Saturday, 24 January 2009

The Changing Context of Employer Branding

This post is prompted by a number of initiatives we're involved in that deal directly or indirectly with the changing context of employer branding (EB) and HR (see next paragraph). It is also prompted by direct communication from a colleague who has just posted an item on 'reverse employer branding' on This post is definitely worth reading because it points out that the reputation of 'toxic' firms can spillover to their employees, so making them less employable in the future because of their association with the unethical/inept practices of their leaders. This must certainly be a worry to those employees/managers in some of the major UK/US financial institutions that have had to be rescued or allowed to collapse over the last few months.

To return to the initiatives we're lucky enough to be part of (and do a bit of advertising for the Centre), the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has just promoted two important initiatives in this field. The first is their 'Shaping the Future' programme, the Scottish edition of which we are launching with them in Glasgow on March 27th with a working lunch for an invited group of HR directors to consider the future of HR in the current economic conditions. The second is an advisory board established by Rebecca Clake of the CIPD to examine the role of EB research in the current recessionary context. In addition to these initiatives, we're also running a one day seminar we're running with the Institute of Employment Studies in Glasgow on EB in changing contexts on April, 16th.

So what does all of this activity add up to? Well, all will have to re-visit EB with a critical hat on because it was largely a product of the talent management agenda and employee shortages of a few years ago. For some people, EB and recruitment were almost synonomous. Therefore, what is the future for EB when talent management takes a downturn?

A few months ago I posted some thoughts on that issue following a series of seminars in Australia, to which I still adhere no matter how deep the recession bites. However, I'm working with two sets of colleagues in Australia and Canada on different projects that may have something more to say about this question. The Australian project, with colleagues from Macquarie (Paul Gollan) and Monash (Kerry Grigg) and supported by ADCORP and other organizations, is examining the impact of EB not only on the talent management/human capital agenda, but also on the creation of social capital (creating strong organizational identities and creating strong bridges/networks among people) and organizational capital (e.g. Web 2.0 - our CIPD report on this comes out in a few weeks). Surprisingly, some excellent research has shown that both of these forms of capital have more of an impact on innovation than human capital/talent. The Canadian/British project is a new book I'm editing with Ron Burke and Cary Cooper on Corporate Repuations for Gower. A key focus of this book is on managing reputation risk, which leads me back to the opening comments on reputation spillover and reverse employer branding. The more I think about this issue, the more important I think it is to investigate. So thanks to CV, the author of Authentic Organizations, for raising this issue. Any comments, experiences, examples would be greatly appreciated to help inform our events and research.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

HRs Role in Governance

Been very busy with writing deadlines, so no posts recently. We've just finished writing a chapter for a book edited by Suzanne Young on Corporate Governance, a particularly important issue just now, especially given Gordon Brown's recent criticism of governance in the British financial services sector. We've argued in the past that HR has a key role to play in governance and sometimes a negative one. I'm thinking here of a paper written by Bert Spector in 2002 claiming the HR was the unindicted co-conspiritor in Enron because of its advocacy of a certain brand of McKinsey-style talent management.

Our focus in the chapter, probably quite apposite given the UK Government's 'nationalisation' of some of the UK banks to inject more responsible management (see John Kay's insightful comments on Newsnight last night), is to look at this issue in the public sector, particularly healthcare. To help us think about this issue, we've adapted some excellent work by Jaap Paauwe on four faces of governance and its relationship to risk. Our adaptation, which we have illustrated with material from current research into the Scottish healthcare system, shows how governance of the HR function itself - how it is organized and led - play directly into the 'three pillars of governance' in healthcare. Firstly, it does so by shaping staff governance (or climate governance) - the ways in which staff are encouraged to participate and exercise voice in their organizations. Secondly, staff governance has an obvious and important impact on clinical governance - the balancing of innovation in heathcare with risks to patient safety etc. Innovation is key to creating public value in any 'enterprising' public service, but there are often real risks to innovation that must be governed effectively (the banks have suffered from this because senior managers didn't seem to know what was going on in their innovations in the wholesale banking market for which they were responsible). Finally, clinical and staff governance directly impacts on the third pillar of financial governance, which in turn refracts back on these two other pillars. How NHS boards (with many lay members) are selected, developed and performance managed will have an enormous influence on the management of innovation in healthcare. In turn, the costs and demands by professional for greater innovation will impact on financial prudence among these authorities.

Our key message is that HR at a strategic level has to understand these causal links, and has to manage its own house to make an impact on these three pillars of governance in healthcare and in other industries. All three rely on effective people management, but aren't always seen as part of HRs role. HR should 'step up to the plate' to help make their organizations legitimate as well as different, which are the two central objectives of reputation management. As an aside, a good starting point for understanding the governance problems of the financial services industry would be to read Niall Ferguson's excellent book, 'The Ascent of Money', which was my Xmas reading and why I haven't had time to post