Light up your brand

Attracting and retaining employees is an essential business process for all organisations, and a strong employer branding is a powerful tool to ensure you get the cream of the crop. HRM speaks to managers about their companies' distinctive employer branding strategies

Apple has the ubiquitous apple logo, Twitter has its little blue bird, and Facebook has its iconic ‘like’ button. These organisations are competitors but they all have something in common – an identifiable image coupled with strong employer branding, which make them attractive employers to work for.

Companies realise that a strong employer branding is an essential tool in promoting themselves. It is not just an identifiable logo or a famous face – like Steve Jobs was for Apple – but also intangible factors such as a strong employee value proposition (EVP), the career prospects employees have, and the distinctive workplace culture.
 
Genuine employer branding
For an organisation to get traction from its employer branding, there a few factors that HR experts say need to be taken into account – including transparency and clear objectives.

Wan Ezrin Sazli Bin Wan Zahari, Head of Group People Strategy, AirAsia, emphasises on the need for an organisation to be genuine in its employer branding. “Don’t be fake. Be honest about the company. If what you see on a website, a poster, or in the newspaper does not match the life in the company, then you need to ask why.

“You shouldn’t talk about flexi-hours if you wrap a whole book of rules to make it difficult to do flexi-hours, or don’t actually give them at all. You shouldn’t talk about work-life balance if everybody in the office leaves at 9pm or is afraid to leave at six. So it’s all about being honest and being transparent,” he adds.

Madhavi Tumkur, Head of Integrated Communications, IPG Mediabrands, says an organisation can do a lot to make the brand visible, including community efforts, public relations, CSR, social media, and even advertising. Companies can choose their methods of promoting their employer brand but must identify their assets first, whether they are work-life balance, fancy offices, or perks and benefits, she says.

“Employer branding is a continual effort. It is never achieved overnight. And there is no final destination to fully achieving the ideal employer brand status. All HR teams know they are in it for the long haul.”
 
Distinct branding
Organisations have various ways to ensure that their employer brand is unique. Ezrin states that AirAsia’s employer brand is first and foremost, the brand itself. Putting a face to the organisation that people can identify is also an ongoing strategy at AirAsia.

“It has been a brand that was tough to build and it is amongst our most important assets. Our chief figure in promoting the employer brand is our Group CEO, Tony Fernandes. People get to know about him and about AirAsia at a conversational level via Twitter, and Tony is amongst the world’s most active Twitter users with a huge follower base,” he says.

Ezrin adds that AirAsia wants to ensure that people see it as a potential employer, and it always focuses on what is real. He says it is important for prospective employees to understand how the organisation works. “Many organisations out there come up with cheesy promos and advertisements to make them look good and hip, so prospective employees get excited. But when these people enter the company, they find the exact opposite.”

IPG Mediabrands is another organisation that takes its employer brand seriously. Tumkur says: “We build brands for global clients such as Coca Cola, Malaysia Airlines, Hershey’s, and MasterCard, but often, we have to remind ourselves that we must build a brand for ourselves – whether it is to attract talent or new clients.”

Tumkur says that the organisation has adopted two key words: “hybrid” and “happiness”. She explains that “hybrid” is about ensuring teams are able to work across both traditional and digital media. “An accelerated commitment to ‘hybrid’ is a commitment to the future of our talent, and preparing them to be future leaders.”

“Happiness”, meanwhile, is also essential to the organisation, says Tumkur. “Advertising is a very demanding industry and we at Mediabrands believe being happy in our jobs leads to more people wanting to own their careers. A lot of effort is made by senior leaders to drive happiness and deeper engagement with our employees.”

Given that IPG Mediabrands is a media company, it is a no-brainer that social media is part of promoting staff engagement. “Our employees are our strongest brand ambassadors and a culture of happiness leads to them reflecting the brand in a positive way in the social media sphere.”

She recalls that a Filipino colleague competed in the Agency Idol award (for amateur singers in the creative arts industry in Asia), and there was another “Best in Spirit” award for the best agency support and cheerleading. Tumkur says that the entire (company) network tweeted their support to the singer. She ended the competition as first runner up while the agency won Best in Team Spirit in the social media space.
 
Shared values
The workplace culture and shared values within IPG Mediabrands and AirAsia play an important role in attracting and retaining employees.

Tumkur explains that IPG Mediabrands has an established niche for digital capabilities as well as having the best work-life balance. The company has a ‘Happy Wednesdays’ initiative that encourages employees to leave work at 3pm every Wednesday. “The senior leaders are the first ones to pack up and leave work as often in an Asian context, junior level employees are hesitant to leave if their boss is working.”

The organisation even has “Happiness Ambassadors” to uphold a positive employer brand. Tumkur says that these selected staff “brainstorm ideas to create happy teams and organise activities to promote unity and harmony and community initiatives, such as blood donation drives and running for charity events.

“For every company to project a positive image, it is important to be closely attuned to its employees’ needs, and the Happiness Ambassadors become the facilitators of dialogue between employees and the management,” she says.

She adds that senior leaders put in effort to promote the company values to students in the ad industry, including through sponsoring scholarships and teaching at leading institutions around the region.

According to Ezrin, there are many pull factors for AirAsia. “Some just love the brand in and out; some love the entrepreneurial spirit; some love the unique concoction of the low-cost carrier spirit (that is) funky and unique; some love the fluid environment at work, multi-tasking; whilst some people simply love the fact that they get excited waking up every day, not knowing what to expect at work,” he explains.

Putting the word out about AirAsia is everyone’s responsibility and that the company’s employees are its ambassadors. “Every AirAsia ‘Allstar’ (employee) is responsible for this. Of course, the People Department (HR) gets involved in conferences, social media fronts for the exposure, but primarily, it’s our own staff that promote working at AirAsia.”

When it comes to retention, people come and go and for different reasons. However, Ezrin explains that high-performers and those of high-capacity to deliver typically want to stay long in AirAsia. “This is because those who outperform and have a massive capacity to deliver are highly recognised and given opportunities after opportunities to soar high and push the boundaries of their true professional capacities.”
 

Employees’ choice
Glassdoor, a free jobs and career community company, recently revealed its top 50 companies to work for in 2014. Surveyed employees had to rate the organisations with regards to their satisfaction with the company and workplace factors such as career prospects, compensation and benefits and culture.

Top 5 companies:
  • Bain & Company
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Eastman Chemical
  • Facebook
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