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[SERIES] Insights from the 2023 Roundtable: Elevating the Employee Relations Brand

Dec 4, 2023
Deb Muller
2023 ER Roundtable

We recently hosted our 2023 Employee Relations Roundtable in Nashville and it’s clear to me that the depth of discussion we shared is what ER professionals are craving. Not only did we hear vulnerable stories about new challenges, we also received new insights from some of the smartest people in the industry. Over the course of two days we dug into a lot of pressing topics. I’ve decided to curate a few of my favorite discussions in a blog series so that I can share my own key takeaways.

Up first is a topic near and dear to my heart – elevating the ER brand within an organization. While I’ve always been a super fan of ER, I know that our function isn’t full of natural marketing geniuses that innately know how to sell our value. We’re usually the behind the scenes helpful types, so ‘branding’ ourselves often feels uncomfortable – but it’s critical. Why? Because generally speaking, ER has a branding problem. According to our 2023 Workplace Harassment & Misconduct Insights, 42% of employees who experienced an incident of workplace harassment or misconduct DID NOT REPORT IT due to a general lack of trust and confidence in their employer’s culture and processes. That’s not okay.

When we say “branding ER,” we’re not talking about aspirational campaigns with flashy posters in the breakroom. We are talking about clearly stating ER’s purpose, removing the mystery around our processes and becoming experts in excellent communication. Branding ER is about making sure everyone in the organization clearly understands what we do.

In Nashville, some of the best advice I heard boiled down to the three basics:

First things first, your ER team must establish presence and build credibility. Something as simple as successfully training employees on how to confidently report issues directly to ER via different channels can be enough to establish your presence.

Building credibility, on the other hand, takes more effort.  Credibility comes from trust, and trust isn’t given, it’s earned. You know that one person on a team that everyone just trusts to ‘get it done’, no matter what the task is? That level of trust doesn’t just happen, it’s earned over time through a series of reliable outcomes. The advice I heard was to work at being known for reliable outcomes, for example, be known for closing cases within a reasonable timeframe. Be known for empathy. Be known for fair and equitable outcomes. This brings me to my next point and something we discussed at length in our session – elevate your brand by measuring and reporting success. 

I heard it over and over, if you can measure ER success, you can prove ER value. The only way to measure ER success is to first clearly define what it looks like for your organization. For many of the professionals in the room, their definition of success reflects a strong commitment to reducing harassment and driving accountability and it includes metrics around the processes they have in place to manage workplace issues.

What are your metrics? Is it grievance resolution time? Shorter resolution times are a great way to demonstrate an efficient, responsive process. Is it employee NPS?  Once you know how to define your success, make it a priority to understand what metrics you need to track and exactly how and how often you plan to report them. 

Finally, a powerful way to elevate your brand is protecting it with a tightly defined scope. Keep your brand reputation tied to the things you are responsible for – not the things that are beyond your control. To do this, you must make sure your business partners understand your team’s responsibilities, boundaries and handoff points to the rest of HR. For example, while HRBP’s are involved in broader performance management processes such as goal setting, performance reviews, and organizational development plans, ER is there to address specific ongoing performance and more serious workplace issues. Make that difference clear.

Remember, creating your scope starts with a defined mission and vision within your internal team and then extends to clear communications to other business partners through resources such as RACI’s, training, playbooks and frequent meetings.

If you’d like a recap of the biggest takeaways from our Nashville Roundtable sessions, you can download that summary here.

As always I believe the empowER community we’ve built at HR Acuity is a priceless resource for professionals who want to elevate both their personal career and the ER function as a whole. If you aren’t already a member of our community, we’d love to have you. 

Deb Muller
Deb Muller is the CEO of HR Acuity, employee relations case management and investigations software that combines documentation, process, and human expertise so organizations can meet the challenge of managing employee relations in the modern world.
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