes of a product, but not its negative ones. Employer branding is about being authentic. It’s not only showing your company during the fun times, but also showing them when things aren’t as rosy. Or, as EB expert Allison Kruse says, employers should “paint a full picture — the good, the bad, and the ugly” about what life is like there.

Universum names 5 crucial elements to success of an EVP. It has to be:

  1. Attractive to your desired targeted group
  2. True internally
  3. Credible, i.e. not too far from how organization is perceived today
  4. Distinct from your competitors
  5. Sustainable: has to be part of your long-term strategy

The first part of your EVP may be attractive, but if it is not true or credible, as it would be with poor management, you can expect your employer brand or perception not to follow its EVP foundation, and thus lead to bad things such as high turnover, lack of conversion from your targeted user group to applicants, and bad Glassdoor ratings.

At the end of the day, bad management drives talented people away, and in turn makes it harder to recruit and retain good ones. So what can be done from an EB perspective to turn a situation such as this around?

The following is not an EB solution, but it gets a company back on the right track from a perception standpoint, which EB can help build upon. The easy solution is to get change at the top, since it starts from the top. Bad management ultimately affects the bottom line in a negative way, so a company’s board of directors may not have a choice other than to let go of the CEO if he or she won’t do the job to fix what is clearly broken.

If that does not look likely, then the next step would be to implement more authenticity into your EB strategy if you are not already doing so.

This does not mean communicating how poor management is. A) That would never be approved as official corporate communication anyway, and B) Glassdoor is probably already doing a good job letting people know about that anyway! Instead, to maintain authenticity, communicate how employees must thrive in an environment that is constantly changing and evolving (i.e. due to high turnover or rapid growth). Or tell the story of an employee who used innovative thinking to effectively solve a problem (which may have been caused by poor managerial decisions). Even better, tell the story of someone who may have heard negative things before applying (i.e. the “hype”), but once they started working there, their perception completely changed and now they are excelling.

If you do not have stories like the above to tell, try to convince higher-ups to respond directly to negative Glassdoor reviews. While it is true that former employees who leave negative reviews may have an axe to grind, a consistent pattern of bad reviews touching upon the same topics can highlight the underlying truth behind a company’s workplace reputation (just as good reviews can). The source of the negativity could have been because of a decision to restructure a department, or kill off a going-nowhere project, or go in a new direction where someone’s expertise was no longer needed.

Companies do not need to respond to every review, but those that consistently respond to reviews, both good and bad, tend to have better employer brands than those that do not. The reason is simple: it shows prospective employees that management is actively listening to the concerns of its employees and will try to provide a better workplace environment moving forward. This proactive approach is key to effective employer branding.

If your company is a total disaster from an employer branding standpoint, own up to it. Without naming names or positions responsible, own up to the mistakes the company has made, and communicate what your company will do moving forward to fix it and make it better. If new management has taken over, mention them, and sell prospective employees on a “new direction” and a renewed commitment to being one of the best companies to work for. This is the challenge both Uber and Wells Fargo face as it tries to win back the trust of people both inside and outside of the company.

So to conclude, authenticity and transparency are the keys to effective employer branding when dealing with bad management. It will not turn bad management to good management, but your company’s perception will do a 180º for the better.

Who Is Responsible for Employer Branding? CEO, HR, or Marketing?

What came first, the chicken or the egg?
Who is the greatest female tennis player of all-time?
Who belongs on the Mount Rushmore of the greatest all-time stand-up comics?
For centuries, many people have engaged in fun, spirited, and engaging debates. If you put highly opinionated people together in a room, and start off with a topic of discussion, the back-and-forth conversation could last for hours upon hours. People even make a living off the art of the debate. That’s how we have shows like First Take, Pardon The Interruption, and the Sunday morning political shows. The idea for The Guinness Book of World Records came about when Sir Hugh Beaver, attending a shooting party, got into a debate with his hosts on which game bird in Europe was the fastest. You can probably think of some good debates you were involved in recently.
Debates are a intricate part of shaping our thinking about certain topics, and employer branding (or EB for short) is no exception. The “chicken or the egg” version with EB is who bears responsibility for taking the lead, the CEO, HR, or Marketing? Good arguments can be made for all three entities, but my answer is this:
Yes, meaning all three have a shared responsibility.
Before we delve into why I came to this conclusion, let’s review the arguments for all three. The CEO is the head of the company, and in some instances, the face of the company. They are where they are not only because they have made good decisions in the past, but also they embrace the company’s values and mission, and are very passionate about those things. There is plenty of talk about “champions” within an organization (those who become advocates for certain things), but there is no ultimate champion in an organization than the CEO. Famous “champions” of employer branding include Sir Richard Branson of Virgin and Larry Page of Google. Their passion for putting employees first is why their companies annually are at or near the top of the Best Companies To Work For lists, and are why CEOs should have a role in EB. If they embrace employer branding, others within the company will be sure to follow suit.
HR has a role in employer branding as well. Part of employer branding is communicating to a targeted audience what is appealing to them from a company culture standpoint. HR helps form the team and maintain company culture by recruiting and retaining the right people for that company. Employee engagement, a responsibility HR is tasked to maintain, is crucial to keeping talent at a company. Happy employees are productive employees, and keeping them engaged and motivated helps employees become “brand ambassadors” by spreading the message of how awesome it is to work at your company. If HR continues its advocacy of culture, of coaching, and not managing, and offering clear career paths for advancement, and giving employees the tools (a.k.a. career training and development) on how to get there, then this is an example of a company’s brand getting stronger. It just needs to be communicated at that point internally and externally, which leads us to the final player in the game…
No one in your organization (perhaps outside of your CEO if he/she is good at it) is better at appealing to certain groups than your marketing team. They stay afloat of the latest trends in terms of demographics, their behaviors, their purchasing habits, where they get their information from, etc. They will be well-versed in your target market and know which content marketing strategies will get them aware of your product or service and will ultimately convert those people into buyers. In the world of employer branding, utilizing their targeting and communication strategies will be crucial in making your targeted recruiting group aware of how cool it is to work for your company versus others. This is something that your HR department and your CEO may not be as strong in.
So why is employer branding incumbent upon each of these 3 working hand-in-hand together? Marketing may know how to appeal to an audience, but they know it at the consumer level, not the employer level. HR knows what it takes to have a winning team, but content marketing is not their specialty. The CEO may be your best advocate of them all, but most experts agree that EB is more effective if that message is coming from lower-level employees, and they may have made their name in something other than marketing. Even if they are strong marketers, they will need to rely on others to achieve effective change. The point is that each of these three lacks something in order to effectively implement and maintain EB, and so they must work together to achieve just that.
Each entity provides a strength to another entity’s weakness. Ultimately, however, the CEO must be on-board and a proverbial “champion” of the cause if EB is to be most effective. It’s like football, where a quarterback or a running back may have suggestions as to how to attack a defense, but it’s ultimately up to the head coach to be on board with it too or else those suggestions go to the trash can. But every coach needs their players to execute well or the whole team loses. Similarly, The CEO needs HR and Marketing to do their part; otherwise, your EB strategy is only as good as the paper it’s written on. There’s no debating that.