In the past year, my corporate video company has won three employer awards, doubled applications for new vacancies and increased employee satisfaction by 15%. We've completely transformed our employer brand, and it's delivering real business results. It was a long process but worth all the hard work.
Here's what we learned along the way.
Your employer program is unique to your business. What works for one company won't necessarily work for another, which means there is no cookie-cutter talent strategy that you can switch on to boost your brand. You need to consider what you want from your people, who you are competing with when it comes to talent, the demographics of your workforce and how much you're prepared to invest.
Building an award-winning people strategy is hard work
We hired a part-time talent manager to take over this process for us, and even she was swamped by the volume of work involved. She had some admin support and used a few external consultants, but she also needed a fair bit of management input to get the strategy off the ground.
Start with insights
The first part of any talent strategy is to understand what's going on. We relied upon quantitative surveys and qualitative interviews. We answered a bunch of key questions:
- What do people like about working for your company?
- What do people dislike about working for your company?
- What benefits do people value most?
- What benefits do people value least?
- Does your team understand the strategy and direction of the business?
- Do people feel like they are treated fairly?
- Why do people come to your company?
- Why do they leave?
We investigated the market, examing the following:
- What were benchmark salaries and benefits offered by other companies offered?
- Who were our main talent competitors?
- What opportunities existed for us to improve our employer brand?
We identified relevant KPIs and set our benchmarks. These covered metrics such as:
- Employee satisfaction
- Cost to hire
- Length of service
Focus on one thing at a time
We initially thought we could revamp our people strategy in one fell swoop, but we soon found that every element required a considered approach and careful attention. We broke the process down into a series of shorter projects that we could tackle individually, and that seemed much more manageable.
Identify opportunities for small wins
I was pretty surprised that some of the easiest – and least expensive – benefits to implement were among the most popular with our team. It costs us nothing to let employees bring their dogs to work, but it makes them (and their colleagues) incredibly happy. And implementing a generous flexible working policy, which enables people to work their own hours (within limits) and to work from home 40% of the time if they choose, is really highly valued.
Tailor benefits to your workforce
When we were building out our benefits system, we looked at what our employees wanted most. We knew there would be trade-offs, but we wanted to find the best combination that would appeal to current and future team members. We found that people really valued benefits that supported their well-being – for example, fresh fruit in the office and regular team well-being events. However, the benefit that was most in demand was flexible working – people wanted the opportunity to choose when they worked and where they worked from.
We had also identified that different people valued different things: Some people would give anything for a few extra days of holiday, while others would forget to take all their leave and have to cram it into the last few weeks of the year.
We created a system whereby people could buy additional days or sell days that they weren't going to use back to the company. This was very well received.
Talent and HR are not the same thing
As soon as we hired our talent manager, our team was delighted that we were investing in the future of the business. The problem soon emerged that people heard the phrase "human resources" and immediately started directing their individual queries at our new talent manager. She was swamped by all these requests and had little or no time to develop the wider talent strategy. Something had to change. We decided that our talent manager would only work on things that affected multiple employees, not on issues affecting individuals. That way, she would be more strategic in her efforts, but we needed to also ensure that employees' individual issues were addressed!
Train your line managers
Our team was delighted to see the business investing in them, but we needed to make sure that everyone received the same level of treatment from their line managers. We, therefore, brought in an HR specialist to run training with all line managers to ensure they understood the basic skills required to manage people, the fundamentals of HR law and how to get the most of their team. This training was well received and we now repeat it every six months to make sure even new managers are up to speed.
Communication is key
We were tweaking and modifying our talent strategy continuously, but we needed to find a way to communicate this to people. Our team needed to know what changes were being made and how these would benefit them. So we needed to work on our lines of communication. For us, this meant ensuring that line managers were briefed on what to communicate during their monthly catch-ups, and it also meant a monthly all-staff update meeting where we shared updates on the company strategy, the people strategy, and we got everyone up to speed on what the different departments within the business were doing.
We really needed to streamline our process of managing employee information. We evaluated loads of HR software tools on the market and finally settled on PeopleHR. It's a self-service employee management tool that records all confidential information and gives employees control over their data – they no longer have to ask their line manager how much leave they have left or dig around for a payslip. All this information is recorded in their PeopleHR profile, along with details of their latest appraisal and the company employee handbook.
Celebrate your values
Your company's values should be central to how you operate. At our company, employees can thank their colleagues for actions that support our values via our HR software tool, and the most-thanked employees get mentioned in our regular staff updates. It’s a way of celebrating our values and reinforcing them throughout the working week.
Treat adults like adults
People like to be treated like adults. There is no need to micromanage. Just tell them the rules and explain the spirit in which the rules were created so that even if they can find technical loopholes (which they always can) they can evaluate for themselves if it’s fair to exploit them. Our team consists of grown-ups, and they all know that if they ignore the rules that impact everyone around them.
Manage the whole employee lifecycle
Your talent strategy covers everything from when an employee first applies for a job to when they leave the business for their next opportunity. We like to treat every applicant as a potential future client, so we always aim for them to leave the interview with positive vibes and a sense of excitement about our company, even if they don’t end up working for us. Likewise, when someone leaves, we try to celebrate their achievements and ensure they have a great send-off.
Measure and refine
Your talent strategy is an ongoing process. For us, it involves measuring our KPIs every quarter and comparing them to our benchmarks to see how we are doing and whether we are on track. This isn't a project – it's never done. It's an ongoing commitment that will pay dividends.