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May 2, 2017

This month’s Roundtable (in Cincinnati) took the chance to cross business lines and discuss the relationship, or lack of one, between HR and marketing. It was time to start having more of these discussions of HR within a business context, and not just as a stand-alone function.

The small groups took a look at the following three questions to get the session started:

  1. What keeps HR and marketing separate within organizations?
  2. Who “owns” the employer brand? Why?
  3. How can all employees be better marketers?

The room buzzed with all of the discussions happening within the small groups. It was honestly hard to pull them back together to share what they were discussing, but it was awesome when we did.

1. What keeps HR and Marketing separate within organizations?

We only interact with each other transactionally — This may be one of the most true, and limiting statements about HR. When the only reason you interact is to address a task, then you can’t help but have a limited relationship. Unfortunately, this posture is the one HR takes with all departments in organizations. It needs to be changed !!

We don’t see the value in each other — It’s key to note that this includes both parties. It’s easy to throw stones and use “they” to describe others, but it’s not productive. By not interacting on purpose there is a challenge in even knowing what value each area does/doesn’t offer. It’s a real obstacle within organizations.

We do different work — This may be the healthiest and most obvious response. The majority of HR and marketing is different because of the nature of the work we’re responsible for. It shouldn’t lead to an excuse though to keep things separated just because we’re different. Honestly, our differences may actually fill gaps for each function and tie things together more completely.

We’re both territorial — This is the downfall of all departments within a company. It’s the position you take when you state that no one “knows” how to do what we do, so they don’t need to learn how. People are fierce in standing their ground and guarding their boundaries to keep others out who aren’t identified as being members of their clan. It’s silly and needs to stop, but making that happen is much more difficult than just telling people to work together better.

Leadership doesn’t see the connection — This is another “obvious” observation. However, here’s where HR can stem the tide and reach out to leadership and show how, and why, HR and marketing should be intentionally connected. Someone needs to take the first step in making this happen. HR should never allow the status quo to be the norm. We need to be the ones who push against the status quo to make people aware of any disconnections and how to repair them to move the company forward.

2. Who “owns” the employer brand? Why?

It needs to be defined first — This was a great point that shouldn’t be overlooked. It has been said “everyone has a brand whether you say you do or not.” With that truth in front of a company, having your brand clear and defined is needed prior to any consideration of ownership.

Ownership exists with leaders (sort of) — The assumption is that your leadership team would be the group most likely to own and live the employer brand. However, it’s not always in front of leaders, and it can’t be assumed “everyone” is living it just because you’re in a senior role. Don’t make that assumption. Leaders should be intentional in knowing the brand, communicating the brand and living the brand internally and externally.

Ownership exists with managers (kind of) — Many managerial roles are internally focused so they may not see the connection to the employer brand. However, here’s where HR can step in. The majority of an employee’s life within a company is affected and impacted by management. Therefore, we should keep managers engaged, connected and competent to remind them that how they treat others, lead others, etc. directly impacts the employer brand because it directly affects the employees. Don’t allow managers to practice in the dark. Help them out!!

Marketing owns the brand (not really) — The marketers who get this summary just stopped reading. The brand as a whole is hopefully created and defined within marketing. The difference here is that marketing should be the “steward” of the brand and teach/include others within the organization what it means, and how to incorporate it into the work that others do for the company. Marketing should never just keep the brand locked in a departmental vault only to see the light of day when they deem fit to share. HR can help marketing understand when they are being too narrow and isolationist. The company thrives when the brand is woven throughout all it does.

HR owns the employer brand (it depends) — Should HR always have the employer brand in mind in how it practices internally and externally? Yes. Is that how HR practices? Not often. If your HR efforts are constantly in the weeds with their heads down driving minutia, they are unaware of brand issues. HR needs to take hold of this reality and pull their heads up. HR should impact the organization as a whole, and not just a narrow approach of compliance, policy and procedure.

Employees own the brand (indirectly) — Employees are messengers of a company’s brand, and that can be phenomenal, poor, or indifferent. People externally react when someone shares where they work. Since the first question most people ask when meeting others is “Where do you work?” or “What do you do and where?” – they reflect the brand by the nature of their answer.

3. How can all employees be better marketers?

It depends on your company’s culture — Your culture is the most powerful and influential factor of your workplace. If you have a culture that fosters, encourages and cares for employees, then they will share that with others and indirectly represent your brand and “market.” Also, if your leadership sets marketing as a positive behavior within your company, employees will learn that and respond.

Community and/or charitable events — The term used these days is social responsibility. Employees want to work for a company that gives back, and they also want to be a part of those efforts. So, don’t let these events be background noise. Use them as an opportunity to rally people together. Cross-pollinate your events with team members from different departments. Also, consider doing different types of events in scale, location and demographic. Allow your employees to have access in a variety of ways.

Eliminate corporate jargon — Every company has terms and a “language” that is unique to who they are and the work they do. However, words that lack clarity or seem like catchphrases just make things murky. Clarity in communication is essential when it comes to brands and marketing. Review how you communicate and pretend to be the audience to see if YOU understand the messages  being sent. You’ll be surprised at what you see, and you’ll then be able to simplify what you really want to say.

Swag!! — People love stuff. It’s true. People want the clothing with logos, the coffee mugs, the magnets etc. You can use these items for connection and giving your employees an identity within your brand. These items shouldn’t just be giveaways to customers or trade shows. Let your staff get items to and they’ll proudly show them off.

It was great to cross some business lines for this HR Roundtable. I hope that HR and marketing understand that we need to work collaboratively and not separately going forward.

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