By Thomas Wagner.

In the search for new talent, how can businesses find and retain the best employees? Anne Grobe of comdirect bank and Arndt Papenfuß of Kaldewei explained how at the German Brand Convention 2019 in Berlin.

Employer branding – finding and keeping talent

In every company, stability and success are founded on skilled and motivated employees. Finding and holding on to the right people in the long term is the primary concern of employer branding, a discipline which lies at the intersection between  branding and human resources. In times of change, where brands are in a state of transformation and potential candidates have growing demands and need to be actively sought out and recruited, this is a task which is easier said than done. At the start of the discussion, Simone Roth, professor of marketing and international marketing at Ruhr West University in Mülheim an der Ruhe, Germany, asked the two participants – Anne Grobe, Head of HR Business Partnering, Shared Services and Recruiting at comdirect bank, and Arndt Papenfuß, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Kaldewei – to share their understanding of employer branding, given that some companies take a holistic approach to the issue while others do not.

Communicating what the company is really like on the inside.

According to Grobe, the goal of employer branding is first and foremost to increase the attractiveness of the company, both internally and externally. She explained that comdirect is committed to pursuing a holistic approach, but emphasised that in internal communications they take care to always reflect the true experience of being in the company. With the extensive availability of communication channels and social media today, it doesn’t take long for people to find out whether the values you are marketing to potential new talent are actually upheld inside the company. Moreover, it is expensive to hire people who don’t “fit the company culture”, or are dissatisfied because they have been promised things you can’t deliver on.

Papenfuß, who understands the needs of medium-sized companies very well, stresses that the difficulty that Kaldewei faces in recruiting the right people has to do almost solely with the fact that the company’s headquarters are located in the provincial area between Dortmund and Münster in Germany’s Westphalia region – and not in a major city. Competition for digital talent is especially fierce; this wasn’t the case 5 to 10 years ago. Companies which operate on an international scale can no longer afford to limit their recruitment efforts to a 50 kilometre radius – they need to be recruiting employees from major metropolitan areas, as well as from abroad. This alone is reason enough to treat employer branding as a holistic endeavour in which recruiting and employee retention dovetail with marketing. Last year, for the first time in its history, Kaldewei was unable to fill all of its commercial apprenticeship positions: “This was a shocking moment for the entire company”, related Papenfuß. “We aren’t used to that”.

Exploring new approaches with #yourock.

According to Grobe, one of the reasons why it’s becoming increasingly difficult to recruit employees – at least for certain positions – is the increasing competition with other companies. Given its “highly innovative, pioneering position in the market”, explained Grobe, it goes without saying that comdirect wants to hire dynamic people who are on the same wavelength – but there are other companies out there who want to recruit the same people. With its #yourock campaign, winner of the “Best of Best” award in the “Employer Brand of the Year” category at the German Brand Awards 2019, comdirect is taking a new approach to developing its management team, combining personal professional development with collective development at the organisational level. In an open-ended process, comdirect asked themselves: What leadership concept do we want to embody in the future? What does good leadership mean for us at comdirect? By the end of the process, the company had carved out four central pillars: taking responsibility, getting people involved, acting as a role model and delivering results. In the end, according to Grobe, “without performance, without output, it’s all for nothing”. Comdirect has managed to create an authentic employer brand by building its branding exclusively around factors brought to light by the employees themselves.

Companies must embody what their brands stand for.

For Papenfuß, successful employer branding encompasses a range of different measures. Over the last six years, Kaldewei has evolved from a high-volume manufacturer into a premium supplier. The brand, too, has undergone changes, and today plays a much more central role in the company’s leadership: “This was a huge step for many of our employees. We were a traditional manufacturer of sanitaryware, with high quality standards and a functional and product-orientated mentality. But the customer’s perspective and what our brand stands for weren’t sufficiently anchored within the company.” So, explained Papenfuß, Kaldewei set about “developing the company vision into a series of strategic cornerstones and then passing these on to our employees”. Now Kaldewei workers around the globe, who only visit the company’s headquarters every few years, are connected via a learning app which uses game-like elements to teach them about the company vision and brand.

Today, employee needs and desires vary greatly, not only across the generation gap, but also between individuals with different personalities and in different phases of their lives.

Anne Grobe, Head of HR Business Partnering, Shared Services and Recruiting, comdirect bank

Recruitment is one thing. Retention is another. What motivates employees to stick with a particular company? One important factor, said Grobe, is the atmosphere in the company. “Is the company a good fit for the type of person I am? Or am I forced to put on an act?”. Constantly pretending to be someone or something you aren’t is strenuous for an employee. It’s also disadvantageous for the company, because under these circumstances employees are unable to realise their true potential. Today, employee needs and desires vary greatly,  not only across the generation gap, but also between individuals with different personalities and in different phases of their lives. Workers in IT, for example, often want more than the standard number of paid holidays. Many also prefer to have a one-year sabbatical, or they want to work part-time or have one day a week free for freelance work. In order to recruit employees of this type, companies need to respond to their needs and create individualised offers.

For Arndt Papenfuß, money and paid holidays aren’t the only factors that contribute to employee retention. These days, digital marketing professionals in particular can easily switch companies at any time. For Kaldewei, keeping these employees on board meant changing the company culture: “When I started working at Kaldewei, everyone was still wearing ties, working hours were more or less set in stone, and the management style was very patriarchal’’. Today, ties are nowhere to be seen, working hours are more flexible, and working from home is an option available to many employees: “These are the things that matter today”. Most of all, according to Papenfuss, employees need to be able to see the importance of the work they do. They need to understand and appreciate how they are contributing to the success of the company.

As for the future of employer branding, Anne Grobe sees long-term retention of “really good people” as a thing of the past. The phenomenon of job-hopping is going to become a reality for companies when it comes to hiring and retaining talents who are in demand and able to fill a variety of roles. “We need to become much more flexible so that we can cater to the needs and desires of freelancers”. The need to offer internal development opportunities for young professionals is also becoming more important.

Employees need to be able to see the importance of the work they do. They need to understand and appreciate how they are contributing to the success of the company.

Arndt Papenfuß, Senior Vice President Marketing, Kaldewei

Papenfuß is pleased that companies have recognised the importance of employer branding. Brands and brand management are crucial not only for employee recruitment and retention, but also for the company as a whole: “I think we all agree that branding is essential. It needs to be at the centre of everything we do, and that goes for human resources management as well”.

Watch the complete video from 6 June 2019

(please mind, only available in German)

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