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Aug 23, 2012

What is the single most important part of your entire talent and HR strategy?

Is it your leadership development? Your process for goal alignment? Your on-demand learning?

Nope. I’d suggest that the most important thing you do is hire the right people. As Jim Collins wrote long ago in Good to Greatyou have to get the right people on the bus first. THEN you can figure out how to drive the bus.

Our research shows that talent acquisition, the entire end-to-end process of attracting, sourcing, recruiting, and onboarding people, is one of the most important, complex, and often dysfunctional parts of a company. Not dysfunctional in a bad way, more like “sub-optimized.”

Under-appreciated, yet very important

When you look at high-performing companies like Apple, Nike, IBM, Hyatt, Google, and even Goldman Sachs, you find one thing in common: They have a very strategic, very well integrated, end-to-end process for talent acquisition.

And, they take it seriously — from the CEO on down. Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo, immediately started with this process, putting in place a program where she and her executive team reviews all new hires.

Within the complex area of talent acquisition, one particular area is under-appreciated and very important: creating employment brand.

Just as your company has a whole department focused on positioning, marketing, and branding your products, so should your company have a similar focus on branding your “employment.” That is: creating a set of messages, strategies, and programs to get the message into the market about who you are, the type of people who succeed at your organization, and why someone would want to come work for you.

The process of doing this will take soul searching and smart companies enlist their corporate marketing people in the program. After all, much of what a customer sees in your product is your people (sales, service, support), so they, in every sense, are your customer brand. Thus your marketing organization should see the direct relationship between “who we hire” and “what value proposition we deliver” in the marketplace.

“It must be genuine and true”

We’ve also found that employment branding extends from the very first time someone finds your company all the way through your sourcing, recruiting, hiring, and onboarding. You need to consider how this “experience” carries through from beginning to end. This means it must be genuine and true.

You can’t “fool” candidates into thinking you’re a highly innovative company if you’re not, for example. Not only is it a mistake to hire the “wrong people” but if you mis-position your employment brand people will join the organization and then quickly leave, citing “this place isn’t at all what they advertised” on their way out the door.

Think about it this way: There are hundreds of millions of possible candidates out in the market. Many of them are excellent people — hard workers, smart, and willing to dedicate their energy to good work. Which ones are right for you? Your job is not to “find the best” but rather to “find the right ones” — and create a magnet that brings them to you.

The best employment brands very clearly state “what we are not” as well as “what we are.”

IKEA’s employment brand clearly states that the company wants people who are environmentally friendly, design-centered, and minimalist in their thinking. Apple wants people who work very hard and are willing to dedicate their lives to the mission. Regeneron, a pharmaceutical research firm, wants scientists who want to solve grand problems. We at Bersin & Associates look for people who are passionate about HR and people-management, and love to serve others.

Living and breathing the brand

These branding statements must be clear and focused. They state who you are and who you are not. They must be authentic. And they must be communicated through stories, programs, and continuous reinforcement. I’d venture to say that your CEO should be involved in crafting and approving the whole story.

And the brand is not just a statement or website. Your managers, recruiters, assessment process, onboarding process, and ongoing development process must be built around this brand. If your brand means quality, everyone in the company has to live and breathe quality.

Remember this one thing: The very most important thing you will do as an HR or business leader is “hire the right people.” If you do this well, everything else gets easier. Your employment brand is your key to making this all happen well.

For more information on this critical part of business and HR, read our new research on High-Impact Talent Acquisition. It will pay for itself many times over. (You can find the link here.)