Human capital strategies can benefit from strategic marketing

11 July 2017

Gianluca Bregoli, an independent consultant with nearly twenty years’ experience in marketing, reflects on why HR needs strategic marketing to help develop a holistic framework that meets the needs of employees and businesses. 

A lot has been written on the close collaboration between HR and marketing. Considerable attention has been devoted to the cross-functional approach to the development of an employer brand built on the overall brand strategy and integrated with the customer brand to ensure the internal and external faces of the brand share the same core proposition. The interrelation between corporate brand and employer brand is clearly represented by the integrated brand model developed by People in Business (Simon Barrow & Richard Mosley, The Employer Brand); the model recognises that there need to be a set of brand qualities common to the experience both customers and employees have with the brand, whereas other benefits and differentiators should be specifically developed for “the brand people purchase” and “the brand people work for”. 

The relationship between HR and marketing has strengthened with time to drive internal and external communications through different channels and platforms, including digital. However, the cooperation has often been fragmented and on ad hoc projects rather than a strategic partnership part of a holistic framework. Generally speaking, the contribution given by marketing has been more at tactical level.

What is the next stage of the “alliance” between HR and marketing, and why? My opinion is that the alliance should be pushed to the upper level where (strategic) marketing becomes one of the key stakeholders designing the people strategy. A people strategy that embraces in an integrated way “all the contributors to worker satisfaction, wellness, and alignment”. 

Human capital strategies can benefit from strategic marketing

According to the 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report from Deloitte, “most companies have not assigned responsibility to a senior executive or team to design and deliver the employee experience,” do not have a full understanding of what “the talent they employ expects and values,” also “remain focused on ‘point-in-time engagement’ and have not yet pulled together [various] disciplines … into an integrated framework.” To me, this shows there is a gap and an opportunity for marketing to step in and fill that space.

People aligned with strategy

The end goal is to draw up a people strategy, aligned with the brand and business strategies, that creates growth, competitive advantage and a better customer experience. To do so, you need a roadmap which, starting from the assessment of where you are now, defines where you would like to be, how you are getting there and provides monitoring and control mechanisms. 

What I am suggesting is tailoring the steps of the strategic marketing planning process to the design of the people strategy. This is why HR needs marketers with strategic skills. 

A people strategy cannot lie outside a deep analysis of the external environment with its opportunities and threats. Factors such as globalisation, digital transformation, disruptive technologies, innovation, social trends, work-life balance, the growth of agile talents as opposed to full-time permanent employees, to mention only a few, affect organisations, their ways of working and thinking about their workforce. If we take technology, for example, we should consider how it is impacting businesses but also what types of employees those businesses need to attract and retain to manage technology transformation. 

In a very competitive market, you are out of the game if you do not stay on top of your competitors. How do their employer brands compare to yours? What makes your competitors attractive? What employee experiences have they created for current and potential hires, and how do you stand against them? Priority questions whose answers require an accurate market assessment.

People Strategy

With the workforce becoming more diverse and segmented, time should be spent to understand what potential recruits are looking for in relation to values, culture and the whole employee experience as an “integrated experience that impacts daily life in and outside the workplace, including overall physical, emotional, professional, and financial well-being” (2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report). Like the customer experience is centred around customer insights and journey mapping, the employee experience should be founded on the same marketing research system. 

Geography also matters. Global organisations cannot disregard the analysis of the local markets in which they operate because there are factors, such as culture and language, that influence consumer behaviour as well as the employee experience.

Equally important is the evaluation of the internal environment to diagnose strengths and weaknesses of the organisation. A good start is the brand reality model aimed at checking how the employer brand is perceived and experienced by its current employees (Simon Barrow & Richard Mosley, The Employer Brand); employee feedback captured through surveys and other sources of information are part of the tool mix. Again, it is about listening, collecting and analysing data to get insights into employees’ needs and expectations and how the organisation is performing with regard to its people strategy. 

We are seeing how HR should work hand in hand with marketing to conduct a comprehensive SWOT analysis that will shape the next steps of the process, starting from setting SMART objectives for each area of the people strategy.

The insights generated should be used for segmentation, targeting and persona development of current employees and potential hires. It is sufficient to mention just a few reasons for that. From a targeting perspective, for instance, the recruits that a fin-tech start-up wants to attract are usually quite different from those of a formal large corporate. Secondly, once you have clarity of your segments and personas, you can develop both overarching and specific messages, tone of voice, channels and campaigns depending on the audience to reach. Thirdly, because here we are examining the broad people strategy, segmentation will determine the receivers of learning and development programmes, different induction modules and many other HR services. 

The findings of the external and internal environments will also set the foundations for developing and communicating the desired positioning strategy. Perceptual or positioning maps will help the organisation decide where it wants to position itself in relation to opportunities. 

HR collaboration can provide employee with more holistic experience

From an employer brand angle, the brand vision model comes into play to define the kind of employer brand the organisation would like to develop to improve your appeal to potential recruits, and lead to higher levels of employee engagement, retention and brand advocacy. 

Looking more widely at the end-to-end employee experience, from recruitment to retirement, this is the key stage where employers define their differentiators and position their HR services and unique value proposition in the market place. Objectives set the direction, define what the organisation wants to achieve, but that is not enough; the next step is what Kotler calls the “game plan for getting there”: a strategy with its programme of actions.

Finally, HR needs the help of marketing to establish control mechanisms and measurement metrics to ensure the successful execution of the employee experience capabilities. 

With the people strategy becoming a priority, but also a challenge, for many organisations and talent expecting an integrated employee experience across its multiple dimensions, there is pressure to design and deliver innovative solutions. Solutions that are user-centric and, given the equation between employee experience and customer experience, developed applying the strategic and integrated approach of marketing. If marketing is brought in only to advise on the tactical aspects of social media, content, advertising, look and feel of collateral or careers website pages, the risk is to keep the collaboration with HR very fragmented and outside that holistic employee experience that seems to be essential.

In conclusion, strategic marketing could represent the ring joining the different stakeholders involved in shaping a people strategy which is differentiated, supporting talent’s expectations and business needs.

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Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.