Leveraging 'People' Power of Sustainability

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Professor Alan R Nankervis

Professor of Human Resource Management in the School of Management, Curtin Business School, Curtin University, Australia


Alan has more than thirty years’ academic experience at three universities in Australia, and in the UK, Canada, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand, together with consultancies in Indonesia, China and Thailand. He was the Director of the Sydney Graduate School of Management, Research Director and Head of HRM at Curtin University. He is currently the Chair of the Australian Human Resources Institute’s (AHRI) National Program Accreditation Committee.

 Alan has published more than 150 books, book chapters, international journal articles and conference papers for publishers such as Routledge, Palgrave Macmillan, Cambridge University Press, Pearson Education and Cengage Learning; and journals including Personnel Review, Thunderbird International Business Review, Asia Pacific Business Review and Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources. His research interests include the links between performance review and firm performance, comparative Asian HRM/Management, services management, and skills development in the Asia Pacific.

Alan’s most recent book is New Models of HRM in the Asia Pacific (Routledge), co-authored with Professors Malcolm Warner (Cambridge University), Fang Lee Cooke (Monash University) and Samir Chattejee (Curtin University). 

A Great Place To Work’, Or Is It? – Rhetoric And Realities In Corporate & HR Branding 

We’ve all been bombarded with branding slogans for organisations and their human resource management departments over the last few decades, ranging from promotional phrases such as ‘we put the “you” back in “team”,‘the home of your dream job’or we have the best people managers on the planet; to more sober exhortations such as  ‘excellence through people’, ‘Right people. Right now’ or ‘the company’s most valuable asset is its employees.  As these slogans suggest, organisations often feel the need to promote their culture and key values to both prospective applicants and consumers in order to enhance their appeal in increasingly competitive market-places. 

​Take for example the following examples from the websites of a variety of local and global brands:

‘The secret of Google’s success is its innovative work culture. This culture drives commitment. Some key facts about its culture are as follows:
   # Committed employees driven by a passion for innovation.
   # Efficient leadership that empowers and strives to create an environment of trust.
   # Recognition and incentive system that encourages performance and innovation.
   # Learning environment that ensures continuous learning and growth.
   # Top leadership committed to technological innovation
   # Inclusive policies that encourage diversity’

Wesfarmers (Australia)

‘Looking after our team members and providing a safe, fulfilling work environment’ 

‘People first. Our people are all part of one large family. We hire the right people for the job and help them find a team and we don’t stop there, we build innovative learning programs and develop world-class benefits that enrich employee’s lives and add value’.

Tata Group (India)
“Business, as I have seen it, places one great demand on you: it needs you to self-impose a framework of
ethics, values, fairness and objectivity on yourself at all times.” - Ratan N Tata, 2006.

Some branding focuses on customers; others promote organisational culture and espoused values, the qualities and capacities of managers and employees, or innovative technologies, whilst a few integrate all of these components in their appeals to customers and/or prospective employees. According to the UK Chartered Institute for Personnel Development (CIPD), ‘company branding is a useful tool to help organisations differentiate what they offer in the labour market, and recruit, retain and engage the people they need to succeed…. (and) helps businesses compete for the best talent and establish credibility. It should connect with an organisation’s values and must run consistently through its approach to people management.’

Problems with branding

Despite the promoted advantages of competitive branding – for example, global talent attraction; higher employee engagement and retention levels; increased productivity and reduced employee costs; enhanced customer and stakeholder satisfaction – such benefits are unlikely to be reaped if the slogans are inconsistent with the actual experiences of customers and new employees. Discrepancies between the marketing rhetoric and workplace realities can in fact create significant dissatisfaction, higher turnover levels, increased costs and reduced competitiveness. 

​Take the cases of Australian banks in recent years. All of them boasted about their values, customer-centric approaches, professionalism and other admirable qualities. Despite these admirable aspirations, the 2018 Hayne Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry revealed practices relating to cheating customers, selling them worthless products and knowingly deducting money from deceased accounts, as well as serious leadership and human resource management process flaws which have led to significant community distrust. 

Flying under the radar for the most part of the Commission’s deliberation was HR. HR is ostensibly the custodian of culture and many HR executives say that about their function. If so, why did the HR function in the companies allow such retrograde people cultures to develop?If the HR function is the nominated custodian of culture, it needs to be given the authority to perform that function but also needs to be accountable for exercising the influence in the C-suite to make good culture a reality. Failure to do so is costly.

So, how can HRM help?

As the co-designer, implementer, evaluator and guardian of organisational culture, HR professionals bear shared responsibilities with senior managers, marketing specialists and operational managers to ensure that the values enshrined in corporate branding are entrenched in all organisational systems and processes. These processes range from human resource planning, job design, attraction and retention, learning and development, remuneration and performance review, and should be continually monitored to ensure that the rhetoric matches the reality of organisational culture. Monitoring might include climate surveys and consultation with prospective job applicants and new recruits, analyses of turnover rates, focus groups with work teams, town hall meetings; and feedback from line, middle and senior managers.

Not only will such professional approaches help to achieve desired organisational outcomes in the attraction - and perhaps more importantly, the retention - of high quality employees, working collaboratively and towards enhanced productivity, competitiveness and sustainability; but they will contribute to the internal acceptance of and respect for Brand HRM!​​​​

Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those by the contributors alone and do not represent the views of any other organisation, the forum moderator or that of Aei4eiA.

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