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Employee Engagement: Can Data Save Your Organization?

As the economy continued to tank in 2011 and 2012, employee engagement dropped with it. Down economies often impact organizational loyalty in a negative way and Mercer’s 2012 report confirms that. According to the report, 24% of organizations are reporting lowered engagement up from 13% just two years ago. And while organizations continue to invest in employee engagement, or some form of loyalty strengthening activities, popular HR analysts and bloggers are challenging the notion of engagement score value. Companies do care about employee feedback: 96% of Fortune 100 companies and 65% of mid-sized companies use some sort of employee survey. But is fighting for increased engagement scores a good use of executive time and attention? And are increased scores really that valuable to your business?

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QUIPS #3: What Your Employer Brand is Desperately Missing

QUIPS = QUIck Problem Solving*. Quick ways to begin to address and solve common talent challenges when resources to tackle the challenge holistically or over time aren't an option. Here is QUIPS #3: What Your Employer Brand is Desperately Missing. You know your organization. You know the politics, the business, the industry, the challenges. And you know the people. At least you think you do. Especially if you work in HR. But you don't. You may have a pulse on their happiness or engagement, but do you know who they really are? If you don't, then you can't build or execute a real employer brand. So what do you desperately need?

Research. Real, detailed, holistic research.

I'm not talking your typical engagement survey. That's just a measure of satisfaction and productivity.  And according to Gallup, we're all in big trouble when it comes to engagement anyway.  Stop asking employees if they have a best friend at work. Start asking who they are. Then use the results to understand the composition of your workforce: the actual people who are doing the work. That's the heart and soul of your employer brand.

And yet almost NO companies do this. They create employer brands based on assumptions or what creative agencies pitch. They focus on best practices instead of what makes their organization unique. They package it up and call it an employer brand. It isn't.  No real brand can be created without consumer research. And in your case, your consumers are employees and candidates.

Consumer marketers know research is essential but expensive. However, the results can be mindblowing--and have multiple purposes. But here are four ways you can get started:

1) Create a new knowledge base 

Categorize  and ask for employee information in a way you never dreamed of. Go beyond the basic demographics your HRIS captures and brainstorm--what would you want to know about our employees if you could know anything?  No one has 9-to-5 employees anymore. You have real people. So what about them as people would be helpful to brand development and HR decision-making? Think about the impact data on their commuting habits. hobbies, social media use, family structure and personal interests could have.

2) Hold employee focus groups

The classic marketing tactic, when done right, focus groups are powerful. Don't think about developing or evolving your brand without them. Make sure they are moderated by a trained facilitator, are representative of your workforce and are planned well.  They have to have a purpose and scripted questions that allow you to probe for deeper feelings, emotions and reasoning that you can't get from a simple engagement survey. They answer the "why" to all the data you've already gathered.

3) Use orientation wisely

Wow. A group of new hires all in one place at one time? Don't ignore this opportunity for feedback. I don't mean simple feedback on the hiring process. I mean detailed feedback on who these new hires are and how they feel. What did they do when they got their job offer? (Jump for joy or stress about the low starting salary). What are they most excited about in their new role? Most fearful? This is the kind of valuable data you can use.

4) Completely rethink your  surveys

Sure, there's validated research that says it's valuable to ask employees if they have a best friend at work. But what if all they're doing is commiserating together?  You don't know if you don't ask. Follow those questions up with questions that get at the deep detail--why does having a best friend matter? And what do they talk about? How often do they talk during the day and where?  THAT's the kind of data that you can use to develop a brand. It gives you the essence of your brand.

You wouldn't market a peanut butter without tasting it, understanding what it's made of and how it's different from other peanut butters. Don't market yourself as an employer without doing that research first.


*Speaking and consulting with HR professionals, I often hear how hard it is to take best practices and actually implement them. The grand solutions shared at conferences and in whitepapers often come from companies with big staffs, big budgets and a supportive and forward-thinking HR team.  What if that’s not you?  QUIPS = QUIck Problem Solving. These are quick ways to begin to address and solve common talent challenges. We give you simple, easy ways to address the problem in the absence of time, staff and money. Previous QUIPS include:

  • QUIPS #1: quick ways to address the candidate experience problem.
  • QUIPS #2: why brand ambassadors are good for business.

Have a problem you need to solve but don't have the resources? Let us know what problem you want us to tackle in our next QUIPS.


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Talent Strategies For Post-Recession: Prepare to Connect

Attention companies: this post's for you. In September, The Conference Board predicted that salary increases for 2010 would only be 3% (lowest in 25 years). In Canada, increases are projected to be only 2.8%. Unemployment hit an all-time high in October. But manufacturers and retailers are predicting turnarounds in 2010, and that means jobs won't be far behind. What does that mean for talent? It means it's time to strategize and time to connect. It's not just social networking, it's a conversation. Your candidates want to talk. I did a survey recently of job seekers to see how their habits have changed over the past year.  Now the recession certainly has been going longer than that, but 12 months of change will tell you a great deal about the habits of job seekers. I had planned to cull a list of top trends for companies to pay attention to in preparing their talent strategies for 2010, but there's truly only one thing to keep in mind about your job seekers: They're online. And they're looking for you. Not your company, but you.

When it comes to talent and recruiting, being reactive is the worst possible strategy. After all, when the economy does turn, all of the great talent in the market will diminish quickly, and unprepared companies will be left scrambling. In order to be proactive, it is important to see what's changed since the economy turned. And for 2010, it's all about the connections.

In the past ten years since job boards have grown to be a job search staple, job seekers are increasingly using online strategies more and more in their searches. What's different though, is how they're using their online time--to connect. And as we begin to close out 2009, the increase in connections, means companies must rethink they way they interact with their job seekers.

In the down economy, job seekers were inundated with advice to network: "tell everyone you know you're looking for a job." Dozens of career experts included networking and the use of social media in their tips.  Business Week even started a Recession Job Search online information exchange.  Job seekers are increasingly going one-on-one to get what they need--from career advice to open positions.

In my survey, when asked where they're getting their advice, online experts is overwhelmingly the top answer. But when the same respondents were asked what they wanted online experts to do better (open ended question), the common response centered on individuality. It's not that job seekers are high-maintenance and need alot of attention. But web 2.0 means that more online users have the ability to learn from each other. And knowing it's possible means that they want it. From career experts and from companies.

"I want more personalized help. Following general advice is one thing, but when that advice doesn't work - what next?," said one respondent.  Simply put, another replied "candor." Others wanted help on talking to companies directly, complaining they never hear back from employers, and that they can't find one person to talk to.

The emerging trend is direct contact. When career experts are telling job seekers to seek out connections through expanding networks and social media, job seekers are taking that advice seriously. They're finding out names of recruiters and calling and emailing them in record numbers.  Several recruiters I spoke to indicate that job seekers are no longer just waiting to hear. They want to talk, they want to know. Now.

But companies haven't yet been able to fully answer that trend. While there are more than 50 companies recruiting on Twitter, and dozens more with freshly minted Facebook pages, job seekers continue to get frustrated that these efforts are more information sharing, than they are networking.

"I wish people who list themselves on job sites/social networking sites would also list their phone number so I could just call them and ask them directly if they are hiring or their company is hiring" says one job seeker.  And it's a common sentiment.  In the almost two years since the recession started, job seekers have become increasingly aware that sending their resume into a black hole is highly unlikely to result in a job.

In fact, when asked what advice they need most, survey respondents consistently asked for help in making direct connections. They can find the people. But they just can't get to them.

"Most people I email don't ever respond at all for any reason or when they do, it's weeks later and there isn't a job opening at their company. It's nice to find people's names and job titles but what good is that information if you can't [reach] them [directly]?"

Seems fair, especially when 44% of job-seeking respondents say the primary reason they use social media is to connect with people they wouldn't find otherwise. It isn't that easy of course. The economy means that companies haven't had as many recruiting resources, or resources to put into social networking or other sourcing strategies to more personally connect with candidates. But we're looking forward, toward 2010. And companies that want to be able to compete when the economy turns better have resources in place to connect.

How can companies plan to address this trend as the economy rebounds? Prepare to connect.

Start with online connection strategies. If you're going to use social networking, then you have to actually network and talk to the people who want to talk to you. If you're only posting jobs on Twitter, then it's not much of a network, is it? Use social networking to actually network.

  • Join the conversation on your company's Facebook wall. Don't overmanage, but join.
  • Put names behind those company logos online. Make sure people know who they're talking to.
  • Reply to your "@ replies" on Twitter. Engage candidates!
  • Host chats to easily answer candidate questions.
  • If you don't have the resources to engage effectively on social networks, then don't tout them.

And for those busy recruiters who can't answer email and phone? Or those candidates who aren't online?

  • Customize voicemail messages so candidates expectations are set.
  • Use out of office tools daily to manage expectations on email as to when candidates will hear back (if at all)
  • Be clear in job postings and on your careers site, how and when candidates will hear back and where they should go to find the answers they need.
  • Use employees outside of recruiting and HR to answer questions. Post their names on your Careers site and rotate them.
  • When a current employee refers an candidate, have an automatic email reply go to that current employee with an FAQ so the employee can answer the candidates' questions.

And then think about strategies for the future:

  • Are you prepared to directly connect with candidates?
  • How will your Careers site evolve to allow for networking?
  • What's the messaging you want to convey to candidates?
  • How does networking fit in with your Employer Brand? More networking means more people representing company messaging. Have you prepared them to network?
  • What other company tools can you re-purpose for networking? For example, if you're company sells products online and you have a customer service center, why can't you have a candidate service center (phone, online messaging capability etc.)

The key thing to remember is that connecting isn't just about social networking or being online. It's really the candidate experience. It's finding the best way to make the process as personal as possible while also being realistic. No one wants to feel like a number--whether you're returning a scarf or applying for a job. You want to be able to get answers, help, and information when you need it and feel like it was tailor-made for you. That's the direction job seekers are headed.  Companies, are you?