Interview of
Thomas Chardin
Thomas Chardin, Founding Partner at Parlons RH.
How would you define the concept of « employer brand »?
The employer brand is the very spirit of your business that reveals itself to the world outside. The internal specificities of a company that build loyalty and commitment - good management, a bold project, ambitious vision, a green approach - all spark the interest of potential new recruits.
In a way, it is like a brand strategy applied to the HR, as whatever the size of the company - from very small businesses to large corporates, including SMEs of course - the company is much more than a simple employer:

• it recruits
• it integrates
• it trains and provides support
• it collects social security contributions and other taxes
• it is a player in their employment area and on a given territory
• it has social, environmental and societal responsibilities

The company thus plays various employer roles for different types of audiences. While it is naturally geared to applicants, it also concerns current staff members on a daily basis.

There is nothing new about the concept of « employer brand ». Employer brand is an American concept that appeared some 30 years ago. At the end of the 90s, the concept sparked strong interest among certain recruitment communication professionals.
Didier Pitelet, a pioneer, patented the expression « brand employer » in 1998.
Company interest for the employer brand has only intensified as the war for talent begins to rage in France.
Does the size of the company matter or does the concept also apply to SMEs?
From the moment they employ at least 1 person, all companies have an employer brand. We have clients ranging from 20 to 50,000 employees. Some organisations are more aware of the employer brand than others, and show various degrees of, formalisation, structure, sharing, and performance. Not only is the size of the company important, but other criteria such as the business segment, the positions offered, territorial presence, organisational structure (headquarters, offices, network), and especially growth potential, are also key features.

The employer brand is a matter of sense and of common sense, of an ambitious target vision and simple everyday actions. It does not require a plethora of means.

Whatever the size of the company, managers simply need to answer 3 questions:

• Why should I join you as an employee? This is the company’s attractiveness.
• Why should I stay? This is talent loyalty.
• Why should I feel committed? This is commitment in the sense of active commitment.

The strength of an employer brand stems from the coherency of the answers to these 3 questions, the simplicity of their expression, and their genuineness.

A good employer brand can consist of a bunch of small details, simple things that are not restricted to large companies: receiving candidates with a warm welcome, bringing a new colleague on board, explaining the project and dynamics of the company, sincerely listening to an employee, acknowledging good results and individual or collective progress, giving credit where credit is due and, of course, also being able to explain what should be improved.

These are the basics of management. It only takes two things: a dash of willpower and a little time, which of course is nothing in comparison to the HR publicity campaigns costing hundreds of thousands of euros.

So yes, SMEs can definitely catch the spirit!
What benefits can an SME expect from such an approach? Can you give us some practical examples?
4 benefits can be expected from an effective employer brand:

• Increased public awareness of the employer
• Increased ability to attract targeted talents
• Increased loyalty of targeted talents
• Greater commitment of employees and management

The figures speak for themselves: according to a 2011 survey entitled, « What’s the Value of Your Employment Brand? », by Eda Gultekin, enhancing the employer brand can help reduce turnover by up to 28% and can reduce recruitment costs by up to 50%.

A few years earlier in 2003, Fulmer et al. showed that the top 100 companies of the « Great Place to Work » Barometer published every year by Fortune magazine deliver financial performance superior to those outside of the ranking.

Other studies confirm the trend.

Practically speaking, however, for SMEs struggling amidst the current dearth of talent, perhaps the main benefit of an employer brand strategy lies elsewhere. It simply allows the company to grow. In 2019, no human capital means no business at all.
How should an employer brand be built and who should lead the project within the company?
In my opinion, the employer brand should be led by the HR Manager or, if there is no HRM, by the Executive Manager. It is a strategic subject that commits the company. It will have a direct impact on the choice of HR policies to deploy or to duplicate.

There are 4 major steps in the employer brand approach.

Stage 1: the employer brand diagnostic

The diagnostic is a true HR marketing audit, a portrait of what exists in terms of image, identity, and employer practice. It is a crucial step providing insight as to where the company stands at a given time. It is structured around an internal stage followed by an external stage:

The internal stage concerns both the analysis of HR data (e.g. turnover, absenteeism), HR and Comp&Ben processes, as well as conducting qualitative surveys and collective workshops with the men and women of the company.

All categories within the company are interviewed. HR professionals - to better apprehend HR practices; Management Committee members - for taking stock of business challenges, company positioning, the HR project and their vision; Managers - to understand their vision of the company, its project, their values; and finally, a Panel of employees for understanding the managerial context, the perception of HR practices and their values.

An additional focus will be placed on candidates who have turned down a job offer, and sorely missed employees who have resigned in order to understand the reasons for their departure.

These different interviews can rely on surveys or barometers for assessing the social climate and commitment such as Gallup, Great Place to Work, top Employers, or OpinionWay.

The external stage of the diagnostic is based on a benchmark vs. 3-4 main competitors on the employer brand. It consists of reviewing their HR promises and their differentiating features as well as their visible HR policies.

An employer e-reputation audit supplements this external diagnostic. The applicant experience on the careers website and the communication of the company on social media are analysed with a focus on the ratings given on specialised websites e.g. Glassdoor, Viadeo, Indeed, ChooseMyCompany, etc.

Stage 2: building an employer brand platform

This stage is designed to create the target vision of the employer brand. It is created in the strategic continuum between the business and HR. The aim of this project is to reach employer brand goals over a 2 to 4-year time horizon. It is thus a dynamic approach.

In practice, the employer brand should create an HR promise, differentiating benefits for identified target clients, and should be supported by specific, tangible and quantifiable HR services.

Ongoing dialogue between HR teams and other employees is crucial to the success of the construction of this platform. Of course, this takes time, but this approach allows to save much more time through the appropriation of the platform by the teams once it is validated.

Stage 3: the action plan

This stage consists of shifting from the image of the existing - the diagnostic - to the image of the target - the employer brand platform.

As a first step, identifying the score of possible projects - whether internal or external - is a matter of superimposing the current situation over the target situation to highlight HR practices that are lacking.

For example:

• a revised careers website that better showcases the employer promise
• a truly unifying and incentivizing co-optation program
• a rationalization of the use of recruitment firms
a more modern digital presence on Facebook and LinkedIn
• a unifying approach of employee advocacy to promote the brand
• an assessment process included in a progress-oriented approach
• an educational programme structured around soft skills and dedicated to managers
• etc.

In a second time their priorities will be realized according to a scoring adapted.

The list obtained is then the master plan of HR policies planned in the short, medium and long term, in connection with the Employer Brand.

Stage 4: deployment

Finally, the 4th and last stage corresponds to the implementation of the prioritized and planned actions. This is where it all starts and where the company will be able to measure the progress made.
If I understand correctly, the employer brand approach must be in synch with the strategic thinking of the company...
Exactly. The employer brand is a strategic topic in the sense that the long-term perspective is at stake. It is not steeped in a short-term, one-off, cosmetic or tactical vision.

The employer brand reflects a human ambition, even if its purpose is to serve corporate business strategy or overall performance.

It should thus be considered as part of the vision and mission of the company.

This is where your employer brand project should be positioned if you want it to deliver.
What are the key factors for maximizing the likelihood of success of such an approach?
I see four key items:

First of all, relying on distinct, relevant and genuine elements

In a company, if you emphasise basic training or the works council as differentiating elements, you will most likely not attract many applicants. Distinct means standing out from the competition. In a word, Excellence.

Relevant. Your employer brand targets a specific list of candidates. What are their expectations, their frustrations, their needs? Is remuneration an advantage? What about material working conditions? The sense, the values…?

Genuine. Whether it is true or verified, with factual or tangible evidence and confirmation.

Second, relying on a structured approach

Cosmetic and short-term viewpoints aside, the employer brand approach must be methodical, organised and planned, and not merely a motley collection of opportunistic and inconsistent one-off actions.

Third, consider the bifidus, even if your need is about recruitment

I insist; it is important for the credibility and durability of the process, that there is a coherence between what is said outside and what is happening inside.

Fourth and final: take careful aim

Spotting and knowing the targets: you should not put the horses of communication before the cart of marketing, which requires a more analytical approach.
What are the traps that should be avoided?
At the risk of repeating myself:

• Not involving both management and employees
• Building an approach structured around a single category of employees
• Limiting the strategy to the recruiter brand
• Promising more than can be delivered
• Confusing marketing and communication
How can we ensure that the employer brand circulates properly throughout the entire organisation, in particular when the company is experiencing external growth?
This is a serious issue. Management is the primary driver. The manager is at the heart of the circuit, the pillar that must breathe life into the trio of « trust, recognition, commitment ». It is a necessary element, but not sufficient. In the context of external growth, I feel that employee advocacy actions can play a facilitating role.

We notice here that the employer brand must be carried by all stakeholders. Success comes in the right doses.

The stronger the employer brand, the better its design, the deeper and more structured its roots within a growing organisation, the quicker the employer brand will circulate within the other entity. Meanwhile, the 2 employer brands might merge as well
But that costs money, doesn’t it?
Of course, the cost depends on the company and the project. A complete approach requires from €30,000 to €40,000, or a 6 month-salary of only 1 hard-to-recruit executive.

There is more specifically a risk involved in neglecting this HR subject or not taking it seriously: that of a drop in business. I repeat: no human capital means no business at all.

Parlons RH is a leading digital and editorial marketing agency dedicated to HR Managers and their partners (HR service providers, recruitment and HR consulting firms, HR start-ups, etc.).

We enable these players to optimize the integration of social media in their marketing strategy (corporate brand, business brand, employer brand).

We enhance the visibility and the image of their HR offer in various HR and Management segments: recruitment, employee experience, training, evaluation, Comp&Ben, mobility, coaching, and HR communication.

Parlons RH is experiencing tremendous growth, as reflected by the vitality of its community of over 100,000 HR professionals and the increasing success of its blog which, in only a few years, has become a reference in the HR market, with more than 1.5 million page views per year.