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Ep 471: Employer Brand Challenges

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A volatile talent acquisition market and the immense disruption we are seeing to traditional ways of working our driving significant changes in employer branding strategies. Culture, EVP and employer brand marketing are going through a period of intense evolution, and it is essential to understand what’s happening in this space.

My guest this week is Charu Malhotra, Global Head of Talent Branding and Recruitment Marketing at PA Consulting. In our wide ranging conversation recorded at UNLEASH World in Paris, we discussed some of the current issues in employer branding, culture, and retention.

In the interview, we discuss:

• The impact of external forces on talent acquisition

• Building inclusive workplaces when workforces are increasingly remote

• Proximity bias in hybrid working

• How do you create, manage and flex a culture

• Embedding values in high-performance cultures

• How does employer branding work on an international scale

• Focused segmentation and a constant heartbeat of content

• Employer brand and retention

• The importance of assessment technology

• Changing the balance between internal mobility and external attraction

• Reimagining EVP projects as nimble and responsive instead of one size fits all.

Listen to this podcast in Apple Podcasts.

Transcript

Matt Alder (0s):
Just before we start the show, a quick message to say that I need your help. Whether, you are a long-term listener, or you literally just found us, I would be incredibly grateful if you could go to mattalder.com and fill out a very short survey about this podcast. It won’t take longer than two minutes of your time and will be incredibly helpful to me as I develop Recruiting Future into 2023 Just to recap, the website address is mattalder.com, and it will take just two minutes of your time to complete the survey.

Matt Alder (40s):
Go on, press pause, and do it right now.

Matt Alder (Intro) (1m 2s):
Hi there This is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 471 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. A volatile talent acquisition market and the immense disruption we are seeing to traditional ways of working our driving significant changes in employer branding strategies. Culture, EVP, and employer brand marketing are going through a period of intense evolution, and it is essential to understand what’s happening in this space. My guest this week is Charu Malhotra, Global Head of Talent Branding and Recruitment Marketing at PA Consulting.

Matt Alder (Intro) (1m 42s):
In our wide-ranging conversation recorded at UNLEASH World in Paris, we discussed some of the current issues in employer branding, culture, and retention.

Matt Alder (1m 54s):
So hi Charu and welcome to the podcast.

Charu Malhotra (1m 57s):
Hello Matt.

Matt Alder (1m 58s):
Always a pleasure to talk to you. We’re recording this live on the second day of the UNLEASH event in Paris. How’s the event going for you?

Charu Malhotra (2m 7s):
Well, first of all, thanks again for having me on this podcast. It’s my favorite Recruitment podcast, so pleasure to be here. Day two, buzzy, interesting, good conversations and like I’m sure you’ve heard a hundred times already. Just so brilliant to be out at a conference and see people in real life versus just via a teams or Zoom window.

Matt Alder (2m 29s):
Absolutely, absolutely. And it’s day two, I’m rather regretting the amount of red wine that I drank last night, but hey, we’re in Paris.

Charu Malhotra (2m 36s):
Exactly.

Matt Alder (2m 36s):
So, you have to do that. It’s the law. We did a panel together yesterday all about the challenges in talent acquisition and the things that are going on in the market and it was a great conversation, but we were very limited in terms of time and couldn’t maybe get into the topic as much as we wanted to. So, I really want to kind of pick up that, that conversation with you now. So, first of all, I suppose tell everyone what you do because we haven’t actually introduced you properly. So tell everyone what you do. And also, what are the challenges that you are seeing in talent acquisition at the moment?

Charu Malhotra (3m 16s):
Sure. So, I’m Charu Malhotra. I’ve been lucky enough to have worked at organizations like Unilever, McKinsey, BP in Recruitment Marketing and talent acquisition transformation roles. I’m heading up Talent Branding or Employer Branding globally at PA Consulting, which is a sort of a medium size consulting house international based out in London.

Matt Alder (3m 44s):
Fantastic stuff. And talk us through the sort of challenges that you’re seeing in the market.

Charu Malhotra (3m 48s):
Yeah, I mean from a talent acquisition stroke culture branding perspective, which is the sort of the balance I have in my role and as someone, my skill set, I think there’s so many different challenges, but I think we, we are not escaping the fact that the pandemic, although we’re seeing it very much in the rear view window, has had a massive impact on how candidates and employees feel about work. And that’s had an impact across talent acquisition naturally and retention in terms of internally. So, I think that’s a challenge. A really interesting challenge and a challenge that a lot of companies are have been grasping with, and doing really some brilliant things.

Charu Malhotra (4m 28s):
And yet other organizations perhaps going back to the defacto, “Okay, pandemic is over.” And I think there’s that one challenge then clearly we can’t escape the fact there’s a huge macro-economic impact cost of living, inflation, and of course impact on the wall from a war perspective. So, there’s so many things going on that are outside of our control that are impacting the TA team’s functions and ability to sort of do what they want to do.

Matt Alder (4m 55s):
One of the things that we were talking about yesterday was how organizations can build inclusive workplaces, particularly when workforces are becoming more and more remote. I mean, what are your thoughts around that?

Charu Malhotra (5m 9s):
Yes, and I’m so glad you asked this question cuz we skim the surface yesterday. So, mean inclusive workforces and the whole aspect of inclusion diversity and equity is something I’ve been working on for the last five, six years. It’s a passion of mine both personally and professionally. And I think what we’re seeing is organizations grapple with this whole, how do we maintain the balance that employees have said, and I’m talking about knowledge workers now, what they don’t want to come back the office full-time. They want to be in a situation where they’ve got freedom to flex, how they organize their work lives with a line manager community that doesn’t actually necessarily know or has been trained up to manage remotely, to reward remotely.

Charu Malhotra (5m 57s):
And you still have massive pockets of the proximity bias. So I, I think creating an inclusive culture is clearly we’ve all got. It’s not about ping pong tables and bars and pizza at Fridays. Those days have gone. But I think it’s also gone past the, okay, the patience of, “Okay, Mr. Hiring Manager, you don’t need to see me come into the office two days a week just because you come in.” There was a brilliant piece of research that Slack shared on Monday and I was reading to a podcast by X. Twitter took about something like 58% of knowledge workers are coming into the office, back into the office to spend between two and three hours in the office on Zoom or team calls with colleagues who are working from home.

Charu Malhotra (6m 47s):
I mean, that’s a colossal waste of energy, time that’s going to lead to frustration. So, I meandering it didn’t really answer the question, how are organizations creating in community cultures? I think we also need to think more about, have we trained up managers. And I think we have to how do you manage and reward. The reward thing’s really important remote workers and hybrid working is really important that you don’t end up with the proximity bias. And I think a lot of companies are still in that space.

Matt Alder (7m 13s):
And How is it in your organization in terms of how you kind of manage a remote work or is it hybrid working? How does it work?

Charu Malhotra (7m 20s):
Yeah, I think it’s classic sort of hybrid working. The pandemic forced our organization to allow individuals to work from home. Individuals perhaps hadn’t had that liberty before. They were normally client-facing cause it’s a management consulting or work client side. So, it’s very much hybrid working. That flexibility is, is there. I think a lot of organizations, it’s grappling with the how do you maintain or create a culture, and the business I work for is very acquisitive. So it’s done a number of acquisitions in the last 12 months. How do you create a culture? How do you flex that culture when you’ve got new acquisitions and you’ve got nearly 40% of the workforce join during the pandemic?

Charu Malhotra (8m 6s):
So haven’t necessarily been to the office in those first zero to six months, which are pivotable really key, and instrumental to the buy in a candidate. So employee has to the company’s values and ways of working.

Matt Alder (8m 21s):
There’s been a lot of content at this show about culture, inclusion, and engagement. Is there any sort of presentation that you’ve seen or anything that you felt kind of, sort of really nails that?

Charu Malhotra (8m 40s):
Yes, so absolutely. I think one in six of the stands here are a form of a platform, a piece of software that talks about rewarding or IND, which is, it’s really lovely to see and I’d love to see some kind of Harrison about what was that like three years ago when we were last out here. I would say that the biggest impactful presentation I’ve had is I was lucky enough to see Erin Mayer taught this morning as a word nerd, a bookworm. You know, I was delighted to see her. It made my heart very happy. And she talked at length about the Netflix culture. But with some really interesting and provocative points around when you do build in a company where you have no rules, how do you maintain that as the company grows and flexes?

Charu Malhotra (9m 26s):
But in particular, she talked really smartly around the values that companies have and how do you embed that in a really, really high-performing culture. How’d you embed that? How do you make sure that everyone’s talking with that same handbook? Netflix obviously have done it really well, famously well. But how do you take that away in a gigantic organization? So for me, Ariah was brilliant. Read her book. Heard her talk. She talked a lot about how contagious performance is, but also this dichotomy of how do you build a performance-led culture? It’s easier in a startup to do that.

Charu Malhotra (10m 6s):
You’re starting from scratch in many cases. What do you do in a company that’s 70 years old or 100 years old? How do you then rebuild that culture for that focus? So that was for me, the standout.

Matt Alder (10m 24s):
Obviously, being at a conference in France with attendees from all over Europe and in some places coming from further afield all, all over the world. It kind of really brings, I suppose it brings home. you know there’s a lot of commonality because we’re all walking around looking the same software, and you know having conversations going to the same sessions. For someone in a global role, how does Employer Branding work across countries? What’s the level of commonality? Particularly at the moment, I think with all the economic problems and the different attitudes to work and the different regulations.

Matt Alder (11m 5s):
How does Employer Branding work at the moment internationally?

Charu Malhotra (11m 11s):
Yeah, Employer Branding, I mean, I’ve always worked globally. I would say PA’s more international than global. It’s a much smaller business. But I think there’s a real element of thinking about the segmentation a lot more seriously with a lot more focus when it comes to what’s going to draw a candidate through the being aware of an organization, that constant heartbeat of content that we always talk about, well, I always talk about to actually thinking, “Okay, I’m going to go and apply for a job with this business or I’m going to follow them and understand a bit more about them before applying.” So I think the segmentation has become more and more important. It’s not just a nice to have it’s imperative. I think recognizing, and anyone that’s worked in Employer Branding is talked about borderless talent.

Charu Malhotra (11m 56s):
It’s truer than ever when you’re competing against talent, especially in the tech space with companies that are saying, you can be based wherever you want to be based. It becomes really hard to draw out that your job adverts don’t say remote working or remote working, but you have to come in one day a week that’s not remote working. So, I think to your point, how does Employer Branding work in this world? It’s that segmentation. By that what I mean is thinking about your audience, thinking about geographies, territories a lot more when it comes to content. But I think we are much more open now to think about Employer Branding with a longer lens versus just thinking about Recruitment Marketing. Companies and CEOs are much more interested in culture because candidates aren’t the only ones walking away.

Charu Malhotra (12m 42s):
Employees are going, “Actually, do you know what? I can go elsewhere. I’m not as bought in because I’ve been with this business two years, but I actually only have gone into the office a handful of times, so, I will leave much more readily.”

Matt Alder (12m 56s):
They’re alleged technology solutions for every single kind of talent problem that we could have. Cutting through the noise, what technologies do you think are most useful at the moment?

Charu Malhotra (13m 11s):
Two elements, two red threads. So, I’m a massive believer, and I’ve said this yesterday, and I’ve said it from the minute I walked into our industry, is there is no better indicator to a company’s culture for a candidate than the recruitment process from how you communicate your job adverts to the type of comms that come out from your ATS, the difference between dear applicant to dear Matthew, to Charu, to the hiring managers, turning up on time to the hire managers committing to a timeline. So, I think there’s two big elements that – a.) it’s the taking away the administrative burden. Those repetitive tasks, whether it’s interview scheduling, which I think take up so much time but are so critical.

Charu Malhotra (13m 55s):
It’s the engine room of everything we do within the recruitment function so that repetitive task, which can take so much time using technology to take that away from the recruiters or the administrative function and having a much more frictionless hiring manager experience for that and becomes then a great experience for the candidate. And then secondly around assessment. We can’t talk about D and I being important if we have assessing of candidates still with inbred bias. So for me, assessment is the area that you look at technology. I’m not saying technology is a silver bullet, absolutely not. You have to buy your technology with a massive amount of due diligence and do a lot of investigation.

Charu Malhotra (14m 39s):
But for me, when a company doesn’t use any kind of assessment at the front end or the middle end, I worry. So those are the two elements I think. And of course programmatic media from Employer Branding perspective, which is of course my area. But for me, assessment is the area that you should look at from a tech perspective.

Matt Alder (14m 58s):
Final question, where do you think we are heading, or maybe where, where do you hope we are heading? So, what do you hope is gonna happen in teleacquisition and Employer Branding over the next sort of two to three years?

Charu Malhotra (15m 14s):
From a talent acquisition perspective, I hope we are heading, and again, some organizations are heading this way where internal mobility is as given as much priority and focus as external attraction. So by that I mean, why are employees walk working or walking away is because it’s easier to get a job externally than it is to move internally. Why is that? So I think that’s where I want the TA functions to head using the same techniques and tools that we’ve honed externally and internally. And by that, I mean marketing our jobs internally. I’ve talked about this a lot internally at where I am. A lot of jobs just simply aren’t understood. So how are you gonna apply for it? And the other element I think, where do I want Employer Branding headed is I’ve changed my mind when I started in this space about 14, 15 years ago.

Charu Malhotra (16m 7s):
I was an EVP disciple. I’m not sure we need these big bloated projects that last two years, employee value propositions. I’m now a fan of still research-based value propositions, but because of the segmentation I think has become so important, this one size fits all EVP with a bit of localization sprinkled on top doesn’t work anymore. So for me, it’s about being more nimble and responsive with my value proposition and lending it to the marketing that you do. And then just last year. It’s not TA based, but I just wanna put it in. We need to obliterate this sort of beige, tepid, boring, bland branding in recruitment marketing.

Charu Malhotra (16m 51s):
You know, that’s my mantra.

Matt Alder (16m 52s):
No more beige. Charu, thank you very much for talking to me.

Charu Malhotra (16m 57s):
Thank you, Matt.

Matt Alder (16m 58s):
My thanks to Charu. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com. On that site, you can also subscribe to the mailing list to get the new monthly newsletter and the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show. Thanks very much for listening.

Matt Alder (17m 37s):
I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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