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How is your HR function's brand image? 8 tips for improving your Brand

thinking hr hr brand

In her book Brand HR: Why and How to Market Your Image, Shari Caudron says that 'If you want HR to be perceived as more strategic, more valuable, more credible, more whatever, you need to start thinking like a business with a product and market your overall brand image.'

So 8 tips for Improving your brand:

1) Identify your customer's needs and perceptions.
The first step in creating or enhancing a brand identity is to determine who your customers are and what they need from the HR function. You will also want to know your customers’ current perceptions of the HR department.

Begin this process by identifying your customers. Are your primary customers executive managers, line managers or the entire workforce? What products and services do they use from HR? What would they like to receive from HR? Do they use HR services from outside HR vendors, and if so, why? How do they perceive the internal HR department?

HR departments could conduct employee attitude surveys to obtain answers to these questions, but to get truthful and more useful information, Caudron suggests it is worthwhile to hire an outside consultant to conduct the interviews in private. She states that "employees would more likely state their true feelings about HR if they are guaranteed anonymity."

It is important to conduct this type of analysis, to understand the difference between what you are providing and think your organisation wants from you, and what they say they need. In today's organisations, there are so many perceptions about what role HR should play. HR conducts so many activities: training, recruitment, personal welfare, salary and bonus, and a whole range of other concerns, that "HR brand" development is challenging. In order to correct this, HR practitioners must research their current "brand" to figure out where they stand.

2) Build your identity based on customer needs.
Caudron says that after you determine the needs and current perceptions of your existing customers, you can decide how you would like your customers to perceive the HR department. It is important to note that the function of the HR department will differ from organisation to organisation. In one organisation, internal customers may want the HR department to provide great service in all of the traditional HR areas.

In others, customers may expect HR to take responsibility for productivity and growth. You have to decide what "brand" identity works best for your particular culture and then work to create a mission statement and organisation that supports that identity.

As another example, in your organisation, it may make sense to outsource routine tasks such as payroll processing so that the remaining HR staff can concentrate on more strategic matters. To achieve a solid brand identity, you cannot be all things to all people. You can try, but you will fail in the eyes of significant numbers of your customers.

3) Develop a mission statement that resonates with meeting customer needs.
Having determined your identity, Caudron suggests taking the time to design a mission statement that will guide you through the changes and improvements that you need to make. The mission statement should define the HR function, the values and core principles the department will uphold, and the benefit HR expects to provide to the rest of the organisation.

It is important to have a mission statement as it helps define your future goals and direction. The mission should not be empty rhetoric. It is a charter that outlines the HR pledge to the rest of the organisation. 

4) Deliver on your promises.
Supposing, based on your customer input, the HR department needs to improve its customer service and supportiveness. This might require hiring more employees, empowering the receptionist to make decisions, or conducting team-building sessions. Customers want you to be more responsive.

Caudron recommends that since forging your new identity means delivering a promise, you must ensure that the staff, practices and systems in your department all work to support the goal of customer service. Staff your department with people who are easy to work with and who who are willing go the extra mile for line managers. Deliver what you promise in your mission statement. 

5) Update your image.
Few consumer products are packaged without a distinctive logo and type of packaging. Can you imagine mistaking a can of Pepsi for a can of Coca-Cola? A bottle of Coors for a Bud Light? These companies understand that the look of their products communicates powerful messages to consumers.

The same applies to HR. If your HR department has made substantial improvements and changes, then you can use the packaging as a means of communicating those improvements to others. Develop a separate logo for your HR department, if you’d like, that expresses your mission, your commitment to customers, and your goals. The most important packaging piece, however, is the HR department itself.

If you want your HR brand to deliver the message of quality service, ensure that visitors to the department get what they need, with no hassle, friction, or needless hoops to navigate. You can spend millions of dollars redesigning your department and developing a logo, but if the people in HR are impossible to deal with, you have accomplished nothing in the eyes of your organisation.

6) Spread the word.
After you have determined your identity, created a system in which you can consistently deliver on your promises, and packaged the HR department in a manner that conveys improvements, Caudron suggests it is time to "toot your horn."
For example, if you want human resources perceived as a strategic partner, take the time to quantify the strategic impact of a recent HR program or decision. Communicate this impact in board meetings, through your organisation's newsletter, your web site or Intranet, or by developing special HR performance reports. The key objective, for positive notoriety, is to back up the overall message with hard data and specific success stories.

7) Enhance your visibility.
Another good marketing technique for HR, not only inside your organisation, but also to the human resources world at large, is to publish articles in magazines and speak at HR seminars or conferences. This validates the internal changes you have made and may capture the attention and interest of your management group. 
You can heighten this visibility within your organisation by including the program-specific managers and employees in the article or at the conference podium with you. Professionals love hearing from "real people" and they will spread the good word for you in your organisation.

8) Continuously improve. Keep on keeping on.
Just as in the business world, where companies have to continuously review, revisit, and update their brands to meet customers' changing needs, so this advice applies to HR.
In the rapidly changing world of business, the HR profession must regularly be willing to make tough decisions about what it will and will not stand for. Every HR professional can craft initiatives using the same toolbox. The best will try new things, challenge conventional wisdom, and ask more questions more often.

With careful attention to forging an identity, your HR department can learn to provide what your internal and external customers expect. Your organisation will love you and your HR staff members will take their place as "players," making a difference in the real world of your organisation. Your positive HR department brand and reputation will support all you want to achieve.

JOHN | THINKING HR