LEAD: How do you come into contact with the topic of “employer branding” in your professional life?
Nora Heer: I have been helping to build companies for more than 20 years – sometimes from 0 to 900 employees. For this a strong employer brand is indispensable. Today, the topic is becoming increasingly important for our software customers. If you want to position yourself as an attractive employer, it’s not so much about portraying your own brand as a product, but in the “War for Talents” you will be showing even the discerning Generation Y what you have to offer yourself.
To what extent have the claims changed? What are the priorities of the new generations?
Heer: We see a stronger desire for a work-life balance and a desire for personal development. The Generation Y would like to receive a lot of feedback, have the opportunity to make a career. She no longer asks what she does for the company, but rather what the company can do for her.
With whom and where does successful employer branding start internally?
Heer: Employer branding is no different from a normal marketing concept. This means that when you set up an employer branding concept, you should always ask yourself: why is my company? What is the vision behind it? And why do I pay for the company? In the area of the employer brand, membership, identity and self-efficacy are the three most important factors in attracting employees to a company, but also in order to retain them for the long term.
How can these factors be applied?
Heer: A “why, how, what” strategy is important for this. As an employee, you do not work to get a 9 to 5 job, but because you want to believe in something bigger. Ideally, executives want everyone to believe in it. In order to create this sense of identity in an employer brand, it is necessary to go into the core of this vision and ensure that it is lived internally in all areas. External communication starts with internal communication.
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Is it also a successful strategy to become aware of one’s own weaknesses and to communicate these internally and externally?
Heer: Everything that makes a brand and communication, cries more and more for authenticity. In the meantime, I believe that many people are tired of serving those smooth surfaces that are no longer believable. Especially as an employee, you know what does not work so well in the job. Through social media and other channels, the real is more important and that also applies to the employer brand. Of course you have to know what you stand for, but also where the points of criticism lie. When it comes to branding, the real people and stories that make up a brand are far more interesting than flat, perfect advertising messages.
How can one succeed in getting away from the shallow messages?
Heer: In many companies I have experienced that not the strategy develops the employer branding, but with so-called sounding teams – ie representatives from different areas and hierarchies – together with the employees determines what constitutes the identity. Everyone should get a voice in this identity. Here the glorious stories are just as important as the hard-working or the challenging ones. Everything else is unbelievable.
“It has been my experience that any kind of change process works only if it is lived from the top.”
What is needed to enable smaller companies and start-ups to prevail against the big players in their industry?
Heer: Employer branding is very much lived, especially in start-ups. Anyone who sets up a company quickly depends on being perceived as an attractive employer. This is something start-ups have learned quickly because they always fight for the same talents. In addition, the connection here is an important point – the family thought. That’s why it’s even more crucial for SMEs to address their employer brand. Many of our clients are SMEs. Anyone who is subject to a location disadvantage and would like to gain profiles from a large market can not cope with the topic of employer branding. It is about the dissolution of rigid structures and the strengthening of social relationships. I believe in social encounters and exchange – regardless of working hours. Personal ties shape the topic of belonging and identity in companies.
How can structures – especially in traditional companies – be dissolved?
Heer: My experience is that any kind of change process only works if it is lived from the top down. It is also important to give people some time to make changes and to introduce them drop by drop.
Does German SMEs have the potential to attract young professionals?
Army: You must not scrape the middle class over a comb. There are big differences in innovation and cultures. It does not do justice to the medium-sized companies, if one speaks basically of rusty systems – here one must look very carefully. Again and again, young talents confirm that there are many things they can learn in a well-functioning, economically successful company. Self-efficacy is a big lever here, because when young workers arrive in companies where they feel they can not make a difference, they quickly leave. When SMEs provide the space to enable young workers to flourish and provide them with the knowledge that has led to success, I firmly believe that they can attract skilled workers.
What is the most important message you would like to give to medium-sized companies in terms of employer branding?
Heer: Employer branding has the great advantage that the costs and effort invested can pay off quickly. Anyone who offsets which costs are otherwise incurred for recruiting or jobs that are not filled will come to the conclusion that employer branding pays off very quickly. This is one factor why employer branding will become increasingly important in corporate governance over the next few years.
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