Social media and other technologies are ensuring that employees are more empowered than ever to share whatever they think of the organisation they work for – but rather than fearing what might come out if their staff were to speak up, business leaders can let this work in their favour.
Samantha Crous, country manager for the CRF Institute in South Africa, said companies are becoming aware of the power of employees as brand ambassadors and those that are leveraging this to strengthen their brand are ahead of the curve.
She said: “Employees are the citizens of a business, and in this way, they can participate in their own form of ‘citizen journalism’. They are empowered to share information about their company in whatever ways they see fit. And while this may seem a little scary – as marketing managers don’t have much control – it is also an incredibly powerful source of credible branding.”
Based on her experiences at the helm of Top Employers (formerly Best Employers) in South Africa, Crous said there is often an overlap between a company’s brand prominence, and the happiness of its employees. Top Employers internationally recognises the HR policies of leading employers in 45 countries across the globe.
“Even the smaller companies in the index are well known, relative to their size,” she said. “This is not a coincidence. Companies that know what they are doing from a marketing perspective know that they need to market to their own people first and foremost.
“Repeatedly we see a significant overlap between brand prominence and good treatment of employees on the list of Top Employers each year,” she added. “Some of the best companies to work for in South Africa are also the best-known – hence the giants on the list like Sasol, Old Mutual, African Rainbow Minerals, Coca-Cola, Clicks and others.”
Further examples of recognisable names among the current class of Top Employers include Kimberly Clark, Estee Lauder, the Liberty Group, British American Tobacco, Procter & Gamble, Telkom, Unilever and Volkswagen.
Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, is a strong believer in branding through investing in the happiness of employees. Virgin is known for its solid HR policies, and Branson said this was a conscious business decision. “Some people might see Virgin’s 50,000 employees as a cost to be managed, but I see 50,000 potential passionate brand ambassadors,” he said.
Rob Frappier, community manager for Reputation.com, Inc., said: “The best way to turn your employees into loyal brand ambassadors is to treat them with dignity. A happy employee will speak favourably of your company both online and offline. Conversely, treating employees poorly could mean angry rants on anonymous review websites, which offers information on salaries, interview questions and other generally confidential details.”
The correlation between being a Top Employer and brand prominence is an easy one to make. These companies are providing working conditions that form the foundation of satisfaction of staff. “That’s not to say that working for these brands is easy,” said Crous.
Some Top Employer cultures are tough, boot-camp tough, 18-hour days tough and although flexitime is available there is simply too much work to be done to actually use the benefit. But if those organisations have hired the right people, with the right fit to culture then satisfaction is easier to achieve, and the good news will naturally spread word-of-mouth, by employees.
“All an employer need do is give the green light to the tools required to have the conversations – social media, use of smart phones, and above all, access to the internet
“Incentivise go a distance too, to encouraging employees to be active on your social media pages and encourage a culture of sharing positive working experiences at staff meetings,” said Crous.
Building communication goals into KPIs so that salary investment is also being directed towards positive internal marketing is another winning strategy according to Crous.
She said: “Above all, keep an open door policy, so that if your staff do have issues, they come to you first – this reinforces the positive relationship you have with your staff, and decreases the risk of negative representation to the outside world.”
Communication consultant Amber Avines agrees that the last point may be the most important. ““Break down the barriers,” she says. “Employees are people. They work their hardest and care the most when the people in power remember that. Create a culture shift in your company to ensure upper management is accessible, visible, and approachable – and you will reap the rewards in how your employees represent you.”
The 2013 Top Employer List can be viewed at http://www.topemployers.co.za/BESTEmployers/BestEmployers20122013.aspx
To read more about Top Employers visit http://www.topemployers.co.za/