It wasn't that long ago that the idea that a governmental jurisdiction or agency should be seen as a "brand," like Coca-Cola or Southwest Airlines, was an unnerving concept to many people in the public sector. In the past few years, however, most have come to embrace the idea, or at least to give it grudging acceptance. But while there are still some holdouts, you won't find many of them among government human-resources managers who face the formidable task of rebuilding public workforces in a post-recession era when vast numbers of baby boomers are heading for the retirement exits.
What's particularly daunting about today's public-workforce challenge is that it's not just a matter of filling empty seats. It's about enticing and retaining the talented, dedicated workers governments need now more than ever. That's where branding serves a crucial role. Every organization, public or private or nonprofit, has what's known as an "employer value proposition." The EVP is a unique set of values and attributes that communicates the organization's image -- for better or worse -- to its target audiences.
A crucial ingredient of the EVP is the spoken or unspoken exchanges between employers and employees that define the relationship. In its simplest form, the exchange represents the money paid for performing a job. In its highest, most strategic incarnation, it's the promise employers make to provide pay, benefits, career opportunities and a supportive work environment in exchange for an employee's commitment to bringing the organization's mission, vision and values to life.
As a result of changes in the workforce and thus the workplace, the EVP has experienced a dramatic change, particularly among the knowledge-based workers who constitute the bulk of government employment, away from the idea of a lifetime with one employer. Employees today often consider themselves free agents who choose to stay with an employer only so long as they are engaged in challenging and productive work.
Organizations that have invested time, effort and energy toward building a strong, positive EVP -- essentially their human-resources brand -- are finding that the benefits are greater than they may have thought, providing them with "a first-pick advantage" over other employers. Among local governments, Gilbert, Ariz., and San Mateo County, Calif., are two that exemplify the effective use of a social-marketing approach to communicating their EVPs and attracting a stronger pool of candidates. Both also provide a range of employee learning and development activities to retain their top talent.
By continually attracting the most promising people and developing them, organizations like these not only become higher-performing but also enhance their ability to attract and retain the best -- a self-renewal cycle for expanding the capacity to tackle tougher and more demanding challenges.
So how do you strengthen your jurisdiction's or agency's employer brand, your EVP? Here are some critical steps, or touchstones:
Attracting and recruiting high performers: It's important to think like a marketer, understanding that hiring is not simply about generating a large number of applicants but should be a targeted approach aimed at attracting high-caliber candidates.
These days, it's hard to overestimate the value of social media in the hiring process. Sites like Facebook and LinkedIn have emerged as more important than agency hiring websites and seem poised to overtake them as the primary focus for prospective job-seekers. Nevertheless, your hiring website, like Gilbert's and San Mateo County's, still should offer job-seekers a comprehensive, enticing view of your organization and culture.
The same goes for job announcements. The world is crawling with smart, skilled, zealous people who won't be remotely interested in your organization if what you provide is the kind of utterly dull description that's still far too common for government. Use more of a social-marketing approach that offers a powerful message: Join our organization and be a part of something truly outstanding.
The hiring process: As in other aspects of life, first impressions are critical. Job candidates from all walks of life want ease and convenience when applying for positions. Public-sector employers typically require a series of written exams and performance tests as part of their hiring process, but keeping the interest of talented candidates means streamlining and simplifying this too-cumbersome process.
Employee development: Progressive organizations, public and private, realize that in today's workplace job candidates are seeking an employer who will invest in learning, training and skills development to elevate employee performance and improve organizational effectiveness. More than anything, they are looking for a healthy and nurturing workplace/organizational culture. That is the essence of the kind of employer brand that can go a long way toward helping governments develop the workforces that will prepare them for the challenges ahead.