The inside-out approach

Dr. Raj Kumar (Strategic HR Advisor, Granules India) says Organisations must be clear on their objectives and should consider the internal factors before building the external brand

Q. In 25 years of your career, how have you seen the corporate world evolve and shift focus from product branding to employer branding?
A. There has been a significant paradigm shift over the years. I believe it to be in sync with the way firms choose their competitive strategies. There was a phase when factors like superior technology, large capacities and access to capital were good enough to beat the competition. Then came the need to compete on costs and efficiencies. Overall, it was a scenario where organisations used to compete using manufacturing as a lever.

As the access to superior technology became common, firms switched over to building the product brands to stay ahead of competition. In other words, competitive strategy revolved around marketing and branding.

Then came an era where competition was based on talent and competence of people. Besides that, the emergence of knowledge-based industries intensified the talent wars. Consequently, employer branding became an imperative to attract and retain talent.

Q. What advice would you give to employers today in their efforts to source, attract, retain and engage talent.
A. Firstly, employers need to have a realistic assessment of their standing in the talent market. Secondly, it is important to clearly understand what calibre is required to match the business plans and consequently target their talent acquisition strategy towards the relevant talent pool. Aspiring to attract talent from IIMs or IITs or other premier institutes is like wanting to buy the most modern smart phone from the market. It might feel good to have it but one does not know how to use it.

On engaging and retaining talent, the usual hygiene factors such as money, and bonus are necessary but perhaps not sufficient. When competent people are not utilised meaningfully, it results in disengagement. Best way to engage and retain talent is to harness performance-enabling culture with freedom, trust, access to senior management and quick decision-making.

Q. How do we create a strong and compelling brand?
A. My view of branding is to follow an inside-out approach. First, we need to create key features inside the organisation that will personify the external brand we wish to promote. For example, if we want to be known as an innovation-driven company, it is necessary that we actually have ample number of examples of innovation within the organisation. When you have consciously built all the features inside the organisation, the natural consequence is to see your own employees talking outside about all the features.

Having built the internal features, organisations can go externally for wider reach and greater brand awareness. I believe this approach can make the brand message highly credible

Q. What are the common mistakes and bottlenecks that you have observed over the years?
A. Biggest mistake that I often see organisations committing is to go externally first without building credible ground internally. Imagine HR going and making a power point presentation on a campus and projecting an impressive brand image of the employer.

One phone call to any known acquaintance working with the company can reveal if projection of the presentation is true or not. Organisations need to know that potential candidates carry out reference checks about the organisation just as employers do it for potential candidates.

Another mistake is not knowing when to start the branding exercise and not revising the brand image over the years. Once created, the employer brand does not remain static; it needs to be revisited and revised keeping in view the competitive landscape.

Q. What are the key drivers that need to be focused upon for effective employer branding?
A. The key drivers that come to my mind are ensuring that the external brand messaging matches the internal reality. The other aspect is to have organisational clarity in projecting its brand as an employer. Organisations must be clear on their objectives and should consider the internal factors before building the brand message.

Q. A brand that captures your mind gains behaviour, a brand that captures your heart gains commitment. How true is that?
A. It is absolutely true, although at times it takes a lot of effort for branding to reach the heart. Emotional branding is directly associated with employee engagement. Current and former employees of the organisation contribute to emotional aspect of employee branding. How an associate is treated throughout the employee lifecycle, starting from the first contact of the company and even after the exit from the company determines and influences emotional branding. An employee is a brand ambassador and the way he comes on board or leaves the organisation influences emotional branding. In order to build strong emotional branding, it is therefore essential to manage the touchpoints with the employees.

Q. The latest trend is on-campus branding. How important is it to attract talent?
A. Campus branding is extremely important to attract young talent, which can vastly strengthen the talent pool. It is important to note that on-campus branding is not a one odd event – it means engagement with institutes and students over a sustainable period. It will also strengthen the industry-academia interface.