A group of concerns that I hear about frequently when talking with small business owners and community leaders in our area is difficulty with hiring and retaining the right employees. There are a number of strategies that can be taken to address these difficulties. One of these is knowing and managing employer brand – a strategy often skillfully utilized by major corporations but often overlooked by small businesses. Small businesses need to do more than just advertise their job openings.
An employer brand is how a company is perceived, both inside and outside of the company, as an employer. This includes perceptions about attributes such as the following:
- the company culture
- what it is like to work for the company
- leadership within the company
- the company’s mission and values
- the company’s products or services
- employee benefits and compensation
- career paths available within the company
- professional development opportunities
- future employment opportunities outside the company
- location and facilities
- attitudes toward flex time and remote work
- problems within the company
- comparison to other companies in the area
- comparison to other companies in the industry
- perceptions of the industry
Such perceptions greatly affect a company’s ability to hire and retain great employees.
Here is some advice for small business employers.
Know your brand.
Looking at considerations such as those outlined in the bullet points above, what are the perceptions of your business held by the people who make up your company? What are the perceptions held by customers? What are the perceptions held by neighboring businesses or the community? Are these perceptions positive? Are these perceptions accurate? What is being said about your business on social media?
Know what employees and potential employees value.
Think about the types of employees that you want to attract and those that you want to stay with your company. What distinguishes them? What are the things that those types of employees need and want in their employment? What are the things that make a difference to whether they are going to come to work for you or go to work for someone else? What are the things that determine whether an employee leaves or stays?
Assess the match.
How well does perception of your business as an employer match watch employees want? Does your business offer the things that should attract employees? Does your business offer the things that should motivate employees to stay? Where does your business fall short in each of these categories?
Adjust your value proposition.
Having identified what employees and potential employees are looking for, and whether your company is or is not offering those things, if there are areas where your business falls short, then you need to assess the obstacles to your ability or willingness to offer what employees are looking for. Are these obstacles surmountable? What can you do, and what are you willing to do, to make your company a better employer?
Promote your brand.
If you are already doing what you can to provide the attributes that employees value in an employer, but you are still having difficulty with hiring and retention, then there may be a gap between what you have to offer and perception. Perhaps there are misconceptions or, perhaps, your business is lacking employer brand recognition altogether. Communicate with your employees to make sure that they are aware of what you have to offer and do what you can to make sure that the prospective employees that you would like to attract are aware of what you have to offer. Simply posting job openings is not enough. Encourage employees to become recruiters for your company. Let your community know what you have to offer. Use social media to show what you have to offer.
Continue and evolve.
As the workplace continues to evolve with generational changes, technological changes, changes in employment trends, economic and political changes, and so forth, it is important to stay aware of how your company is perceived and what employees want, to do what you can to be a desirable employer, to communicate the value of your employer brand, and to evolve your employer brand accordingly.
One of the advantages that small businesses have as employers is accessible communication. In other words, if there is good leadership within the company, it should be easy to have conversations with employees about what they need and want in their employment and the ability and willingness of the company to meet those expectations. However, that does not necessarily mean that these conversations occur or that they occur often enough. It also does not mean that the value of small employers is known outside their company.
Knowing and managing your employer brand is something that we at the Washburn University Center for America’s SBDC Kansas can help small businesses work on in order to help them hire and retain the employees that they need to run and grow their company.
Laurie Pieper, Ph.D.
America’s SBDC Kansas