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Why the CHRO-CMO partnership is the perfect recipe for a strong employee value proposition

Why the CHRO-CMO partnership is the perfect recipe for a strong employee value proposition

In this special joint interview with Lara Partridge, APAC Head of Talent Acquisition, HSBC and Madhurima Gupta, Head of Corporate Communication, Apraava Energy, Arina Sofiah explores how aligning marketing objectives and people goals strengthens customer and employee satisfaction, ultimately fostering a win-win situation across the organisation.

The chief human resources officer (CHRO) and chief marketing officer (CMO) are natural partners, uniquely positioned to collaborate in building a strong employer brand and navigating business challenges.

Thus, Madhurima Gupta, Head of Corporate Communication, Apraava Energy believes, they must see talent management as a shared responsibility. “Through collaboration, both roles can attract, onboard, engage, and retain top talent by leveraging marketing best practices to ensure strong recruiting efforts and positive employee experiences,” she explains.

In fact, she points out, a positive employer brand can reduce churn rate by 28% and cost-per-hire by 50%.

Delving deeper, she shares: “Retention is critical, and a marketing-oriented employee engagement plan is key. This plan should educate, inspire, and empower employees around a shared vision and culture.

“By reinforcing desired behaviours, a positive environment is cultivated where employees are passionate about the company's purpose and understand their contribution to its success.”

This then highlights the need for the skills and knowledge both parties bring to the table: The CMO's expertise in positioning, communication, and creating compelling digital experiences; and the CHRO’s ability to leverage this expertise to craft impactful employee engagement messaging, define success metrics, and ensure brand consistency across all employee touchpoints, leading to an ongoing employee experience that resonates with employees and aligns with the brand.

Lara Partridge, APAC Head of Talent Acquisition, HSBC, echos Gupta’s views — that a successful corporate brand plays to the strengths of the intersectional relationship between employees, customers and clients.

“Employees are the most incredible brand ambassadors and almost always consumers in some form of their company’s products and services.”

For this reason, she notes, the correlation between employee engagement and improved measures of customer satisfaction and bottom-line results are reported consistently across academic and corporate analysis of engagement.

“An employee perspective is at the core of all truly successful corporate brands — this might take the form of clever creative choices about how employees are showcased in marketing, how employees are supported to share about the brand through social media and, of increasing importance to businesses globally, how ESG performance is profiled and connected back to parts of the employee lifecycle such as learning and internal career opportunities.”

Drawing on the above, in this special interview, Arina Sofiah speaks to Madhurima Gupta and Lara Partridge to learn how aligning marketing objectives and people goals strengthens customer and employee satisfaction, ultimately fostering a win-win situation.

With inputs from Peishan Tian, Executive Director of Employee Experience, APAC, Landor.

Marketing and people: why work together?

Quoting internationally renowned business leader Doug Conant, Gupta states: “To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.” Indeed, a quote that aptly summarises this partnership.

Elaborating on this, Gupta notes that traditionally, HR and marketing were viewed as separate departments: HR focused on internal audiences (employees), while marketing typically focused on external audiences (customers).

However, both functions share the goal of communicating a unified message across all channels, internal and external.

To add to that, increasingly discerning candidates, customers, and investors today want to align themselves with businesses that share their values. As a result, Gupta tells us, businesses are taking a more unified approach to brand-building and aligning the three key brand dimensions: consumer/customer (B2B or B2C), corporate, and employer. They are communicating their values, vision, and purpose consistently to each of these audiences.

To that effect, Gupta highlights, both HR and marketing teams have a shared goal to identify and deliver a unified brand messaging, which in turn has its own benefits:

  1. First, she shares, it extends the reach and the scale of the brand as your message is consistent across all points of interaction.
  2. Second, consistency in messaging builds familiarity and trust with your audiences, whether they are employees, customers, or investors.

Citing organisations who are walking the talk on this, she notes: “Accenture and Unilever are prime examples of successful unified brand messaging. Accenture's unifying thought, 'Let there be change', resonates with its employer brand, which positions its people as 'at the heart of every great change'.

“Similarly, Unilever's purpose, 'To make sustainable living commonplace', aligns with its employee value proposition, 'Better business, better world, better you'. The theme of sustainability underlines the company's communication with both job candidates and consumers.”

Partridge concurs: “It’s all in the power of partnering – success comes from aligning and creating shared strategies. Additionally, working together as thinking partners on how external and internal talent segments perceive the way products are marketed, how new services or innovations are promoted or even how results are reported directly correlates with positive sentiment and increased attractiveness for external candidates.”

She adds: “The list of benefits for exceptional employer branding is extensive and well documented– increased employee engagement, increased customer satisfaction, quantifiable increases in discretionary effort, increased sense of belonging are consistently evidenced in both academic research as well as corporate reporting.”

Ultimately, as Gupta affirms, being able to align the organisation’s marketing objectives and people goals fosters a win-win situation - strengthened customer and employee satisfaction.

Shaping best practices as a cross-functional team

Drawing on the points above poses the question: How can the people team contribute to shaping best practices for the marketing team, and how can the marketing team do so for the people team as well?

For one, as Gupta affirms, the people team offers insights into the organisation's culture, values, and employee experiences, allowing the marketing team to develop impactful and authentic messages that resonate with audiences.

In turn, the marketing team leverages its communication expertise to showcase the company's culture and values through compelling narratives for employees, potential candidates, and customers. “This is crucial as very few brands today are perceived as unique, despite significant marketing investments," the leader notes, reinforcing the importance of such a collaboration in enhancing brand representation.

"Together, HR and marketing can empower employees to become brand advocates who embody and promote the company's values within their networks."

“Such employee advocacy not only improves talent acquisition through referrals and boosts sales but also fosters a stronger sense of employee engagement and showcases a unique side of the brand. Studies show that employee advocacy can help reduce the sales cycle, attract and develop new business, and recruit top talent.”

Adding her views, Partridge tells us: “Really exceptional people teams make the priorities in their people strategy open source for their marketing partners. Great people teams share data as well as their own expertise in areas such as organisational psychology, human centered design and leadership development to power incredible creative and campaigns.

“Reciprocally, marketing teams with their own stockpile of superpowers can help design incredible experiences and help to brand and position organisational change and innovation.”

How exactly can the marketing team collaborate with the people team in attracting top talent to the organisation?

Today's job seekers prioritise shared purpose when they consider prospective employers. A report by Gartner in 2023 revealed that 86% candidates actively look for employers whose values align with their own. This clearly underlines the importance of employer branding.

On this, Gupta believes that HR and marketing can collaborate on initiatives to showcase the organisation as a great place to work. This includes crafting engaging career pages, producing employee testimonial videos, and using social media to highlight the company’s culture and benefits.

“Showcasing employee experiences is a powerful way to tell your story. Sharing internal stories increases transparency, strengthens your employer brand, and improves talent acquisition and retention.

“At Apraava Energy, we offer a one-day volunteering leave to encourage giving back to society.

“These stories, shared through our intranet, website, and social media channels from an employee's perspective, attract like-minded individuals to the organisation.”

Partridge agrees, highlighting that employer branding is about showcasing what it feels like to work for a company and highlighting what makes this company unique and distinctive – all things marketing teams are exceptional at doing.

In fact, she adds, LinkedIn research has consistently shown that 75% of job applicants consider an employer’s brand before applying, and strong brands attract 50% more applications –thus proving that aligning to brand is the cornerstone of any successful talent acquisition and talent retention strategy.

How such a collaboration has come to life for both leaders

Now that we have learnt about the benefits of a marketing-people team collaboration, let’s hear from Gupta and Partridge on how they have personally seen such a partnership come to life.

On Gupta’s end, while working with a pharmaceutical company earlier on in her career, she and her team had navigated the sale of the orthopaedic and pain management business to a private equity firm. Since the new owners lacked the talent, infrastructure, and experience to successfully manage the transition, they wanted to retain the entire talent team along with the business.

This transaction required obtaining approval from 95% of the firm's employees, many of whom had been with the company for over a decade and understandably had a strong emotional connection. To address this, the HR, corporate communications, and the merger-and-acquisitions team came together to craft a compelling message — one that simultaneously addressed employees' concerns, explained how the transition would bring stability, achieve business objectives, and ensure everyone's wellbeing.

“This delicate task was only possible due to the seamless cross-functional collaboration of seemingly disparate teams with interrelated goals. To me, this is a prime example of how powerful cross-functional collaboration can be." Gupta reflects.

Meanwhile, at HSBC, social media is a critical area of collaboration – asking employees to identify and share content to be curated through marketing and communications and then amplified back through employees as ambassadors is an area of real focus and pride for the bank, shares Partridge.

“We also consistently look to link job opportunities that underpin new products or offerings in the market - connecting what we do and why we do it through our employer branding.”

In terms of creating organisational culture via collaboration, Partridge expresses that investing in collaboration to ensure the brand expressed externally is a consistent mirror of the day-to-day experience of working for a company is critical to culture building.

"Employees carry culture into their interactions with customers, clients and each other, so thinking about what a product or service contributes to or says about the culture can be a source of new perspectives and innovation."

Gupta adds an anecdote that drives home this point: Apraava Energy recently underwent a rebranding exercise which necessitated a significant organisational shift. The organisation had started off with operations in traditional energy sectors such as coal and gas power.

However, with a renewed commitment to sustainability, the team ventured into renewable energy, transmission, and advanced smart metering.

“As a result, our brand shifted from being a business-to-government brand to now also being a business-to-business and business-to-consumer brand.

“This transition called for a comprehensive realignment of our brand identity and internal culture. The organisation would not only expand in size, but would also need greater agility, efficiency, and result orientation.”

To catalyse this transformation, the team initiated a comprehensive rebranding exercise and internalised the change to ensure that its brand promise connected with employees. It involved every employee in crafting its purpose, vision, mission, and value statements, which visibly helped in fostering a sense of ownership and pride in the organisation’s vision and values and made it easier for everyone to integrate them into day-to-day work.

Additionally, the team instituted a reward-and-recognition programme to celebrate employees who embodied its core values, making sure these values were incorporated into the organisation’s competency framework and interview processes. By embedding these values into every aspect of the organisation and creating employee experiences that spanned across the hire-to-retire employee lifecycle, it was successfully able to embrace this culture shift.

Overcoming challenges

As with every partnership, the one between marketing and HR would, expectedly, come with its own set of challenges — for instance, as Gupta points out, inertia developed from years of established work patterns can hinder collaboration between marketing and HR.

That said, she notes: “Fortunately, we are witnessing a mindset shift, with departments viewing themselves as business enablers and not just revenue or cost centres.”

“This shift is easier when the organisation has purpose-driven goals that every employee can understand and relate to", which then fosters alignment, breaks down silos, and catalyses teamwork.

As such, delivering a unified message that resonates with the brand is crucial. The challenge lies in finding a unifying message that connects all three brand dimensions – corporate, consumer, and employer – and consistently conveying it to diverse audiences such as customers, stakeholders, investors, employees, etc.

Partridge also acknowledges that it is common that people and marketing will sit in completely separate, and sometimes, silo-ed corners of a business. This, coupled with busy independent agendas always hinders collaboration and often results in HR teams working alone.

In tackling this, she shares: “In my career, I’ve helped establish standalone employer branding teams within HR - while this approach has its merits, it can be isolating and can run the risk that outputs from both teams look like disparate initiatives held together by brand guidelines alone.

“The opposite and better outcome is intentional collaboration – where both departments partner to create something truly exponential.”

Taking the forward-facing perspective, Gupta believes that the marketing and people functions will come closer and work together more when the organisation is not merely focused on individual functional objectives but is united by larger goals.

Elaborating, she notes that the collaborative ethos will be particularly evident in areas such as sustainability and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), where the responsibility of driving programmes is not confined to a specific team but requires cross-functional involvement of multiple departments, right from HR and marketing, to compliance, operations, procurement, and IT.

“By sharing the organisational vision, empowering cross-functional teams, and encouraging collaboration, the leadership team can foster a culture of unity and shared responsibility across all functions and levels.

This, in turn, will enable the organisation to address even complex challenges effectively and accelerate progress towards its business and people objectives.”

According to Partridge, with the emerging agenda around skills, the old-fashioned view of marketing jobs and HR jobs as standalone has already started to fall away.

“The growth of employer branding and experience design as skillsets will definitely see more marketing people bringing their careers to traditional HR, and HR people with unique skills that help put people at the heart of brands will flow into really innovative and leading marketing teams.”

As we wrap up the conversation with Partridge and Gupta, let’s head over to Peishan Tian, Executive Director of Employee Experience, APAC, Landor, who shares her quick view on how she sees the relationship between the marketing and people functions evolving in the future.

As she notes, there are “numerous avenues” for fostering collaboration between marketing and people functions, including establishing joint key performance indicators (KPIs) alongside individual function KPIs. This may also include:

  1. Crafting a distinctive employee value proposition that outlines the values and behaviours all employees should embrace to translate the company's business aspirations into reality.
  2. Mapping out both customer experience journeys and talent experience journeys, and subsequently exploring potential areas where these journeys may intersect to uncover opportunities for embedding the brand narrative, core values, and desired behaviours.
  3. Instituting a dedicated culture taskforce with reporting lines to both Marketing and People leaders. This taskforce can spearhead and implement programmes geared towards instigating behavioral shifts in personnel.

Tian aptly summarises:

"In an ideal world, marketing and people leaders should be seamlessly integrated, working together to bring about a unified approach to employer branding and people strategies within the boardroom."

"The overarching objective is to facilitate comprehensive discussions around the attraction, retention, and empowerment of employees to effectively execute the business strategy.”

Lead image / Provided (From L-R: Madhurima Gupta, Lara Partridge, and Peishan Tian

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