, Singapore

Sales and Marketing get it, so why not HR?

By Mike Parsons

Conventional sales wisdom is no longer contemporary; it's been around for a decade or two (depending on who you are). A while ago there was an epiphany in the sales world and, for all but a lonely few, the realisation set in that you can't push someone into buying something, it just doesn't really work.

The days of Glengarry Glen Ross and Boiler Room have been replaced with actually listening to buyers and meeting their needs with relevant value propositions. The 'Push Strategies' of old are now totally irrelevant, and not a single B2B sales or marketing professional worth their salt would disagree. We are very much in the era of 'Pull Strategies', in whichever form they may take.

Sadly, however, this reality slap seemed to miss the faces of those in charge of one of the most business-critical functions, talent acquisition. Talentism is the new capitalism, after all.

If we look at Singapore, a bastion among modern global business cities, there is one stat which makes this point on its own; there are reportedly over 3,000 executive recruitment agencies, but only, by my count, three employer branding agencies capable of building, measuring, and activating an organisation's employer value proposition (EVP).

Within Singapore, then, the landscape of agencies who facilitate the acquisition of talent could not be more skewed towards push strategies.

Are talent and consumers so different? Can one be sold to, whereas the other can only be attracted? I don’t think I need to quote sources here, it's universally accepted that with the resources and information available to them, consumers are very much the ones in the driving seat these days.

Surely the same must apply to talent, who now have a similar suite of resources and channels to gather information, connect with reviewers, and form decisions.

So what about employers? Do they have their heads in the sand, still believing they're the ones in the driving seat? Their actions would seem to suggest so. All you need to do is take a look at almost any corporate recruitment page, or scan through the employer branding (or lack thereof) on their social media channels, which are two key places where talent will go to research them.

Worst still, look at these employers' over-reliance on external recruiters – a little country like Singapore is somehow managing to sustain over 3,000 executive search agencies! And, from all my years here, I'm yet to learn of one agency who's proactively emulating the carefully crafted EVP of their client to attract the best-fitting talent for them – so, if such a conscientious agency does exist, they're rarer than the Pokemon that caused the chaos in Central Park last week.

This is hardly the recruitment agencies' fault, though. Why would they spend time and money on something their clients aren't demanding from them? It's not like employer branding is something you can learn overnight, it takes a level of commitment and determination to master the practice.

Also, they're in business, why would they promote something that wipes out a 21% premium* that unattractive employers have to pay to hire their employees, or that leads to more employees wanting to stay longer in their jobs – this would only erode their business.

It's far better for recruitment agencies if employers are continually caught up in fixing urgent gaps in headcount or rushing to fulfil short-term business needs. And what a merry-go-round they've created, head-hunters uprooting talent from one employer to feed another, generating more and more demand within their industry. It's genius.

Their only enemy seems to be themselves and the low barriers to entry within their industry… come on, over 3,000 of them in Singapore.

So it really is up to the employers themselves to bring about change, then? It doesn't seem like anybody else will be doing it for them.

The motivation for this change, however, should be very strong. Employers who have a well thought out EVP that's true, credible, sustainable, attractive, and distinct, really can have their cake…. and scoff it!

A study by CEB attributed some significant savings to having an attractive employer brand, such as 21% lower costs to recruit employers, reductions of up to 50% in compensation premiums, and 29% more commitment from new hires, who're then twice as likely to become employer advocates.

Others have been even more successful. Tristram Gray, the VP of HR for Ericsson Southeast Asia reported a reduction in costs of 70% per hire thanks to their employer branding strategy. I have also seen similar cost savings (70% or more) from leading companies in the oil & gas, consumer goods, and retail industries.

Okay, I'm making a well sorted EVP sound like a bit of a no-brainer, when it really isn't. And it's not cost that's the issue here, even if your organisation invests in the Rolls Royce equivalent of data, EVP creation and activation, the cost will still only equate to a small fraction of overall talent investment (recruitment, on-boarding, etc.).

The real issue I see most organisations face is getting stakeholder buy-in, and not just from the CEO. They're usually concerned enough about the availability of talent to be on side. It's the army of hiring managers and the extended leadership team who also need to be on point, but often aren't.

However difficult, though, my advice to HR is still to prioritise a pull strategy over any pre-existing push strategy. Conviction and determination are important for this journey, and it will be a journey, but data is better.

Gather the data that's relevant to your business' needs, make sure it's easily digestible, and use it to help show the cynics how an EVP will benefit them directly, and the business as a whole. It might not be easy but, from what I've seen over the past few years, there is no better way to win that ever more competitive war for talent.

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