The employee brand is the image presented to an organization's customers and other relevant stakeholders through its employees. The employee branding process is predicated on achieving and maintaining message consistency throughout the organization. Messages emanate from various organizational sources such as the systems of organizational staffing, performance management, and compensation. Each message should reflect and reinforce the organization's desired brand image which, in turn, should be consistent with the organization's mission and values. When this happens, both the psychological contract and employee brand knowledge is effectively managed, resulting in a brand image that is consistent with the organization's desired brand image. The development of the employee brand through the employee branding process can provide a source of sustainable competitive advantage for the organization. This case study is designed to be used as a teaching tool for understanding the complexity of the process and providing guidance for growing the employee brand.
Keywords: employee branding; internal marketing; internal branding; psychological contract; competitive advantage
Melissa Thomas sat at her desk writing a first draft of her comprehensive report to the executive team outlining the course of action that would help grow the employee brand at ASI. ASI, a premier audio system manufacturer, was far different from her previous employer. The owner and president of ASI was insistent on producing a quality product and providing an exceptional quality customer experience reflecting the organization's values and mission. In fact, the stated corporate goal was "to exceed our customer's expectations for the value of our products regarding quality, reliability, service, and usefulness." In such a competitive market, the president knew and understood the competitive advantage employees can offer--especially when customer experience is coupled with a quality product. This dual goal led the executive team to hire Melissa to help the business continue to grow as it has done for the past 17 years. As the first employee hired exclusively to orchestrate the human resource management activities, she knew this would be a challenging assignment.
ASI Past and Present
The vision for ASI really didn't take hold until 2 years after Mike completed a customized sound system for the church he attended. An electrical engineer for a major company by day, he dabbled in audio electronics as a hobbyist by night. When Mike's church started a remodeling project on a very tight budget, Mike volunteered his services to customize the unique audio requirements of the church. This successful installation led several other parishioners to ask for Mike's help in designing customized audio systems that were able to meet theft unique requirements. The nature of these projects varied in budget and scope. Some were for internal sound systems and others were for external systems. Each project was unique and required a unique solution. After 2 years, Mike decided to quit his job and grow his hobby into a business. He mapped out a business plan and decided to offer a range of commercial, customizable audio systems designed to deliver audio in either indoor or outdoor settings to audiences ranging from a few to thousands.
Currently ASI has a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Jackson, Kentucky. It is known for its high-quality audio systems as well as cost efficiency, which allows the savings to be passed on to customers in the form of lower prices. It employs 37 people, including 3 supervisors, in the manufacturing facility. In addition, ASI has 28 people in the front office, including the telemarketing staff, audio designers, supervisors, and the executive team. The executive team consists of Mike, the founder and major share holder; his son Tom, President; Debbie, Director of Marketing; Jan, Manager of Accounting (and formerly Human Resources); and now Melissa, Director of Human Resource Management.
The executive team made it very clear to Melissa that the primary reason she was offered the Director position in Human Resources is her background in employee branding. They were convinced that if they were to succeed in this highly competitive market with a direct-to-the-customer distribution system, they would need to couple their quality product with outstanding customer interactions. ASI's success or failure depended largely on what happened at the point of employee--customer interface. The organization currently enjoyed high morale, low turnover, high levels of performance, and outstanding customer relations as measured by several external indicators. However, with projected sales at an all-time high, the team knew its employees were the key to continued success. As such, the primary reason the executive team decided to hire a Director of Human Resources was to continue to grow the organization's human element to reflect the organization's mission and values.
Melissa understood and appreciated the executive team's goal for growing the business inside as well as out. She was also very comfortable with the openness of the team and its receptiveness to a thorough analysis and examination of the internal processes and systems. This commitment allowed her relatively easy access in conducting a message audit. In her first meeting with the executive team, she articulated the critical importance of the mission and values and the creation of a desired brand image. In essence, the mission and values needed to be ASI's driving force in determining its desired brand image as well as the basis for all messages emanating from all organizational systems. These messages influence the employee's knowledge of the desired brand image and ultimately influence the psychological contract. Although the psychological contract was a relatively new concept for the executive team, they quickly understood how this perceptual agreement originates and influences the employment relationship as well as the negative consequences if it is not managed.
It is with this understanding that Melissa led the team in generating a plan to continue to grow the employee brand into a sustainable competitive advantage for ASI. Their approach was based on a review of the academic literature pertaining to the employee brand and the process by which the employee brand was developed (Mangold & Miles, in press...