Protecting Your Employer Brand Reputation: Q&A with Fixer Dan Hill

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Scathing Glassdoor review? Angry employee venting on Twitter? Reputation and crisis expert Dan Hill shares strategies and tactics for protecting your brand.

Dan Hill, president of Hill Impact, professional crisis manager and negotiation expert.

Photo: Dan Hill

Dan Hill is president of Hill Impact and one of North America’s top reputation and crisis experts – a real-life fixer. We got on the phone to talk about what you can do when negative Glassdoor reviews, employees in revolt on social media, bad press, or other crises threaten your employer brand’s reputation.

“If an employer has a bad reputation or poor brand, it’s because their actions don’t meet their message.”

The internet is such an open forum, and anyone can say anything they want – true or not. What are some steps an employer can take to manage their reputation in this kind of a Wild West environment?

The most fundamental thing is to have a good reputation. But what does that mean? If your business is just launching, your brand is the logo, your color palette, your marketing materials, your packaging. But that only lasts a little while. Once you are established, your brand becomes what you say versus what you do. Companies need to make sure everything they represent is, in fact, what they are.

That starts with hiring. You’ve got to be accurate, authentic and transparent when you’re hiring people and bringing them into your work environment. Communicate the true environment they’re coming into. That’s the first step, before you even get to how you respond when those things aren’t going well.

The reason reputation problems occur for an employer brand is because the employer’s actions don’t match their rhetoric. I worked with a consulting firm that marketed itself to future employees as being really good at growing talent and providing training to its people. That’s what they were selling, but once employees got in the door there was none of that. As a result they had one of the most dissatisfied workforces, because what they said didn’t match their actions. That’s a hard case to turn around and the only way to manage it is by changing your actions, changing what you tell people, or a combination.

Should – how should – an employer respond to scathing reviews on platforms like Glassdoor?

Employees take to public forums like Glassdoor when they feel like they’re not being heard by their employer. So, one of the things employers need to be aware of is that the more you listen to your employees, and the more internal dialogue you encourage, the more likely you’ll have those conversations inside your offices and not externally on Glassdoor.

When you do get a bad review, how you respond depends on what the comments are. If the comments are accurate, and especially if you have a damaging pattern of comments from multiple employees identifying the same problem, you need to evaluate why the problem is happening, do what you need to address it internally, then reply to the negative reviews saying you appreciate the feedback and here are the actions that have been taken to address the problem. Own it.

Now, if the review is inaccurate or inflammatory, Glassdoor has methods by which employers can flag it. Employers need to monitor what people are saying regularly, not just on this platform but others as well. That’s part of managing your employer brand.

Is there an approach you’d suggest to monitor what people are saying about you?

Build it into your routine. It has to be assigned to someone so that there is accountability. Maybe it’s HR or communications – it could be assigned to anyone. It’s not just protecting your employer brand, it’s also learning something about yourself. That might be where you first detect unrest on the company floor. You might find out on Twitter first, and you might be able to head off labor action because you’re paying attention.

It’s an opportunity to learn about positives as well.

More often people are going to say negatives than positives, but you’re right.

“… The more internal dialogue you encourage, the more likely you’ll have those conversations inside your offices and not externally on Glassdoor.”

Are there any counterintuitive benefits or opportunities that come from bad reviews or press?

Some would argue in favor of the old adage “any press is good press.” I would not. I do think negative exposure gives recruiters a chance to show future employees deeper insight into the company’s standards. For instance, how the company responds to crises, if they hold themselves accountable and how they communicate to address problems. These things can give candidates an idea of the ethical and cultural standards a company facing crises holds.

One company I worked with had incredibly low employee satisfaction ratings. When compared to the ratings of their corporate parent’s other companies, they consistently ranked at the bottom. While the knee jerk reaction would be to change the business model or management style, they did neither. They completely owned it. When the company interviewed candidates, they told them up front that “this isn’t a top-ranked workplace for people who want work–life balance. This company is for people that are tough, who want to stand on their own two feet and fight for what they believe. A place where we expect to argue in the conference room.” In taking this approach, the company not only set the employees’ expectations but also managed the company’s reputation, so if a candidate said “yes” to being hired then they were also saying “yes, this is an environment I think I can thrive in.”

It’s just like relationships; there’s someone for everyone. We don’t all have to have Ping Pong tables and beer kegs to enjoy working in our places of employment.

If you are facing a reputation crisis, what are the steps you should take to turn it around, reverse the negative momentum and rebuild your employer brand?

There is too much emphasis on crisis management. You can’t manage these things, you’ve got to lead them – it’s crisis leadership. Crisis managers say “we’ve got to contain this,” but crisis leaders say “we’ve got to move forward.” They own the situation.

If you’re going to lead yourself through a reputation challenge, you’ve got to be honest with yourself about what the real challenge is, take extra steps to evaluate your own performance, identify what’s wrong, try to correct it on the backend and then communicate the corrective actions you’re taking.

As a recruiter working for a company with not the best current reputation, how can you respond accurately to concerns from candidates?

If an employer has a bad reputation or poor brand, it’s because their actions don’t meet their message. If that’s not being addressed, it’s going to be very difficult to recruit for them.

The objective isn’t to fill seats, but to bring people in who make an impact and help the organization achieve its goals. If the organization is suffering because of its own actions, as a recruiter you have to embrace it, because the type of people you want are those who can help turn the ship around.

“Crisis managers say ‘we’ve got to contain this,’ but crisis leaders say ‘we’ve got to move forward.’”

Does weathering a crisis make an employer stronger than they were before?

People are attracted to scars. Physical scars, emotional scars. It’s okay to have had challenges in your life and for organizations to have gone through challenges. It’s far more attractive to embrace that than to cover it up. Most good candidates are going to like that kind of fresh approach to the process, and so I say own it. You’ll end up getting the right kind of people. Embracing the challenges and scars that make your company unique might just help you recruit.

Christian De Pape, Recruiting Social’s Head of Marketing and Content
About the author

Christian De Pape is Head of Marketing and Content at Recruiting Social. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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