by Stephen Bruce & John Sullivan | BLR
During a recent webinar, BLR® asked Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, a number of questions about employment branding. Today we present a portion of that interview. John Sullivan is a thought leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in bold and strategic solutions. He is also a professor, corporate speaker and an advisor.
Q: Would you help us understand the importance and impact of employment branding in today’s business environment?
A: Employment branding is the only long-term recruiting and retention strategy, so you [should] use it to build what employees … and others say about you. Seventy-five percent of people in the U.S. would not take a job with a company with a bad employment brand even if they were unemployed, and 87 percent would consider leaving their current job if they were offered a job at a company with a strong brand.
Well-branded firms can improve applicant quality by 54 percent, quality of hire by 9 percent and, in some cases, the firms with a strong employment brand [see] their stock prices increase as much as 10 times more than the standard employer. You get higher offer acceptance rates, so when people know positive things about your company, they just say “Yes” to your offers more.
If you have a negative internal brand, it turns out your employees talk to your customers, and they don’t say nice things. Therefore, having a negative internal brand costs you money. In a highly competitive marketplace with so many firms competing for the same talent, your image is everything.
Without an image, or without managing that image, you’re certainly not going to have great results. Especially in recruiting, we target fully employed people—people that are doing really well—innovators. Well, those people are not attracted to job postings. The only way to get them is to write a branding message, or [to] have your company written up., Amazon [learned] how important a brand is. Well, they just went through a lot of turmoil because some employees said some negative things—[that’s] a current example of the impact on sales, on recruiting, [and] on retention.
Q: Maybe you could share some thoughts on what actions can help companies be successful with their internal branding?
A: Well, the first thing you have to realize is that we’re in a very connected world. So when you have an employee who is unhappy, not only will they know, but every other employee will know—whether through mobile phone or text. They’ll also post it externally. So if you want to improve retention and certainly as I mentioned earlier, sales, if your customers are unhappy, and someone says, “Oh, tell me about that,” [your employees are] going to say negative things, and it’s going to hurt your sales.
The first thing you want to do is measure your…internal brand strength. What [things] do your employees say about you, both positive and negative? You want that ratio, obviously, to have more positives than negatives. Anonymous employee websites or surveys allow employees to have complaints [and] to say things without their name[s] coming up. That helps them vent, which means that they won’t say bad things to others and customers if they get a chance to vent—especially if someone answers their question or gives them information.
Spreading stories is one of the best ways to get referrals, but it also impacts retention. So, if you have what we call a “story inventory” of all the great things and practices your firm does and employees see it when they are in the process of making a referral, they build their pride, they build their knowledge, they build their understanding and say, “Hey, our firm is pretty good.”
Getting on lists of best places to work—LinkedIn, Fortune, those kinds of things—also builds image because everyone asks them “What’s it like to work there?” And, you know, people at Apple, for example, get hundreds of people asking, “What’s it like to work there?” Where, at a less-desirable firm, you wouldn’t get that.
The last thing you need to realize is that only 20 percent of the information that people get about a firm comes from the firm. The other 80 percent comes from some other place, and that other place is not owned or controlled by you. You can have an employee newsletter where you can say all these things that are great, but it’s getting 80 percent of its information from some other place, which might cite something [contrary].
Q: To what extent do you recommend gearing programs toward high-performing employees, or do you recommend it at all?
A: I definitely do—it’s critical. When you look at all employees, you know, Homer Simpson just doesn’t produce as much as a top performer. Apple found … that top performers produce between 10 and 25 times, not percent, but times more [than average employees]. So obviously, you want to focus your internal and external brand message on your top-performing employees.
It turns out that most of the people you want to attract are currently treated well [and] are currently employed. So an employer brand can bring people who work at another firm and get them to consider your firm. But top performers have different requirements, so they might want to create work, or they might want to innovate where Homer might want donuts or something. If you want to attract top performers it turns out there’s data that show they will bring 3 to 5 other people with them [to your firm]. When you count the ROI of branding [not only do] you get a top performer [and] an innovator but also 3 to 5 people.