Corporate HR is under threat – faced with competition from outside vendors and growing internal pressure to outsource non-valued added activities. Can then the Human Resources function develop a brand equity for itself? Corporate HR needs to repair its image and start thinking of itself as a brand to be aggressively positioned beyond rechristening gimmicks and catchy slogans. The function has inherited a poor image and reputation, more so when compared with more high profile functions like marketing or the inseparable Finance.
Every business identity today is in pursuing reinvention and new brand positioning. Brands meet the intrinsic requirement of a certain quality and style that goes beyond the basic requirement. HR needs to change its brand perception and what it offers companies – see infographic.
Identify Customer Needs And Perceptions
Any brand building exercise must necessarily determine the target audience – what they want from HR and how do they currently perceive it. Since HR has now expanded its mix of services, there is always a debate on what HR should offer and what it should refrain to get into. Often, internal customers are disappointed because of this umbrella approach that HR in many companies has fallen prey to.
To ascertain their current brand perception and also new options for a fresh repositioning, it would be worth hiring outside specialists to conduct private interviews with different ‘market’ (internal customers) segments. Such a gap analysis will help HR reexamine its portfolio, getting into newer areas and exiting from many existing ones.
But who exactly are HR’s possible customers?
The Board: Increasingly, the Board is seeking out the CHRO for counsel and inputs on various organizational issues, especially around CXO concerns
The CEO: Now more than ever CEO’s are ready to buy what HR is selling. But in order to close the deal, HR needs to articulate a vision, speak in executive terms and make the CEO its No.1 customer.
Line Managers: Managers look to HR for sound business advice on how to review, analyse and address people issues.
Employees: Employees seek HR to provide, explain or confirm information about company policies and procedures. They expect Human Resources to be an empathetic ear to their concerns and help them solve work-related problems. They expect it to anticipate problems and to provide sound recommendations to the management.
Employment Seekers: To any applicant, HR is the company Applicants expect accurate information employment opportunities fair consideration of their qualifications and courteous treatment.
Government Agencies: Employers must follow a variety of HR related laws and regulations. If HR can provide accurate, timely information, the organization benefits by reducing the amount of time and energy that must be invested in dealing with bureaucratic requirements.
Create the Right identity
Not all HR departments need to be “strategic”. A certain brand identity works best for a particular culture. For example, it could be ‘excellent service in all traditional HR areas’. Or else, internal customers may expect it to be ‘responsible for productivity growth”. Like an FMCG brand-building exercise, HR needs to determine the needs and current perceptions of its identified customers before deciding what works best for its particular customers. It is critical for HR to take a call on what it will and what it will not seek to stand for. To develop a solid brand identify, it should not be all things to all people.
Develop A Mission Statement
Once HR professionals have determined what their brand identity will be, they must draw a mission statement. Such an ‘aspirational branding’ defines the mission of the HR function, the values and core principles the department will uphold, and the benefits to the rest of the company. Beyond empty rhetoric, the mission statement publicly commits HR to its identified role in the organization and will help HR define the future it wishes to gravitate to.
Since branding is about delivering a promise, HR must ensure that the people, practices and systems in the department all work to support the stated goal(s). There must be an alignment between the brand promise and what it actually delivers. Many existing practices may thus need to be repudiated. Such spring cleaning however will only reinforce positive impressions.
Though HR may not be able to use paid advertising, it needs to communicate the improvements that have been made. Once it determines how it wants to be perceived it can craft three to five key messages to support the perception. For instance, if it wants to be perceived as strategic, it needs to quantify the strategic impact of a recent HR decision, or find an anecdote to show how it contributed to the strategic direction of the company. These can be communicated in board meetings or company newsletters in non-HR jargon. Participation in external for is a good technique to secure external validation for the brand changes corporate HR may have made internally.
As the business world and customer wants keep changing rapidly, brands need a constant review. And so it will need to be with HR. The function must regularly do a rigorous self-scrutiny and make tough choices for survival. The HR brand can indeed be built up but branding will only be convincing, credible and effective if it reflects changes in substances.
Written exclusively for Paul Writer.