Preserving/sustaining/promoting a strong employer brand has become critical for leadership in the Digital Age as pristine reputations are perilously susceptible to significant and, quite often, irreparable damage from a few keystrokes of an Internet-savvy disturbed/disgruntled/disillusioned party from any corner of the world. Additionally, the future of corporate entities increasingly is leveraged on the quality of their workforce, and prolonged setbacks in the war for talent can signal the end of even the industrial titans of yesteryear.
Furthermore, concerns for environmental and social imbalances have added extra dimensions for competitive organizations to proactively engage in remedial measures before catastrophic harm is done to their fragile reputations. The term, “activist,” has shifted from its rudimentary contemplation as an act of defiance pertaining to societal upheavals to a more apt description of an “engaged” stakeholder. Therefore, organizations, with an eye on thriving in the future, are well-advised to heed the adage that “someone is always watching” and proactively embrace the consequences of their actions in a more accommodating and responsible manner.
The path to accomplishing extraordinary/unexpected feats in terms of strengthening the employer brand generally is paved by the mile markers of how well ordinary/expected things are being done, such as:
- Transparency and streamlining of business processes
- Minimal employee absenteeism
- Low attrition rates
- Timely corrective/preventive actions
- Open and accommodating communication channels
- Ingrained improvement/innovative practices
- Preservation of psychological contracts
- Placating and engaging key stakeholders
- Effective talent management
- Judicious leadership development
- Astute succession planning
Consequently, it becomes incumbent upon progressive organizations to astutely utilize the services of all “influential ambassadors” as a matter of sustaining relevance and competitiveness in the Digital Age.
The three main categories in the respective context are:
1. Primarily Focused
This refers to the current employees who are imbued with the common sense of purpose and shared values during their onboarding sessions for getting indoctrinated with the norms of the corporate culture. Subsequently, this is complemented by refresher engagements as they take their professional journeys through the organization, especially during a change in leadership. The focus should be on the quality of employee experience that can convert apprehensive skeptics into willing ambassadors for the organization. A key group in the respective context is middle management since they are the backbone of corporate entities. They have a finger on the pulse of the organization and are critical to the smooth operationalization of strategic initiatives. Any disturbance within their ranks—e.g., due to a fractured psychological contract—can send echoes of discontent throughout the organization and create major impediments for any progressive initiatives. This is further complicated by the fact that most of such resentment is borne internally and is reflected through passive resistance, which may not be even discernible to an apathetic leadership. Organizations that can provide the strongest “jovial anchors” for their employees will be the ones to have a healthy pool of bustling talent in competitive economies of the future.
2. Generally Underutilized
This refers to a group that includes past employees (resigned, retrenched, retired), corporate shareholders, and regulatory bodies. Most organizations are overly focused on current employees and often forget the significance of channelizing their branding initiatives through the network of past employees. This leaves them without crucial allies when hiring the next crop of desired talent and in their quest to sustain positive word-of- mouth during the rebuilding phase after an organizational misstep.
One of the key measures to take in the respective context is the effective management of employee departures from the organization by preserving the sanctity of the employee exit interview, which often is not administered in egregious circumstances. Any failure in this regard blinds the organization to the significant potential for improvement in its employment practices by taking robust corrective/preventive actions. Additionally, outstanding organizations tend to devise astute measures to maintain positive relations with their past employees, e.g., by forming alumni chapters, arranging inclusive social functions, inviting past employees for hiring drives, etc.
Corporate shareholders are another segment of significant stakeholders that frequently are engaged on business matters, but are seldom utilized for being the voice of reason for the organization. This is evidenced by the corporate reports that generally are filled with facts and figures pertaining to financial performance and lack the advocacy of measures to be taken by corporate shareholders in promoting the organization in an effective way to create a win-win situation for both parties. Consequently, the expectation of shareholders remains within the realm of gaining reasonable returns on their investments while the organization isolates itself in the role of a performer without engaging the former in being a critical part of the marketing initiative with respect to boosting the employer brand. Such a valuable resource should not be wasted on a strictly business relationship.
Regulatory bodies normally are viewed with apprehension by corporate entities since they are seen as infringing on the dynamics of the marketplace. Their stock rises in the business world when rules/regulations are formulated/changed/designed in the interest of the business community and despised when they tighten the grip on questionable/fraudulent/unethical activities as being the enemies of free-market capitalism. Astute leadership at progressive organizations can leverage the influence wielded by the regulatory bodies through the establishment of strong channels of communication, presenting themselves as a model for regulatory compliance, facilitating the implementation initiatives of new rules/regulations in their industry, becoming members of advisory committees for working with regulatory bodies to improve the effectiveness and judiciousness of enforcement practices, etc.
3. Conventionally Marginalized
This refers to a broad group that includes rejected candidates, vendors/subcontractors, surrounding community, industry watchdogs, and opinion leaders. Such a diverse aggregation of stakeholders has gained increased prominence in the Digital Age due to the ease of technology in being an effective voice for promotion/protest, especially through social media. Most organizations don’t engage rejected candidates in terms of providing a positive hiring experience as they are seen as acceptable collateral damage of the recruitment and selection process without realizing the need for actively cultivating them for future positions. This also is being driven by the undulating economic environment that has resulted in a large pool of qualified candidates for limited roles who routinely are subjected to the indifferent categorization and filtration of the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) software that is substantially impervious to their long-term potential while screening within the narrow boundaries of tightly scripted job specifications to satisfy current needs. Consequently, a rich source of sustaining a strong employer brand is diluted due to shallow thinking. This should be religiously improved as an organizational imperative since rejected candidates generally follow the traits of unsatisfied/irate customers and often are at the vanguard of sullying an organization’s reputation, especially during informal chats with their friends/family/professional acquaintances.
Other marginalized stakeholders—e.g., vendors/subcontractors, surrounding community, industry watchdogs, opinion leaders, etc.—also expect to be treated in a respectful, prudent, and empathetic manner in order to project a favorable image of the organization within their circle of influence. This is evident from the fact that an organization that exploits its vendors/subcontractors, rather than working with them in a synergistic manner, is insensitive to its impact on the surrounding community, shuns industry watchdogs, remains dismissive of opinion leaders, and is perennially in image deficit. Such an organization has already lost the battle for organizational brand supremacy and is liable to struggle in gaining a favorable footing in today’s highly sensitized marketplace.
The prudent practice of a timely, meticulous, and honest introspective organizational review backed by robust corrective/preventive actions has firmly evolved into a survival imperative in a Digital World that does not pay heed to tradition, sheds conventional thinking, seeks seamless gratification, pledges loyalty to technological innovation, and punishes complacency with extinction. Organizations that have the humility and astuteness to learn well from their missteps are the ones with the foresight for maximizing their probability of continued success. Is your organization one of them?
Murad Salman Mirza is an innovative thinker and an astute practitioner of areas within and associated with the fields of organizational development, talent management, and business transformation. He has lived, studied, and served in different regions of the world, including, the U.S., Australia, South Asia, and the Middle East. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/muradsalmanmirza