May 1, 2013
Interesting post on the CIPD site by editor Alison Gilbertson this week alluding to the disconnect between the apparent needs of recruiting employers and apparent expectations of Gen Y.
While I dislike the gross generalisations in this context as much as I found the clumsy gender stereotypes irritating in the book to which it alludes, the research raises a number of interesting points for anyone responsible for managing their organisation’s employer brand:
New research launched at last week’s CIPD HRD Conference, reveals a gulf in expectations between young people and employers that is seemingly contributing to high levels of youth unemployment. It’s also fuelling a ticking time bomb of skills shortages for UK businesses, who may be limiting their access to this important and diverse talent pool.
The report identifies flash points hindering young people from finding work and the CIPD has published a practical leaflet with top tips for recruiting young people.
In such an employer’s market, it’s easy to dismiss these findings by placing the emphasis back on young talent to adapt to the stated needs of the recruiters,especially with regard to “classic skills” an argument too easily overlooked. But over on the flip side, it does beg the question whether recruiters are so far behind the skills and innovation curve that they may well be missing out on the type of talent that will help boost the recovery drive.
There are opportunities to influence thinking in this area by voting on a CIPD poll.
Alternatively, drop us a line if you would like to explore employer brand, recruitment or engagement challenges you may currently be faced with as we’ve helped a range of organisations from sectors as diverse as financial services, not for profit and healthcare re-connect with existing and prospective talent.
Peter Cheese, Chief Executive, CIPD: ‘Too many young people are struggling to find their first job, whereas many employers are finding it difficult to get the skills they need. This mismatch needs to be addressed’. Hear Peter Cheese give his views on the future of HR – challenges and opportunities – at the Industrial Law Society’s one-day spring conference on 18 May in London.
September 6, 2012
I was a flag-waver for mutuality long before mutual organisations gradually started “trending” in the wake of the largely investment-banking-led financial tsunami. So I should be celebrating the attention the government and business commentators are currently lavishing on them.
For me however, it’s puzzling how mutuality is still misunderstood and too often patronised by critics who see the mutuals as dull, unexciting and a throwback to an apparently largely irrelevant age of innocence.
When the talk turns to mutuality it’s usually the shareholding and remuneration elements that attract the most attention. It’s true that finance and reward help to unify stakeholder groups of which the employees are arguably the second most important (behind their customers). But having worked with many high-profile brands down the years, I know that it’s too simplistic to suggest that even in an economic slump, sustainable performance is largely down to the financial contract with the employee.
I feature a range of building societies as well as the much heralded John Lewis Partnership in my books. John Lewis’ current head of internal communications used to work for me. And I know from my experience as a customer that their partnership mentality in particular is more a manifestation of voluntary behaviour than financial incentives.
The employees (called partners) have a respect for the legacy of the business and are attracted to the brand because of the way of working and their employer brand as a whole. They have a shared ethos, philosophy, value set and culture that they nurture with care. Their values are at the centre of their HR processes, ranging from recruitment and communication through to performance management. In fact, it’s a reflection of the regard in which the people functions are held that the company’s chief executive used to head up HR, a very rare phenomenon.
It’s no surprise to me that John Lewis has largely bucked the downturn. JLP, like another high-profile, counter-cyclical performer, the Co-operative group, is very much a mutual organisation at heart. As with the Co-Op, which has grown significantly during the downturn, the success of John Lewis is rooted firmly in the way it creates advocates and collaborative partnerships within and beyond the organisation by remaining true to its values.
While it is encouraging to hear Cameron; Clegg and co laud the JLP ethos to such an extent that they suggest the model could be critical to the recovery of the UK economy, the true route to sustainability, as the mutuals and their ilk have proven time and again, is engaging partners with their core values and ensuring that they back them up in their everyday behaviour or culture. Practising what you preach is what the great brands do best, and by great I also mean sustainable.
Yet the mutuals are still criticised in many quarters for being dull, uninspiring and old-fashioned. Take these comments by Interbrand’s London CEO Graham Hales, for example, made during the Financial Services Forum’s Seminar into Modern Mutuality* :
“Mutuality as a term isn’t well understood by consumers, and in a category where interest ranges from passive to downright negative, it’s wrong to expect them to find out what it means. Claims that we operate in our customers’/members’ ‘best interests’ shouldn’t really feel like
new news. In its own right, it’s not enough and indicates a weakness of a brand if that’s all there is to say. Better to think further forward to brand promises that are more differentiating and relevant to today’s, and better still, tomorrow’s consumers.
Sadly, their needs and demands have never been more apparent or less satisfied; it’s just their interest and relationship with the
market that have subsided in the face of complex and unfulfilling products and sleep-inducing messaging.”*
While I can see where Graham’s coming from, I would argue that his comments underestimate the core mutual customer and underplay the impact the ongoing financial crisis has had on general consumer needs, perceptions and tolerance levels, especially with regard to risk and trust. What was “fashionable” five years ago has changed dramatically. What constitutes brand weakness/strength has undoubtedly changed too.
The financial facts speak for themselves. A growing number of consumers clearly now crave the customer satisfaction ratings the mutuals attract. They seemingly understanding enough about the mutuality principles and the importance of living the brand given the ongoing defection from the hitherto dominant brands who spend considerably more differentiating themselves in their advertising but continue to be tainted by wave after wave of scandals.
It’s no coincidence that values, behaviours and culture are being spoken about more and more frequently in consumer watchdog and regulatory circles and feature more prominently in advertising like Nationwide’s “On your side” campaign.
I don’t agree with the view that customers’ “interest and relationship” with the market” has changed as a consequence of either “complex” or “unfulfilling” products. They have been badly and repeatedly betrayed by brands that say one thing yet practice another and who confuse impenetrable complexity with choice. I would argue that forward thinking boards are recognising that true differentiation for tomorrow’s consumers will take the form of brands that simply and consistently keep their promises. I would also assert that it’s actually the role of the agencies and consultancies to help leaders clarify, articulate and remain true to the unique essence of their brand while finding ways to engage with customers by adding value and generating meaning. Like most businesses, mutuals are unlikely to be attractive to every consumer segment or critic. But practising what they preach is where they deliver more often than not.
Sure, attracting and retaining employees who willingly go the extra mile to make ambassadors out of their customers has something to do with the way profits are shared. Remuneration practices certainly need to be competitive and consistent with the values. Sexy, even arrogant advertising attracts certain types of customers and employees to the shop window. But we should have learned by now that truly sustainable profits come from consistent, on-brand behaviour. As the ongoing problems within the wider financial services sector illustrate however, don’t be fooled into believing that the financial model is the stick with which to drive sustainable performance, that funkiness or arrogance is essential or that brand wizardry of the slogan and strapline variety is the answer alone. As so many investors, consumers as well as employees continue to learn the hard way, there are many more vital lessons to learn from the true partnerships, the mutuals, who certainly hark back respectfully to their heritage but will perhaps be a more important part of our futures than most people anticipated.
*This quote is featured in Blessed are the Mutuals, the Summer 2012 edition of Argent, the Journal of the Financial Services Forum in which you’ll find a range of informed perspectives including quotes from myself, critics and commentators as well as leaders of mutual organisations past and present. Click here for a soft copy.
May 14, 2012
Last year we witnessed the rapid and messy implosion of the superinjunction in the face of guerrilla communication, the high-profile demise of the head of the IMF, more MP scandals than you can shake a ballot box at and the ongoing News of the World debacle. Behaviour was squarely in the spotlight once again.
I was speaking at an event not that long ago attended by a host of senior names from the professional services sector. The core theme was brand development and brand engagement, an area of increasing relevance for this sector that has hitherto relied on the superhero/star-chamber model epitomised by the names above the door.
Professional services firms, particularly the legal ones, despite what the largely terrible advertisements may imply, are gradually recognising the importance of differentiation when it comes to competition for market share, mergers and acquisitions, succession and, yes, the war for talent. Consequently the role of HR may be assuming new-found prominence, given they are responsible for ensuring that the employer brand, values, culture and people processes – such as recruitment, performance management, and training and development – support rather than undermine the brand. They are accountable, ultimately, for ensuring that employees – and partners – keep the promises their firms make to their customers.
The various debates were fascinating, not least the shared insight that reputation, rather than brand, has greater resonance with partners. It was also apparent that in many firms the top team still resists attempts to include them in the common employee throng, making it extremely difficult for change facilitators to ensure consistency when communicating the firm’s brand.
There was a shared acknowledgement, however, that culture development is becoming increasingly important as a way of focusing on behaviour that may help differentiate one firm from the next in the eyes of the customer. But the change agents’ lot is not an easy one.
In such a politically charged environment, where hierarchy is still king, an objective “third way” can be very helpful. Measurement, in the form of a pragmatic and tailored employee engagement gauge, or culture benchmarking facility like the Organisation Culture Index, can be very powerful, especially if linked to customer data. HR has the opportunity to play an important role bridging the internal and external stakeholder communities.
Despite the inherent difficulties, HR functions can be hugely influential drivers of culture improvement to grow the rather vulnerable and extremely exposed “brand”, especially if they have the ability to convince the stars in the chambers that brand is less about process and more about behaviour and that there’s a clear business case for change. The value or price of employee advocacy is something most professional sevices should at least appreciate. If stuck, they can can make a start by asking the killer question….. “what price reputation?”
“If the work you are doing is what you chose to do because you love it then it may well be your bliss. If not, then it’s your dragon.” (Joseph Campbell 2001)
I was reflecting on Campbell’s quote recently while re-watching Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil and was reminded of the Kurtzman dilemma I wrote about in Brand Engagement.
The Kurtzman dilemma alludes to the flawed notion that we can somehow entirely divorce the “work” me from the “home” me and is caricatured by the famous scene in which Mr Kurtzman, the sinister, institutionalised manager and un-civil-servant is undermined by his own “army” of clerks.
The scene starts when Kurtzman is suddenly disturbed in his grey factory of an office by the sounds of cinematic gunfire. When he throws open his glass office door to investigate, shouting for his deputy Sam Lowry, contrary to his suspicions that fun rather than work may be afoot, the general office of clerks is unexpectedly a hub of normal industrious activity. Behind his back, however, his personal monitor switches from the spreadsheets he’s been working on to a classic Western movie.
Returning to his office, the moment he closes his door the spreadsheets re-appear on his own pc and the movie resumes on the monitors in the general office, the clerks once again grinding to a leisurely halt as their movie re-starts.
The scene repeats itself several times over, the manager, Kurtzman obviously growing increasingly paranoid and agitated with every iteration.
As the viewer we’re complicit in the subterfuge which is revealed to us whenever Kurtzman opens and closes his office door. It’s a memorable parody of the “us” and “them” mentality and the way we’ve been conditioned to view work and leisure activity as polar extremes. It also illustrates how, despite even the most draconian of regimes, the human spirit of rebelliousness and mischief in pursuit of some form of involving interaction will out and ironically that this could and should be harnessed in some way.
In my experience of working with brands across sectors and with people at a variety of levels, it’s that self-same human spirit that makes or breaks organisations. Most people can force themselves to be “on brand” when on the spot. The trick is to ensure that they care enough to want to be “on brand” even when the boss isn’t watching. To this end, people are undoubtedly more comfortable, more engaged and more productive if they are self-aware enough to understand their deep-seated hopes, desires and ambitions and the values and behaviour that can lead to the fulfilment of those desires and dreams.
In turn, organisations are much more engaging, successful and sustainable if they care enough to be clear about their goals, values and culture and to engage their employees appropriately and sustainably. Put another way:
Employer brand (aspirational) minus employee brand = employment brand (actual)
Sure, it’s natural for leaders to become obsessed with survival and enforcing the ”day job” in the tough times. But the sooner we all recognise that it is the day job of leaders at all levels to encourage self-awareness, self-actualisation and to cultivate a true performance culture in which people feel free to be themselves and thereby share in the ownership of the organisation’s goals, the faster the recovery process will be.
And that’s in everyone’s best interests, isn’t it?