· Features

Creating a strong employer brand when launching a new business

Having a strong employer brand is critical for business growth and can also have a significant impact on a company’s bottom line.

But where do you begin if you are starting from scratch after a re-brand or the launch of an entirely new company?

Getting buy-in to a new company culture and employer brand from existing employees is a challenge in itself, whilst the need to communicate it to external audiences and, in particular, prospective talent who associate you with different values, is another task entirely.

These are the challenges that my colleagues and I at AbbVie, a global biopharmaceutical company, faced at the start of this year when our organisation was formed following separation from Abbott.

Drawing on our recent experience, my advice for developing a strong employer brand for a new company is:

Develop a business-wide strategy - It's crucial to have a detailed plan in place early on that maps key milestones and clearly designates team responsibilities for developing and embedding the employer brand. Remember that employer brand isn't just a property of the HR team, every business function has a part to play in some capacity. It's important to develop a strategy that draws in other functions right from the start. Early alignment with the organisation's communications and marketing teams is particularly important to ensure a united approach.

Gain insight - One of the most instructive aspects of starting a new company is defining a new employer value proposition to attract and retain the best talent to suit your business. Taking a research-based approach to inform your strategy is vital, survey current and prospective employees to identify what they look for in an employer, and conduct market research to understand the competitive landscape. For the latter, remember to look at other companies beyond your sector.

Maintain dialogue - In theory, starting a new business provides a blank canvas for your employer brand. But, in reality, if you are transferring former employees from a parent company or going through a re-brand, there will always be legacy considerations to address. Maintaining dialogue with employees is key to sharing your vision, communicating the points of difference and instilling a new corporate culture. We brought our employees on board early and have maintained the dialogue with them throughout the process via multiple events and channels - from Town Hall meetings and sales conferences to our General Manager's monthly employee briefings. This is an on-going process, and HR teams should work closely with their employee communications function to reinforce the new employer brand in the weeks and months after launch.

Know your audience - Looking externally, to fully leverage your employer value proposition, you need to package it in a way that engages the talent you're targeting. Again, research can help to get into the mind-set of prospective employees: what media they consume and how they like to communicate with prospective employers. This will, of course, differ according to the role and level of seniority - what attracts graduates will likely not be appropriate for more senior staff, and vice versa. The key is to segment the talent you want to engage, and tailor your employer branding strategy accordingly. You should therefore use channels and develop materials that strike the right tone with each audience and, crucially, partner with your PR and marketing teams to ensure that wider communication activity is also aligned.

Think big - For us, the most exciting thing about launching a new company was the ability to try new things. Be creative and develop a list of big ideas to engage current and prospective employees and, from it, identify some quick wins as well as some longer-term approaches. By following this process, we have already introduced a number of initiatives in the UK - from a new dress code to a sabbatical scheme - that are helping us build a strong and differentiated employer brand for our company.

Measure up - Creating an employer brand is a long-term process, so measurement and refinement will help you to gauge your progress and address any areas for improvement. We conducted an employee survey early on to provide a benchmark from which we can compare and evolve over the coming months and years.

Having a strong employer brand has a direct impact on advocacy and employee engagement. And that can only be good for business, so it is well worth the upfront investment to get it right first time.

Ignacio Ruiz, former HR director, AbbVie UK, now director talent management for EMEA & Canada.