The Ri5 interview: David Richardson


When it comes to employer brand expertise, People in Business literally wrote the book. The company coined the term ‘employer brand’ in the 1980s, and followed this with the first book on the topic, published in 2005.

Since then People in Business has been at the forefront of employer brand and EVP thinking, and continues to serve a diverse range of clients in the field.

Managing director David Richardson offers a level of insight into the area of employer brand that isn’t necessarily seen across the industry, thanks to his previous roles in the HR profession. By combining his client-side and agency-side knowledge and experience, he understands what organisations need, and helps to deliver it.

We met at the company’s offices to hear about his views on employer branding and where he sees it going in future.

Firstly, Richardson is quick to acknowledge that the definition of ‘employer brand’ differs based on who you’re dealing with.

“It depends who you talk to - it’s one of those terms where it means different things to different people,” he says. “Some people define employer brand as what sits behind a great campaign to attract talent. Some people go deeper and view it from a proposition or EVP point of view. And then there are people who think about it holistically in terms of the company, driving the culture and helping to define what the business does.”

Richardson says organisations are now more aware of the concepts and practices behind employer brand management, and this has in turn helped to educate the wider market. However, he says some organisations still have a way to go.

He says: “I still see people who aren’t joining together the whole talent picture. For example, within organisations you might have people who are responsible for attracting talent – and they’ll often complain that they don’t have the visibility they need. Then you’ve got people responsible for developing talent, to maintain a talent base for internal promotions. Thirdly, you have people responsible for the strategic drivers of the organisation. And these three groups of people don’t always talk to each other.”

“I want people to think about employer brand in a more integrated way,” he adds. “So, thinking about the business plan, workforce plan, talent segments, EVP, and then thinking about the talent build and talent buy cycles in a more joined-up way.

“That’s part of my mission, putting employer brand management at the heart of what organisations do. It’s what I’ve spent most of the past 15 years of my career doing.”

Prior to joining People in Business, Richardson served in the HR functions of corporate giants including Coca-Cola, Tesco and Lloyds TSB, before setting up his own consultancy.

In his view, his client-side experience, along with running his own business, helped him to develop a more commercial mindset and an appreciation of the value of stakeholder engagement. Joining People in Business meant he was able to combine those strengths with consultancy disciplines. “It’s a helpful perspective to have that range of experiences,” he says.

Furthermore, Richardson’s HR background helps him to identify where organisations might need a bit of extra help in their thinking around their employer brand.

He says: “I see a lot of employer brand managers who are part of talent acquisition teams, who definitely get it. Unfortunately, the people above them don’t always get it. And it’s difficult to line up all of these people to deliver change from a relatively low level in the corporate structure.

“This work is more successful when delivered from a senior level by figures who get it and who can drive change. The challenge is to get a lot of senior people to behave in a different way. So, there’s a lot of change management involved. It’s not as simple as just communicating some messages and hoping they take hold.”

However, Richardson points out the landscape has changed positively, in ways that facilitate open thinking about employer brand management. As he describes: “I think about it as waves crashing on the shore – there hasn’t been a sea change about employer branding, but expertise levels have  increased and the talent acquisition side of businesses have led that.

“There are encouraging signs – organisations joining talent management and talent acquisition together, for example – and another change is there’s a lot more discussion about workforce planning now. It makes people take more long-term view at their workforce.”

Richardson says another important element relates to sustainability and diversity, with organisations now more engaged in planning ahead.

“People have realised that being reactive isn’t a good idea,” he says. “Analysts are looking at organisations from a sustainability point of view and how this impacts on their talent agenda. Also, the issues of diversity and inclusion, which are driven by the sustainability debate, are driving organisations to reach out to people they might not previously have approached.”

Another commonly cited factor is synergy between the employer brand and the corporate brand. And to achieve this, Richardson says it’s crucial that marketing and comms teams are involved in the process from the start.

“Our approach,” he says, “is to reassure the corporate brand owners that we’re not going to mess with their brand in what we’re doing. Having them as part of the early discussions helps to do that – if they’re not involved at that stage it’s a big red flag and we do our best to get them on board.”

Looking ahead, Richardson agrees that the industry has moved on from the tighter times of a few years ago. This has enabled him to look at future plans for People in Business, which he said will be focused on what he describes as the “talent consultancy side of things”.

He says: “There are four areas of what we do. First is helping orgs around their core purpose – mission, vision, values. Second is around talent strategy. Third is ‘the promise’ – the EVP development. And fourth is around experience.”

“The way organisations think about attracting and engaging with the people they need is a key driver for the wider values of the business. We feel this is really important and it’s something you can expect to hear more about from us in the near future.”

To conclude, Richardson adds: “A clear employer brand strategy helps organisations to focus on the things that matter, and helps to shape their overall people agenda. For that reason, this activity really needs to be in the domain of HR directors and the executive team.” 

Thursday, 11 June 2015

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