Why the best RPOs are invisible

Ask yourself the following questions; do you look for great people to join your business, or do great people look for you? Are the people within your business genuinely as engaged and productive as they could be, or have they mentally checked out of the building? According to research compiled by Rolepoint, companies with a defined employer brand dominate 60% of the labour market, with notably improved recruitment and retention rates. Can you consider yourself to be a part of that statistic?

Think of your organisation as a jigsaw puzzle. That finished, idealised image is what you strive to achieve, but there are different pieces that must be negotiated around and worked at in order to get there. Employer branding is a very significant piece in that puzzle. There are a lot of buzzwords that get overused in HR, but employer branding is not one of them, because it is not a buzzword; it is an essential part of the bigger business picture, and when left unattended, has the potential to damage productivity, reputation and organisational growth.

Every company, whether it has been consciously constructed or not, has an employer brand. Defined by CIPD research as a “marketing construct and marketing concept”, an employer brand is the perception of your organisation as a place to work through the eyes of active candidates, passive jobseekers and existing employees. Primarily shaped based on the values and vision of the organisation, the employee experience and overall culture, an organisation’s employer brand can also be influenced negatively by the presence of rival businesses in the market if neglected.

Defining your employer brand is an integral part of developing your brand and business as a whole because it helps position you as a competitor within your industry, as well as helping candidates to articulate a reason as to why they would want to apply for a position, and why existing staff would choose to stay, within your organisation. It is not dissimilar to a company brand; just as a company brand is used to encourage recognisability and loyalty amongst its customers to increase profitability and overall success, an employer brand is used to encourage attraction amongst candidates and loyalty amongst employees.

Some people may question the relevance of employer branding as unemployment rates drop and the labour market continues to make a gradual recovery, but branding should not be something that is subjective and dictated by the economic climate; it is something that should be maintained and developed alongside the business as it grows, and is particularly apt at a time when a different generation with different skills, values and needs are entering the workplace.

Building an employer brand is about creating a distinguishable employment culture and generating reputable, positive connotations as an employer. SME’s have the opportunity to create an employment environment that makes staff feel truly integrated. Happy and engaged staff are inadvertent brand ambassadors. Your employer brand, particularly during the attraction and recruitment stage of the process, should be a clear and accurate reflection of what it’s like to work within your organisation. Do the expectations of working for your business align with the reality? A mismanaged employer brand could embellish upon the actual employee experience, which in turn could be damaging to the brand and have a negative impact on staff engagement and retention, because what was promised and what has been delivered are two different things.

A strategic employer brand, irrespective of the scale, is an investment. It will be an investment of time and resources in the short-term, and will have a positive impact on your ability to hire and retain a motivated workforce in the long-term. The notable absence of HR in most SMEs means that the responsibility to recruit usually falls to line managers, adding to existing pressures and resulting in an unrefined candidate experience. For businesses that are struggling to stretch in-house resources and can’t afford to dedicate a full-time, permanent team to managing HR and recruitment, partnering with an RPO consultancy could be an unexpectedly holistic solution.

There are a lot of factors to consider when redefining your employer brand, and the advantage of partnering with an RPO to make the necessary changes is that they will dedicate the time and resources necessary to understanding your business and its vision for the future. Outsourcing your recruitment solutions should be about more than just alleviating pressure, reducing costs, time to hire – the things you’d expect. It should be acquiring the know-how and expertise of a third-party that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to. An RPO partner should be able to help you reduce your long-term reliance and spending on recruitment intermediaries, improve the quality of the Talent being sourced and help existing members of staff to feel more engaged and in harmony with the business by revising both your employer brand and recruitment process collectively.

First and foremost, it is important to outline your goals with your RPO partner. What is it you would like to achieve? You should be able to summarise your business, and its proposition as an employer, within a couple of sentences – almost like a mission statement. “We want to be recognised as the highest quality ‘X’ provider in our field, with a culture that thrives on the family-orientated spirit from which the business started. We celebrate open and collaborative teamwork and work with informal, friendly yet professional in-house conduct.” There are a variety of factors that contribute to building (or destroying) a perception of your organisation via its employer brand. These include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Company website
  • Social media channels
  • Careers portal
  • Recruitment marketing material
  • Vacancy adverts
  • Application and acknowledgement upon receipt (or lack of)
  • Length and ease of the process
  • First encounter with the physical state of the organisation, including atmosphere of the office and attitudes of staff/interviewer
  • Tone and timeliness of feedback (or lack of)
  • Candidate integration into the business

One you have reviewed these aspects of your organisation and identified what you and your management team believe are weak links in the business’s infrastructure, it will be time to investigate where candidates and employees think problems lie. Conducting research is an integral part of the understanding where the disharmony lies between what the company is and what it stands for as an employer, and what is actually being portrayed to internal and external talent. An RPO provider should look to administer employee surveys and retrieve candidate feedback at every stage of the process in order to identify how your employer brand can be managed more effectively. After all, the most valuable resource you have at your disposal are the people in, and in contact with, your business. Equally, attrition isn’t something to be celebrated, but if you have people exiting your business, use their leaving as a means to progress. Exit interviews can be an insightful part of the process, and people are often more willing to speak frankly with you about their experiences as an employee once they know they will not be returning.

Finally, anonymity should be paramount. Unlike agencies, an RPO should be working to develop your brand and presence within your market to be recognised by the right kinds of people. What many organisations fail to recognise is that the engagement process of working for a company can and should start before the candidate has formally joined as an employee. If your business tends to recruit via agencies, think of the impact that is having on your employer brand. Candidates will often only know of your business as the agency’s ‘client’ and so will be entering into the process partially blind. An agency won’t purposefully set out to tarnish your employer brand, but a reliance on them will certainly hamper your efforts to develop a distinguishable presence within the jobs market.

Now imagine, having defined your own employer brand and aligned it with your organisational strategy, posting branded job adverts and having a dedicated careers portal set-up for candidates to explore which utilises language and styling that reflects the tone and formality of your organisation. The candidate experience will be immediately enhanced as they begin to build a mental picture of what it might be like to work for your organisation, and this could all be before they have even been invited to interview. By being transparent about yourself as a business and as an employer, you are helping to build candidate anticipation whilst promoting your organisation to be one that is confident and assured in its goals and intended culture.

If your business is struggling to attract the right kind of talent, or failing to retain the talented people already working for you, it may be time to identify what is not working. Most organisations with a wavering candidate response to recruitment material and a high attrition rate will often resort to seeking out the quickest way to find and replace the gaps forming within the business, which is, at best, a very short-term solution. It’s comparable to putting a small plaster onto a gaping wound; the source of the issue hasn’t been addressed and won’t just go away. Sometimes the truth hurts, but recognising that what your company says and what it does are two different things is the first vital step to combatting such a disruptive, repetitive and, most importantly, fixable cycle. The second step is to then source the expertise needed to support you in making the relevant changes – and if you hadn’t considered an RPO provider before, now may be the time to start.