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There shouldn’t be an end to your employer brand, even when people leave

We might associate Donald Trump with any number of concepts and constructs, some, in all likelihood, more flattering than others, however, perhaps none more so tangibly as Twitter. Earlier this year and, clearly much to his delight, he passed 20m worldwide followers. He made significant and successful use of the social media in both his campaigning and his subsequent policies.

Imagine, then, his horror (and that of Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO) when Trump’s account was temporarily deleted for a full 11 minutes in late October. Apparently, the incident prompted mass panic at Twitter’s San Francisco headquarters. Contrary to initial reports, the deletion was not a technical issue or human error but the result of actions of an individual on his last day at the firm. Deleting Trump’s account is likely to have influenced what sort of leaving present he might have expected from Twitter but probably did provide a story for life.

The unnamed individual is by no means an exception when it comes to dramatic departures. Greg Smith, a successful banker at Goldman Sachs declined to write a brief note to his HR department on quitting the firm in 2012 and chose instead to vent directly to the New York Times. In the opinion piece, Smith rages about the toxic culture within Goldman Sachs, about treating clients as muppets and about no longer being able to look students in the eye when trying to recruit them.

Roy Keane, then captain of the Republic of Ireland’s football team, chose the eve of the 2002 World Cup Finals in Japan for his resignation. Now entitled the Saipan Incident and possessing its own Wikipedia page, Keane was interviewed by two journalists about the preparation for the finals. Never a man for political correctness and circumspection, Keane ranted about the lack of professionalism he perceived from his manager and the Irish FA – and to be fair, stories about pre-match meals of cheese sandwiches did tend to support this view. His manager, Mick McCarthy, then brought up the interview in a subsequent team meeting, to which the natural politician in Keane replied, ‘I didn’t rate you as a player, I don’t rate you as a manager and I don’t rate you as a person’. In a ten-minute invective, things went downhill from there.

People leave jobs every single day.

In many cases, this is a power for good. An employee leaves for a new opportunity. The organisation they are departing can enhance internal engagement by promoting from within or introduce new ideas and approaches through an external hire.

Perhaps the employer branding touchpoint to receive the most focus and attention this year is the candidate experience. In a competitive talent landscape, employers are, quite rightly, ensuring that the candidate feels valued, feels communicated with, feels part of the process. If it’s pleasing, as well as necessary, that this element of the employer branding continuum is in the spotlight, it does tend to emphasise one that is not.

How do people leave your organisation? Is there a process? Is there a structure? What sort of experience do they take away from this decision?

There are increasingly more people analytics than you could shake a stick at, should you so wish, but how many of them are applied to the departure lounge? What sort of both qualitative and quantitative picture do employers have as to why employees are leaving?

There are many – and varying – amounts associated with the cost of employee departure. And perhaps the challenge of attaching a definitive figure to such an event (apart clearly from salary, labour market and relative skills scarcity) is the apparently intangible nature of its impact – internal morale, customer impact, potential domino effect, knowledge transfer, employer brand damage, training, as well, clearly, as recruitment.

So, given the potential damage of great people leaving an organisation, do employers have enough insight and understanding as to why this might be happening and what they might do to prevent or make the best of such events?

Perhaps as important, if an individual is truly to leave, is what frame of mind are they walking out of an employer’s door with? Do they skulk away into the night, happy never to darken such a doorstep again? Or do they leave as an enthusiastic brand advocate of their employer?

More to the point, how do they describe the place they have just left to their new employer, to the competition, to industry stakeholders, to recruitment professionals, and, increasingly, to Glassdoor?

And would the experience of working for such an organisation keep the door sufficiently open that they might consider a return in the future?

As part of the research into this piece, I googled alumni marketing. It is received wisdom that US employers do this so much better than their UK counterparts. Interestingly, though, the second article to come up related to the University of Warwick’s Alumni Engagement team. With a daughter months away from graduating in engineering from there, I am fascinated to see how effective such engagement is. Warwick reaches out to more than 185,000 people who have left the university – it’s hugely positive for the brand, for bequests, for networking and potentially also recruitment.

Could recruitment teams take some learning from such a process?

Right now, it feels as though there is much ground to make up. A piece of research I delivered earlier this year into the employer branding activities of c100 UK talent acquisition professionals asked, amongst other things, which employer brand touchpoints received most attention and investment. Perhaps not surprisingly, whilst over 90% chose their recruitment marketing, more than 60% opted for their candidate journey and 25% on their on-boarding, just 4% of responses suggested alumni marketing was an area of focus.

(For more of these insights, go to https://employerbrandingadvantage.wordpress.com/2017-evp-research-insights/)

Again resorting to Google, if you search for what happens when people leave your organisation, up pops an array of lists informing you why such people are leaving. There is a clear assumption that such reasons are generic and off the shelf.

They aren’t. They are specific to your organisation and the prevailing labour market. Understanding more about why people are leaving should be hugely insightful and equally actionable. However, in delivering employer branding projects for organisations large and small, public and private, domestic and global, the amount of actionable exit data I’ve had access to is modest at best.

Such insights should both reduce the number of people leaving and have a direct impact on how your employer brand is processed outside your organisation. It might avoid too the likes of the clearly less than gruntled Twitter leaver from creating all sorts of unwanted publicity and blow-back.

An article hidden away in the Times this week points to employment equilibrium – the tipping point at which a falling unemployment figure gives employees the upper hand in salary negotiations. The Bank of England puts this at 4.5%. Unemployment now stands nationally at 4.3%. The bank’s regional contacts suggest that pay settlements for 2018 will be in the 2.5%-3.5% range, up from the 2%-3% of this year. A modest enough increase, apparently, but applied nationally, employers will be paying much more to keep and recruit next year.

There’s much to be said for judging an employer by the way you leave them. What are those people leaving your organisation this week likely to say about their experiences with you? And would it come as a surprise?