A quiet hush descends upon my household whenever I announce that I’m about to undertake anything other than basic household maintenance. I wish I could tell you that it’s driven by the excitement of improvement, but to be honest, the silence is more of a resigned trepidation. Even my loyal and loving dog retreats to her bed in anticipation of my inevitable crescendo from disappointed mutterings to screams of obscenities. It’s simply a matter of time before one of my loving offspring will then (partially in innocence and partially in mischief) ask “but why didn’t you get the professionals in Dad?” Pity the poor tradesmen who follow me!
But I should know better because I occasionally find myself in their shoes – trying to unpick the findings that a well-meaning HR team has compiled ahead of an employer brand project. The work is always done with the best intentions and often can provide an interesting starting point for our own research, but rarely does it deliver the same insight or objectivity of a more rounded piece of work.
A wise HR Director (take a bow Sue) once said to me, “You can’t mark your own homework – it’s just common sense”. Psychologists and behavioural researchers would agree with her for three main reasons:
Confirmation bias – When people would like a certain idea/concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true. This can lead us to stop gathering information when the evidence gathered so far confirms the views (or prejudices) we would like to be true. Once we have formed a view, we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it. It’s possible therefore that an HR team undertaking their own employer brand research may not be truly objective.
Conformity and deference – The most effective employer brands are based upon telling the truth well. However, even in the most egalitarian and collegiate cultures, it can be daunting for all colleagues to be 100% confident that they can be entirely honest. The presence of a member of your HR team might well increase people’s natural predilection for deference – telling you the things that you or “the management” want to hear. Whilst the being with other people can encourage ‘group think’ – where it’s easier to go along with the crowd than say how you really feel.
Context – Understanding the current employee experience is vital to building authentic employer brands, but it is just one element in creating an effective, differentiating and fit for purpose brand. Working with a neutral and experienced third party can help you to contextualise research and turn data into insight then strategy. Working with people who have solved similar challenges in other organisations should be a shortcut to success.
We live in the real world and realise that challenging budgets can make Doing It Yourself look a realistic option, but we know it can also prove to be a false economy. So perhaps the next time you’re tempted to ‘don the employer brand overalls’ it might be worth considering if it might be easier and better to call in some expert helping hands.
Written by Simon McLoughlin