Getting a Reputation – an interview with Steve McNally

A specialist in employee and candidate engagement, Steve uncovers what makes employees tick and translates that into a compelling and honest Employee Value Proposition to help companies attract the best candidates. With an unparalleled 36 CIPD & RAD Awards, his work speaks for itself. We asked Steve what some of his secrets are:

Your role is all about best practice solutions in attraction, engagement and resourcing; what role does employee research play in this, if any?

Attracting people to a workplace successfully begins with understanding the employees already there, and why they work for the company. If a company has a budget, the first thing to do is to understand the workplace reality by conducting research focused on current employees. In an ideal world, clients already have an EVP. The aim then is to understand that EVP, what the workplace realities are versus the external perception.

External perceptions can be tested via focus groups. You want to understand whether the client is considered the ideal employer. What are the perceptions on the working culture, the management style, the career prospects? Why would individuals work for one company and not another?

If a client has a limited budget, then they can still find out what the internal truths are. It always begins on the inside.

You’ve mentioned assessing whether there’s a gap between internal truths and external perceptions. What should companies do if there is a mismatch?

They should be honest. There’s a way of saying “we need to change” in a positive way. Actually, it can be very motivating for candidates to see an honest message from a potential employer, that they need to change and you can be a part of it. It’s important though to phrase this carefully – you don’t want to end up not recognising current employees or suggest that the work they’re doing isn’t sufficient either.

You have 25 years’ experience in employment and education marketing; what’s the most important piece of advice you can give to companies on these subjects?

To understand the internal truths.

You can inspire to be many things, but first and foremost you need to understand where you are in order to know where you need to go. Conducting EVP research not only tells you where you are, but it can act as a ‘health check’ for the organisation. You can ascertain how engaged employees are. It can assist with workforce planning – your employees might tell you that you don’t have the skillset and mindset that you thought you had. It’s a moment in time and a moment in truth.

Employee Research worked on a project focusing on stakeholder perceptions of Premier Training. What were the key successes and lessons of that project?

The success was that it validated a great deal of what the client thought already and in addition, we gave a big picture view of what all stakeholders thought. This was the first time Premier Training had that bigger picture. We drilled down in a segmented way and identified key needs of different groups. Through our research, we were able to provide Premier Training with a snapshot of what customers thought of its competitors.

We validated the Values as relevant, and provided new insight into key propositions that could be made to different audiences. We were able to give a strong steer on where future marketing spend should be focused. The project provided a great baseline for future research.

In a recent blog post you commented that to achieve ‘trusted brand status’ companies need to be authentic, which involves understanding what makes them a good employer. How do companies work that out?

What does it mean to be authentic? It means you need to be truthful. You need to be yourself. You need to talk with the voice of your business and your employees.

Your employees are telling people what it’s like to work for you anyway. They’re doing this on social media and they’re doing it on websites like Glassdoor.com. Employees shape the reputation of their employer. There’s a lot of focus on the candidate experience but less so on the employee experience. Why is that? The Employee has already bought in and they’re the advocates with the most credibility. A recent study has found that Glassdoor is a more trusted source of information than companies themselves, and the government. It’s therefore important to listen to what they’re saying.

What are your predictions for employee research in the future?

The yearly engagement survey is very passive. In a fast-changing world, maybe they have limited use. You can be action-oriented if you have a monthly pulse. I think the future lies in Big Data. There’s more data now on candidates and employees, and employers – than ever before. Most of us are now used to being quizzed, so attitudes are changing.

Research needs to be deeper, more intuitive, nuanced. It needs to give a balanced view around different groups. We need people from all communities to join companies and stay – look at the generational variance within companies. We’re an ageing population. The job of research is to understand the employee experience from all perspectives.

It’s also to provide a balanced view. What an employee feels in March will likely be very different to how they feel in December. Say for example they’ve invested in Volkswagen shares and the recent revelations have taken a massive chunk out of their savings. They’re likely to feel very negative right now than they did in January. How people feel is probably somewhere between what’s going on in the world externally and what’s going on in their jobs, and their family lives. Research needs to reflect this.

Steve McNally is Head of Brand and Communications at Employee Research.

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