How Do You Turn Around a Crappy Employment Brand?

I get two questions more than any others since I started blogging in HR and Talent over six years ago:

1. What ATS do you use?

2. How can we turn around our bad employment brand? (You can also replace “brand” with “culture” – I get that a lot as well!)

For question #1 on the ATS selection is for another post. Check back Wednesday and I’ll tell you.

Question #2 isn’t necessarily difficult, but it does take work!

There’s a reason you have a crappy employment brand. You need to find out what that reason(s) is and solve it. Sometimes the reason is difficult to solve, sometimes it’s very simple.  If you have a bad employment brand because you have a history of treating employees like garbage, that is going to take some time to turn around. If you have a bad employment brand because you recently had one bad issue in the news, you can recover pretty quickly.

The first step to turning around a bad employment brand is knowing what the problem is.

Sometimes you just know, sometimes you need to do the employee surveys. I love doing employee alumni surveys for this as well, and only sending to those you voluntarily left on their own. Those folks usually give you better, more productive, feedback, than those you laid off and fired.

The second step to turning around a bad employment brand is you need to get your entire leadership team to agree on why you have this problem.

It doesn’t matter what you do in HR, if your leadership is not in agreement, you will never fix this problem. And, it can’t be just the CEO who agrees with the problem. Any leader with influence needs to buy in completely and drink the Kool aid. Once you have this buyin from leadership, it becomes fairly easy to fix.

The third step to turning around your employment brand is your current employees have to begin believing that real change is happening.

They need to hear it, constantly, and they need to see it.  It starts from within. If your current employees believe it’s changing they’ll begin to refer people to be apart of the change. One step I suggest, that almost no organization ever does is to find your true believer employees. Those who you are 100% sure are on board for the change, and do a special referral bonus for only them. You want your true believers referring people, you don’t want your cancer employees referring people.

The fourth step to turning around your employment brand is to change the perception externally.

Most organizations flip-flop steps three and four, and it’s the main reason they fail. They try and change external perception with commercials and marketing, news releases, etc. This creates buzz on the outside, but your internal folks kill it as soon as that first person interviews or is hired.  Do steps 1-3 first, and step four really is just fairly easy employment branding marketing strategy and plan.

The first three steps will take 90% of your time to fix. You’ll be shocked at how hard step two will be, and how long it will take to come to agreement on the ‘real’ problem. That’s because most bad employment brands start with bad leadership.  Bad leaders don’t easily take responsibility for this, and want to blame everyone and everything, besides themselves.

There’s no silver bullet for a bad employment brand. Unfortunately, marketing firms are going to sell you step four as a silver bullet, which is much like putting lipstick on a pig. The pig might look a little better, but it’s still a pig.

5 thoughts on “How Do You Turn Around a Crappy Employment Brand?

  1. Good, salient points. I would add to the mix that a challenge with brand is an inability to agree on what the brand IS and what it SHOULD BE. Similar to agreeing what the problem might be that’s impacting the brand, but I’ve seen apathy or “we can be everything” be a big problem in establishing or turning around a brand.

  2. Tim, a good article with solid points. One of the most important points you made is that employee engagement and satisfaction surveys typically will not get at the root cause for the issues in an organization. Engagement has been a bit over-sold. Employees can be engaged enough to stay until something better comes along. Those people will not take the time to build lasting relationships internally. Also, employee satisfaction does not mean employees see themselves staying with the company for the next 3-5 years. It’s important to determine what the company wants to know before a survey is just put together and sent out. Getting a bit of objective, professional assistance can make a big difference in the efficacy of an employee survey when the goal is to get at the company’s cultural issues.

  3. Sometimes, your method of keeping “employees” is what seriously hurts your recruitment attempts. For example – around here, a certain automotive company (rhymes with bored) refuses to hire anyone in IT on as an FTE; everyone is a contractor. Yes, permatemps. Their reputation is that they rarely if ever hire in direct and they don’t seem intent to ever change that. I know people who have been temps for them for over 5 years (no seniority, no loyalty, etc…). They are always looking for new people because they can’t keep anyone there. It’s the way they choose to operate and many of us IT types refuse to take part in that game.

  4. Tim–thanks for the honest commentary. Someone asked me the other day how to better showcase a bad brand! You can’t put lipstick on a pig. Instead, make the pig better.

    One other thought–data is important but I find surveys don’t usually get at the best detail. Especially engagement surveys. Unbiased qualitative feedback is the best way to understand what’s behind the ratings employees give. Just knowing they’re engaged (or not) or that they have the tools needed to do their jobs (or not) isn’t enough to make meaningful change. Following the lead of our consumer marketing colleagues and digging in to understand why is key!

  5. Tim,

    Agree completely – bad “brand”/culture starts with poor leadership or disagreement amongst the key players. As the saying goes, “one bad apple spoils the bunch” so even one poisonous senior leader can make the process miserable.

    Great post!

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