HR Roundtable: What Is An HR Brand?

When the HR Roundtable (of Cincinnati) convened in June, you could sense the excitement as the room began to fill. The attendees gathered to discuss a topic that has honestly been elusive for the field of HR. The topic: What is an HR Brand?HR Roundtable logo

To get the small groups started, we began with these three questions:

  1. What does “Brand” mean and/or represent?
  2. What could HR’s brand be internally?
  3. What should HR’s brand be externally?

The assumption was made that HR doesn’t often exhibit a clear brand. So, we asked the small groups to speculate and come up with possible ideas and suggestions to make a brand more concrete. There was great feedback when the entire group reconvened. This is what they had to share:

What does “Brand” mean and/or represent?

  • A brand is a “fingerprint”: This was a cool answer to start of the feedback. A fingerprint identifies who a person is, or even what they’d like to be. It can have both a realistic and an aspirational aspect. The key is that a brand is an identifier.
  • A brand is a promise consistent with your mission and goals: This is a fantastic, positive way to look at a brand. When this occurs, you see people are drawn to the brand and will support it going forward in almost all situations.
  • A brand can define a level of quality and service: This attribute can also be a mix of reality and aspiration. It truly is a goal of a brand to be able to be seen as one of quality and service. It means that people’s behaviors need to support this for it to occur.
  • Brands form relationships and an emotional response: We tend to overlook this, but solid brands get people emotional. That is a very strong attribute and something to embrace instead of assume. Emotional ties to your brand can help drive behavior and allow your brand to thrive.
  • A brand is something you can get behind: This is similar to the emotional tie, but it’s that next step forward. Strong brands set the stage for people to rally around them. They can almost become a cause or call to action. There is power around this and it’s something to reach in establishing and maintaining your brand.

What could HR’s brand be internally?

  • Helpful AND effective: HR has long been viewed as being a “support” function within an organization. Being helpful and supportive is a positive attribute of practicing HR if it’s effective. It means that HR needs to be more than just “nice.” Support that makes an impact is an attribute to build in a brand.
  • Very consistent: It is more critical for HR to be consistent than it is with any other function within an organization because we work directly with people. HR people are pulled in a thousand different directions every day because every person and each situation they face is different by nature. Consistency brings stability and a positive attribute to an HR person’s role within the organization.
  • Bring business solutions: When you live in a world of problems and always feel that you’re in the “fixing” business, it’s easy to wallow in junk. However, HR is in a perfect position to bring a human side to business solutions. So, don’t allow yourself to wallow. Step forward and bring viable solutions to situations while including the human factor each time.
  • Be accessible: This isn’t the “open door” phrase that every company handbook in the world has. HR has traditionally been more closed off and protective in how it practices. There has been a reluctance to be accessible because there is a little voice that lingers that screams for HR people to take into account potential liabilities in every interaction. We need to relax a bit and be more trusting. People need access to HR without some filter to jump through.
  • Champions of the culture: The flame bearer of culture in an organization needs to be HR. This isn’t a program. It’s setting the strategic direction of how people will be treated and allowed to perform in their various roles. There are multiple layers and components of culture. HR needs to be the focal point of all of those factors.
  • Be a partner, not a barrier: HR’s job is to remove obstacles and not be one themselves. When you hear people complain about HR and how they function in a company, chances are they are being an obstacle. HR can be wildly successful if it takes a different approach and comes alongside others as individuals and departments as a partner.

What should HR’s brand be externally?

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  • Positive, constructive and energetic: You would think this would be more natural for HR folks, but that’s not the case. Working with people is challenging, but we forget that we’re people too! If we get caught in the dark side of HR, then it’s impossible to be positive, constructive or energetic over time. However, the role and the industry can only be relevant if we are the profession that coaches and lifts people up. In the end, it starts with us.
  • Be the brand of your company: When people see you, they shouldn’t see someone who works in HR. They should see the “brand” of the company you work for. You may practice HR, but first and foremost you are a representative of your company and the services or products it offers in the marketplace. We need to quit hiding behind the HR letters and show others the businesspeople we truly are.
  • Be responsive: HR folks have full plates, but so does every other person in your organization. The difference is that you’re connected to people outside of the company’s four walls. It’s imperative that we are responsive to candidates who interview with us and vendors who want to work with us. Our responsiveness directly reflects the brand of the company as a whole.
  • Be connected: It is amazing to think that the professionals who are tasked with working directly with humans is one of the least connected professions around. HR folks tend to be fiercely independent when they could be intentionally connected to others instead.

Steve ended the session on this high note by encouraging attendees to connect on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, etc. as well as LinkedIn groups like the HR Net Group, SHRM Linked In Group and the HRPositive Group.

The Roundtable ended with another note of encouragement to tell others about the HR Roundtable and invite them to be part of a forum that has worked to maintain and add to the brand of human resources.

Steve Browne

Steve Browne, SHRM-SCP, is the Executive Director of Human Resources for LaRosa's, Inc., a regional pizzeria restaurant chain in the Greater Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio area with 16 locations and over 1,200 team members. Steve has been an HR professional for more than 30 years in the manufacturing, consumer products, and professional services industries. He facilitates a monthly HR Roundtable in Cincinnati and runs an Internet message board for HR pros that reaches 7,800 plus people weekly. Steve joined the SHRM Board of Directors in January 2016. You can contact him at sbrowne@larosas.com, or on Twitter (@sbrownehr). You can also read more on his personal blog, Everyday People.