Saturday, 13 June 2009

Linking Employer Branding to Strategic HRM and Customer-based Reputation

I'm working on a couple of projects just now, which require me to focus on some of the problems involved in employer branding in multinational environments. I've also just finished an enjoyable exercise acting as a judge on Personnel Today's employer branding awards, which has caused me to reflect on the criteria for assessing and measuring the impact of employer brands. With both of these projects in mind, there are a couple of good sources of material that may be worth looking at if you are working in this field as a reflective practitioner ( I've got a few people in mind when writing this blog) or academic. One source I've written myself with Susan Hetrick ( I'm saying this is good but I'm not really the best judge of that); another is in the recent edition of the British Journal of Management. These works are written mainly for academics in the field but are accessible and useful for those who want to get beyond the usual homilies or lack ofevidence-based practice that characterised much of the employer branding literature.

Our piece is entitled 'Employer branding and corporate reputations in an international context' (pages 293-320) and can be found in the new 'bible' edited by Paul Sparrow on 'Handbook of International Human Management: Integrating People, Processes and Context' published by John Wiley and Sons, Chichester, UK, 2009. This chapter sets out a model of employer branding in an international context and illustrates some of the problems of negative capabilities associated with 'thinking global and acting local' using a case from the financial services sector. In the case we argue the need for authenticity in employer branding to favour the local rather than the current fashion for global. More of this in later blogs, because this issue gets to the heart of strategic HRM and employer branding in international contexts, the subject of a forthcoming paper by myself, Paul Gollan and Kerry Grigg.

The second extremely useful source is an excellent if somewhat parsimonious attempt to provide a theory of customer-based reputations (C-bR), written to explain the basis on which customers attribute positive reputations to companies and what such reputations lead to in terms of important outcomes. The paper by Walsh, Mitchell, Jackson and Beatty in the British Journal of Management current edition and the core argument is that customer satisfaction and customer trust in the organizations drive positive (and negative) customer-based reputation attributions. In turn, C-bR causes customers to be more loyal (CL) and to produce high levels of customer advocacy through word-of-mouth (WM). The authors show highly significant links among these variables, especially among C-bR and its consequences for CL and WM.

I'm sure I can learn from this parsimony in two ways, largely because my own attempts to explain the causes and consequences of employer branding are so complicated and cannot easily be tested. The first way is to ask the question: what are the workforce and HR antecedents or drivers of customer satisfaction and customer trust? This is likely to lead us into a refinement of the logic of the 'three compellings' from the Sears service-profit chain, a favourite example of many who wish to demonstrate links between satisfied employees, satisfied customers and profits. So, you might expect that employee satisfaction, employee commitment and employee engagement might by related in some way, together with the authenticity of the employer brand, to drive trust in organizations and their leaders (see CV Harquail's application of authenticity to personal branding for an idea of where I'm going).

The other use of this model is to translate the variables into employer branding language. So, you might expect that high levels of employee satisfaction, commitment and engagement, and high levels of trust on the part of employees in the organization and its leaders may drive Employee-based reputation (Eb-R). In turn high Eb-R is likely to result in key outcomes such as employee loyalty/ intention to remain and to word-of-mouth advocacy of the organization, the latter of which is so important to our current project for the NHS.

Although this line of reasoning has been pursued by Gary Davies and Rosa Chun from Manchester Business School in a number of recent articles, the ideas from the Walsh et al paper do suggest how their work could be developed.

When I've worked through some of these ideas a little more, I'll put these up for consideration in a further blog.

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