Saturday, October 22, 2011

Corporate Reputations, Branding and People Management, by MARTIN and HETRICK.

I owe this great book recommendation to Jean-Marc MICKELER, Partner at Deloitte, Responsible for Employer Branding in France.

A Challenging Book

MARTIN and HETRICK are two Scottish HR specialists with both academic and consulting activities. Their book is based on experience, as it offers a number of cases concerning mainly HR challenges in large international corporations.

It is also based on a theoretical approach, with a very much balanced and critical point of view on MINTZBERG, ULRICH, PFEFFER, PORTER and many more management and HR authors. One typically academic aspect of the book is the emphasis placed on the correct and precise use of concepts:
  • Social identity is not the same as social identification.
  • Psychological ownership is different from engagement, which is not the same as commitment.
  • Corporate reputation differs from corporate image and corporate brand.

It is thus a challenging book, firstly because it is not easy to read (for me at least) and secondly because it criticizes many popular management ready-to-use ideas:
  • Is it always such a good idea to implement “management best practices” in your organization?
  • Can you really make a distinction between leadership and management?
  • When selecting leaders, should you always focus on the candidates' potential (as opposed to craftsmanship) ?
  • Do most senior executives agree with Milton FRIEDMAN's view that a corporation's sole focus should be to generate high returns for shareholders?
MARTIN and HETRICK very interestingly answer “no” to these four questions.

HR and the Corporate Agenda

The main purpose of the book is to show how HR can contribute to the corporate agenda, which comprises:
  • Corporate branding (what is the corporation's promise?)
  • Corporate reputation (How is it perceived a time goes on)
  • Corporate identity (Who are the members of the organization, what are their affinities?)
  • Corporate social responsibility (CSR)
  • Corporate governance

Here are only a few of the interesting propositions developed in the book:
  • Brand reputation has an impact on sales, through the company's image (the customer view), but also on employee satisfaction and retention,through identity (the employee view).

  • It is important to achieve consistency between these two views, i.e. to make sure that there are no significant gaps between employee's understanding of the organization's identity and how outsiders view its image.

  • HR leaders need to gain a deep, evidence-based, knowledge about the various psychological contracts present in their organization. The notion of psychological contracts is very well defined and deeply discussed in one chapter.

  • The “best practice” approach to HRM, although interesting, can be criticized: context matters a lot when it comes to make management choices.

  • Very much like customer segmentation is an important marketing tool, HR professionals should use workforce segmentation: they should realize that not all employees have the same expectations, needs, abilities or values, so it makes little sense to apply a uniform set of practices.

  • A 21st century approach to corporate communications emphasizes dialogue, interactivity, and involvement of all functions and people. 

  • Becoming an employer of choice does not depend solely on traditional HR practices, but also on the quality of top management, the company's values, and corporate social responsibility. 

  • HR professionals tend to be more and more specialized, i.e. focused on HR itself ad its sub-specialisms. This is a dangerous trend, as it leads our function to become disconnected from the top (lack of connections with the organization's strategy) and from the bottom (lack of direct relationships with employees). Instead of just an expertise, we should see HR also as a craft and as an art. In other words, we should not rely only on our technical specialism, but also on experience, vision and leadership.

Book data

You can also find more about the book on, and you can read Graeme MARTIN's HR and People Management blog.  

I welcome your comments and feedback. If you are an HR professional, please do not hesitate to suggest other HR book recommendations through or by sending me a Twitter DM at @HRbooks.