Jumping on the HR brand wagon

by 23 Jan 2007

In the face of a rapidly shrinking talent pool, attracting and retaining good employees is a critical factor for many organisations. Melissa Yen speaks with Beiersdorf Australias Keith Power about the companys award-winning employer branding strategy

As part of the FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) industry, Beiersdorf Australia and New Zealandemploys 220 staff and has a turnover of over $100 million. As part of its German parent company, Beiersdorf AG, its Australian operations were launched in 1934 and in 1997 it branched out to New Zealand. It produces a variety of products and common household brands include NIVEA, Futuro, Elastoplast, Elastoplast Sport and Leuko.

In 2004, the company began looking at employer branding with a view to better recognition amongst potential candidates in the market. While it already had good metrics and staff turnover was about 15 per cent, Keith Power, Beiersdorf’s general manager of human resources, says: “The issue for us was about not being known as an employer and attracting people to the business. This meant that when we were targeting or looking for specific roles in the business and trying to take on high-calibre people, we needed to actually have those people recognise our business.”

Beiersdorf came to this conclusion after looking at the number of job applications it received, particularly solicited ones from younger candidates. The company was not receiving as many of these as it wanted, and it wanted to boost its external profile to generate a higher volume of good applications.

Beiersdorf launched its employer branding program in 2005, using market research techniques to identify potential gaps as well as development programs to bridge these and deliver on the promises of the employer brand. Beiersdorf took out the Advertising Energy Award for Best Employer Branding Strategy in the 2006 Australian HR Awards for this program.

Whats in a brand?

Employee needs were determined through a comprehensive survey process. “We did some internal and external focus groups,” says Power. “We targeted some people in the business that were relatively new and what we considered to be high performers, looking specifically at what they valued in a business. Then we did some external focus groups. People looked at roles we may recruit for in the future, and we said, ‘Let’s look at the people that would move into those roles’, so we did a focus group with those people also.”

In effect, this process involved coming to understand the things that Beiersdorf promised against what it delivered as an employer. Knowing the expectations of new employees and how they felt those expectations were being met, or the employee value proposition, was key.

Following this, a new, demonstrably distinct employer brand emerged, which incorporated employee value propositions such as: team members who are passionate people; supporting others; learning and development; recognition for efforts; career development opportunities; flexible work hours; and approachable leaders who drive values and promote mutual respect.

A new vision and values outline were developed as a result, and staff were polled about the employer branding process. Almost two-thirds of employees responded to the survey, and of these, 86 per cent returned a favourable result. In this, Power says senior management realised that what they might value in business may not be what its employees and potential employees value.

Management also had to come to terms with a lack of publicity as an employer, he adds. “We did a lot of the things that people talked about, but we didn’t actually fly the flag. We didn’t publicise it well. It was about actually raising the profile of what we do internally to our employees and also externally what we do as an employer,” he says.

One of the programs introduced into the business was a referral program. “We call it a talent seeker program, which uses people from within the business to help identify external candidates that can apply for a particular role. So this makes it a referral system, the philosophy being people that work in a business and are happy to work in a business will attract people of the same calibre.”

Tactical branding

In developing and rolling out the employer branding program, the HR team at Beiersdorf focused on the challenge of getting its current workforce to become ambassadors for the business. “We looked at the end goal we were trying to achieve as well. Also, the part of the internal promotion process was to have people realise that retention wasn’t particularly an issue and that the grass is not always greener elsewhere,” Power says.

One of the first steps in the program was to change the look and feel of all recruitment advertisements, internally and externally. All internal communication was branded correspondingly, included a staff newsletter, Beiersdorf Bites– another initiative introduced by the HR team to meet employees’ need for information, as identified in the staff survey.

Another step in the program was to introduce a performance feedback system, in order to recognise the direct contributions of individual employees and assist in driving a shift in cultural attitudes as part of the company’s new vision and values. This system guides the development and agreement of outcomes relating to performance objectives, training and development plans, and living the values, and supports the pursuit of identified career goals. A feedback system was integrated into the process, providing employees with regular opportunities to formally communicate with managers regarding the behaviours they would like to stop, start or continue. This six-monthly process encourages open and honest communication between participants.

As a result, Beiersdorf has realised recruitment benefits in reducing the time to fill positions. There has also been a marked change in staff satisfaction and retention levels. In 2004 voluntary turnover stood at 15.7 per cent, which fell to 8.3 per cent in 2005.

Maximising the benefits

As with most processes, Beiersdorf’s HR team faced a number of challenges, particularly in gaining buy-in from senior management for some employer branding initiatives. Power describes some of these as “A-ha! moments”.

“You almost see the penny drop or you feel it drop, both for the HR team and also for the senior managers, in realising the things we valued that other people might not place a high value on. For an HR initiative, we would introduce a program that we thought was really good, and found that we now had to question wether it was something that the employees valued. So there was some realisation there.”

A peer interview process was also introduced, altering the traditional model of interviews conducted by line and senior management. “We introduced a program where the peers to the prospective employee would actually be involved and possibly even people from other functions. So if you are recruiting a marketer, you may have someone from sales that would deal with them, or an account manager or product manager,” Power says.

“That was a challenge getting the senior managers’ buy-in to that. I think it was a concern that the decision making powers were taken away. Also, from the people involved, the peers were not reluctant, but it was a new experience. So there was some learning and some education and coaching to go into that. That worked really well, once it kicked off.”

Proving return on investment for the initiative, Power says, involved a fairly simple equation. “You look at the recruitment process. If you are to train an organisation to recruit for you, the figure involved there – as opposed to if you have people actively seeking you out as an employer – is valuable; you cut a lot of those costs down,” he says.

This meant the speed at which Beiersdorf recruited was a lot faster. “We did the analysis, how much would it cost to do the employer branding program against the returns, and it was a fairly good ratio. It was about four to one.”

Key to success

As the employment market continues to tighten, Power says talented candidates really need to have a good reason in order to even consider an organisation for potential employment. For any company looking at taking a strategic approach to employment, he encourages them to consider employer branding. “From an HR perspective, it also adds a lot of value to HR in the business. It moves more into a strategic partner, away from the administration functions that HR often do.”

For organisations looking at employer branding, Power places emphasis on internal education of what the employer brand is, as opposed to the brand of their products. It is essential that the company name as well as the company itself becomes a brand. He says ask the following questions: “What do people value and what brings their attention to an employer? Is it the fact that they have high profile corporate social responsibilities? The fact that they are seen as having a large media budget? You must decipher what it is that brings people’s attention to your organisation.”

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