Companies that communicate an authentic employment brand have much to gain in today’s hot talent market.
By Russ Banham
Kenco is no different from the many other companies that were founded by people who left a strong impression on the organization’s culture—the different workforce behaviors, thoughts, feelings, and a mindset that continue to permeate Kenco 65 years after its launch. This culture is the foundation of its employment brand, which helps ensure the success of its recruitment strategy, promising a sustainable perpetuation of its management philosophy and family-oriented values into succeeding generations. The company’s extraordinary success has hinged on its ability to recruit people who believe in its purpose.
Kenco’s founders were Jim Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Smartt. Sixty-five years ago they opened a 100,000 square-foot facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The company then had two employees—Kennedy and Smartt. From this inauspicious beginning, Kenco has emerged into the largest privately held third party logistics provider, with more than 90 facilities and over 30 million square feet of warehouse space.
“We have three primary guiding principles—to value integrity above profitability; demonstrate courage, commitment and compassion; and be remarkable and create uncommon value,” says Don Friddell, Kenco director of marketing. “They have served us well.”
These principles were forged by the founders and remain the bedrock of Kenco’s employee value proposition. At the helm today as CEO and chairman is Kennedy’s daughter Jane Kennedy Greene. Over the course of the company’s organic growth the past 65 years, its hiring managers sought to recruit not just talented job candidates, but also people who were squarely aligned with its culture.
“This is so important to us that we post these principles across our 90-plus facilities so people never forget why they work for this organization,” Friddell says. “We’ve also worked with our HR solutions provider (Ultimate Software) to ensure all our branding effectively conveys these values through words and images.”
Communication is Key
Employment branding is not just a buzzword. Many businesses have learned the dire impact of hiring employees who don’t believe in the organization’s mission, share in its purpose or respect its management philosophy. The resulting cultural misalignment increases the risk of disengaged employees, who spread their malaise and damage workforce morale.
“A strong employment brand helps organizations attract people who are aligned with the heart of the organization and truly believe they can make a difference,” says Adam Rogers, chief technology officer at Ultimate Software. “Successful companies consider this from the candidate’s perspective. They assess not only skills and experience, but also those qualities that more effectively determine long-term success and fit with their culture.”
Rogers makes a good point. When employees don’t work out as expected, their employers are left with the damage. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Labor, the cost of bad hiring decisions can equal 30 percent of that individual’s first-year potential earnings. This explains why cultural fit is so important to recruitment success.
The solution is to develop and convey an authentic employment brand, one that is built on the foundation of a company’s unique culture. The risk is that not all talented job candidates will want to work for the organization. But, this is a risk worth taking, as only those that are excited about the company’s culture will work hard for the business.
Even better, you can count on them now to do their best to drive the organization’s growth. “Anything that can differentiate you from a workforce standpoint than the competition is really important,” says Rebecca Valladares, senior vice president, relationship management, at RPO provider Hudson. “A strong employment brand fits this need. But only if it’s real.”
If it’s real, chances are it will also be unique. Every company has a singular culture and thus a unique employee value proposition. Some organizations cultures favor collaborative workforce behaviors, whereas others emphasize individual performance. Knowing the difference is crucial to hiring the right people.
Also critical is telling the truth. All job candidates want as much information as possible on an employer before making what is arguably one of the toughest decisions in their lives, In fact, 76 percent of employees in an October 2014 survey by Glassdoor want details on what makes a potential employer an attractive place to work. This information is more important to them than details on the compensation and benefits package.
For the information to have value, it has to be accurate. This is not the case, with more than six out of 10 survey respondents commenting that job realities differ from the expectations set during the interview process. “Candidates want honest feedback,” says Valladares. “The interview process needs to be a period of amnesty, where the recruiter tells the truth about the company to set the right expectations.”
Telling it like it is means providing frank revelations about what’s great and not so great about working for an organization. If employees routinely put in the occasional weekend at work or stay at the office well into the wee hours, don’t gloss over the truth. Rather, note that the company’s onsite fitness center and free day care take the sting out of the extra efforts for many current employees.
Gilding the lily will give rise to productivity problems down the line. For example, if a candidate that works best alone is told that the company encourages this behavior, but in fact the employee will work in a lot of group settings, he or she won’t shine. An otherwise talented individual ends up a bad hire.
Many companies are reaching out to RPO providers to assist them in developing and promoting their employment brands. This is the case with Tyco, a company that suffered a bad reputation following the conviction in 2005 of its former CEO Dennis Kozlowski for crimes related to unauthorized bonuses and other payments. Since then, the company has undergone a massive transformation, including migrating from a holding company comprised of several businesses to a global operating company model.
Tyco’s culture has transformed with this new paradigm. “We now think, act, and feel like one global company,” explains Jerod Funke, senior director of global talent acquisition at Cork, Ireland-based Tyco International Ltd. “We’ve torn down the historical silos to create a culture of collaboration, where we endeavor to work together more efficiently to provide greater value to customers. This is a new Tyco.”
As the company planned a strategic expansion in China, the onus was on Funke to hire 400 people in less than a year. The company did not have a centralized talent acquisition team in place and no real recruiters. Lingering misperceptions concerning Tyco compounded these problems. Some people mistakenly thought it was a toy company (there is a Tyco Toy division of Mattel), when in fact it is a security systems company. “Telling our story effectively was vital to the recruitment effort,” Funke says.
The company brought in Futurestep to develop and communicate this narrative. “The goal with employment branding is to go out with an employee value proposition that will attract and engage talent looking to be brought into the organization—and retain these people,” says Neil Griffiths, global practice leader at Futurestep, an RPO provider that is a division of Korn Ferry. “You can’t do this with smoke and mirrors; the employee value proposition has to be steeped in realism. Otherwise you will soon have a retention issue on your hands.”
Griffiths affirms that Tyco had little brand perception in China. “The real challenge was not their prior reputation, as they had made leadership changes that put all the bad stuff well behind it,” Griffith says. “It was to be recognized as `one Tyco.’ We needed to encapsulate this into a powerful message.”
Ultimately, the employment brand was defined as the “passion that unites us.” This passion is driven by the company’s value proposition to customers—safety and security. “Candidates who were excited about working for a company that did this type of work were the ones Tyco wanted,” says Jeanne MacDonald, Futurestep’s president of global solutions. “We then relayed this message through Internet, social, mobile, and other recruitment channels.”
Futurestep helped bring the “one Tyco” culture to life, Funke says. “We tested the concept internally and got a lot of strong feedback about globally socializing the ‘passion that unites us’ as the employment brand,” he adds. “By centralizing talent acquisition and engaging the marketplace through employment branding, we got the people we needed in China, while decreasing such metrics as time to fill, new hire retention rate, and employment agency usage. It’s onwards from here.”
There is another reason why an authentic employment brand is vital to success in today’s competitive marketplace—it aligns people with different skill sets but similar philosophies of work in a shared and purposeful journey. In the aftermath of the workforce dislocation caused by the global financial crisis, this renewed focus on employees is a positive step forward, says Rogers from Ultimate Software.
“Many companies have long pursued a customer first management philosophy,” he explains. “We believe that to succeed today’s extremely competitive global environment, an employee first philosophy is needed. Otherwise, how can a company engage employees to achieve its mission?”
Point well taken.
Russ Banham is a Pulitzer-nominated business journalist and author. His next book, “Higher: 100 years of Boeing,” will be in bookstores in July 2015.
BOX: Developing One Brand From Two
When Toshiba acquired IBM’s retail stores solutions business in 2012, two great brands now became one—Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions. The company specializes in developing, customizing, and integrating store-level technology and solutions for different types of retail businesses. The challenge from an employment standpoint was the message that would go out to prospective hires.
“We needed to hit pause to have time to develop with our RPO provider [Seven Step] to develop the profile of the people we were looking to fill open positions, where we would find these people and what we would tell them,” says Jacqueline Waites Moss, vice president and CHRO at Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions, which is based in Research Triangle Park, NC. “And we needed to do this quickly.”
Approximately 37 percent of the company’s 2,200 employees in 42 countries are a result of the recruitment effort since the acquisition closed, Moss points out. While both IBM and Toshiba each have very powerful brands and employee value propositions, the goal was to develop and promote an employment brand that would stand on its own.
“Our culture is to collaborate on innovations to the betterment of our customers,” says Moss. “We wanted to be sure candidates understood exactly what this culture is and if they don’t fit it, that’s okay. Consistency in the interview process was critical to this objective.”
Greg Karr, executive vice president of Seven Step RPO, says it took time and research to figure out the core messages to attract the right hires. “We wanted to be sure the message was the same, whether it was to an entry level person or an engineer, not that we didn’t customize it based on the position,” he adds. “We worked hard to be sure the employment brand was representative of the culture in place. Recruiting is a very personal thing. This is a person’s career. You can’t just say anything and then hope the new hire aligns.”