These days in the talent management world, the topic of workforce engagement is nearly as popular as social media, and research bears out the idea that employee engagement is critical to an organization’s long-term viability.
Studies have repeatedly shown that employee engagement and satisfaction can improve organizational performance, leading to more than 22 percent higher profitability (Gallup), 43 percent more productivity (Hay Group) and 37 percent higher sales (author Shawn Achor), among other benefits. However, employee engagement in many organizations is waning, leaving them at risk for declining performance.
Research conducted by Hay Group to identify the business practices that make the most admired companies highly regarded and successful found that many organizations drew heavily on the “reservoir of goodwill” associated with an engaged workforce to manage through the downturn. Now, as the economy slowly improves, many of those same organizations are managing employees who are frustrated and ready to evaluate new career opportunities. A survey by consulting and coaching firm OI Partners found that half of companies reported higher turnover levels in 2013 than the year prior, and 31 percent reported higher turnover among high-potential employees.
To get their workforces back on track, talent managers must get engagement right, and that process must start before employees walk in the door. The right candidate experience can make a significant long-term impact on engagement by attracting higher-quality candidates, generating brand loyalty and developing a strong talent community for the future.
How to Make It Work
As recruiting teams reinvigorate the talent acquisition process, they should keep a close eye on three areas: brand strategy, application processes and onboarding.
Start with the brand. In today’s highly competitive and social-oriented job market, employer branding is more important than ever. To attract and retain today’s top candidates, HR leaders must have an authentic and compelling employment value proposition. This can only be achieved if the employment experience — and the brand communicated externally — are aligned with the organization’s culture and strategic business goals.
How does this affect engagement? First, employer brands should communicate the unique aspects of a firm’s culture, which are not right for everyone. Apple and Google are employers of choice for many candidates, but their cultures don’t hold universal appeal. Organizations that excel at employer branding are able to align their talent acquisition strategies to shake out the candidate personalities that will thrive in their particular work environment.
According to Susan Strayer LaMotte, founder of exaqueo, a Washington, D.C.-based workforce consultancy, “establishing an employer brand is one of the most important parts of the candidate experience and future employee engagement. It gives candidates a glimpse into what it will be like to work for your organization. That makes it important to carry the brand through the entire candidate and employment experience. If you don’t, candidates and employees will be sure to let the world know your brand let them down.”
Communicate the brand consistently across platforms. While an employer brand is critical, it’s only as effective as the channels through which it is communicated. Therefore, talent managers must ensure the employer brand is accurately disseminated throughout the talent acquisition process. This process can have many moving pieces.
The career site: The career site can make or break an organization’s overall talent acquisition program. While it may not always be the first touch point with potential candidates, it is often a primary one.
Yet, many organizations are not effectively using their career sites. Research by Dr. John Sullivan & Associates found that 90 percent of candidates who reach a career site do not apply. That represents a significant missed opportunity. To improve the efficacy of their career sites, HR and talent managers must:
• Articulate the employer brand and value proposition, offering a window into the company culture and people that differentiate it from its competitors.
• Include “sticky,” engaging content, leveraging different mediums including videos, testimonials, podcasts, images and employee blogs to inform and engage target candidates.
• Highlight relevant career categories and jobs, and provide opportunities to grow the company’s talent communities.
• Lay the groundwork for candidate expectations during the hiring process, mitigating candidate frustrations caused by a lack of clarity regarding the hiring process or timeline.
• Make it easy for visitors to share content via email and social networks, further growing the company’s talent community and promoting its relevant job opportunities.
• Deliver a positive user experience, providing easy-to-follow navigation, direct access to relevant content, and “contact us” or “chat” features that allow candidates to easily ask questions about job vacancies or the application process.
Social platforms and campaigns: Social platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook are also important recruiting tools. But getting social recruiting right takes time and commitment. To engage candidates, talent managers must develop highly tailored campaigns that are relevant to targeted candidates based on their generation, experience and geographies, among other factors.
One company that has done this successfully is Agilent Technologies, a global instrument and equipment company that is a client of the author’s company. To engage candidates in several of the firm’s priority markets, Agilent created country-specific campaigns — announcing local Agilent events and news, sharing career and employment advice, featuring local job openings and posting articles on current trends — to connect with and engage targeted candidates.
“People want to know about people, and social media provides access to current employees and a great window into what it’s like to work at Agilent,” said Nury Plumley, Agilent’s Americas and Europe staffing manager. “Our social recruiting strategy has been very successful when it comes to engaging candidates. We’ve seen increases in source-of-hire from social media, but also in overall engagement with our company through followers, likes, shares and inquiries — particularly at a local level.”
At times, Agilent has received nearly 10 percent of its applicants from social media recruitment efforts. Further, the firm’s Facebook fans increased 72 percent, its LinkedIn group members increased 60 percent and its Twitter followers increased 17 percent from June 2012 to June 2013.
Draw Them in and Keep Them
Once talent mangers have built a robust talent community, they must continue to engage candidates through the application and interview process. Failing to do so can be risky business. Take the lessons learned from a recent CareerBuilder survey that found 75 percent of workers who applied for jobs never heard back from the employer.
Respondents went on to say if they were dissatisfied with the way their application was handled, 42 percent would never seek employment at the company again, and 22 percent would tell others not to work there. On the flip side, those treated well during the application process — even if they weren’t ultimately hired — were more likely to recommend the company as a potential employer, and 23 percent were more likely to purchase its products.
So, not only does an organization risk losing current candidates if it doesn’t focus on candidate engagement and experience during the application process, but it also risks losing customers and referral sources down the road. This could be detrimental to an organization’s talent community when considering the role employee referrals play in a company’s workforce.
According to Staffing.org, referrals are the No. 1 source for new hire quality and, based on the latest Jobvite Index, they have the highest average length of employment of all initial hires after one year.
Agilent leaders understand and value the importance of candidate experience during the application process. Leveraging its internal staffing team, applicant tracking system and external talent acquisition partners, the firm offers: workflow communications that update candidates on the status of their application, even when a candidate is no longer in the running for a certain position; a call center with 96 percent first-call resolution and 97 percent satisfaction rates; and a clear staffing philosophy that guides the recruitment team and hiring managers throughout the talent acquisition process.
Bridge the Gap Between Recruitment, Employment
The final phase of the recruitment process is onboarding. Effective, seamless onboarding helps to ensure that employees aren’t frustrated before they even start. At Agilent, it’s another area where talent leaders spend a lot of time. “The second someone accepts an offer, we begin tackling onboarding,” said Cathy Taylor, Americas HR manager, Agilent.
The firm offers a multifaceted onboarding process including:
• Training to ensure the relevant stakeholders — HR, hiring managers and business leaders — all understand their role in the onboarding process.
• Constant communication that keeps everyone involved in the hiring process up to date and engaged in new ways. For example, Agilent creates videos that communicate employee and hiring manager checklists.
• An e-welcome portal that contains content and resources for new employees as well as access to documents required throughout the onboarding process.
• Networks for new employees, including an internal group that allows employees to connect to one another locally and globally, and a Facebook page for new hires to engage with one another.
• Metrics, including surveys of new hires, attrition rates and other forms of feedback to measure the company’s success.
Just as candidate experience doesn’t stop when there is an offer on the table, engagement strategies cannot end when an employee starts. It’s critical for organizations to set the right tone and expectations before an employee even walks in the door. That lays the foundation for long-term engagement.
Angela Hills is an executive vice president and commercial business leader with Pinstripe Inc., a global recruitment process outsourcing and strategic talent management company. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.