“The Role of HR in Employee Branding in the Public Sector”

By Mike Phibbs
Private Sector organizations have known for years that both company and employee branding are essential to keep a competitive work force and to reduce turnover. The public safety sector has been slow to catch onto this idea, even while police, fire, and other E.M.S. units have relied on the aura surrounding their occupations to recruit. This lack of foresight in investing in a well thought out strategy of organizational branding in recruitment and in operations often has a negative effect on the new employee, and thereafter, an organization’s effectiveness. This was especially true after September 11, 2001, when people rushed to become police officers and firefighters or other EMS providers. There is a cost paid for hiring and training a person who is not a good fit in an organization, realized in the form of lower retention rates, increased recruitment, training, and overtime costs, not to mention potential civil liability for actions taken by a less committed employee. HR can be a strategic partner with an organization’s command staffs, and with leaders at all levels, to develop a culture that accurately depicts the vision and values of the organization.
Employee branding begins at the top level of the organization. The aura that surrounds being associated with public safety organizations is not enough to sustain an individual’s commitment throughout a career. The command structure has a responsibility to ensure that employees clearly understand the mission and vision of their organization. To ensure this, frequent, open forums should be held, where questions can be asked, rumors laid to rest, and the vision continued to be reinforced in the minds of the employees. At mid-level, leaders also have the responsibility to be clear on the mission and vision of the organization. Through continued emphasis on the mission and reinforcement of the organization’s vision, coupled with the implementation of HR strategies to successfully meet goals, the employees become branded into the culture and are focused on exceeding the vision.

Examples of organizational differences in the realm of public safety begin with the structures and deployment of personnel in field of law enforcement. Each law enforcement organization has to meet the differing needs of its community, and requirements of its own vision, mission statements and expectations for its officers for interaction within that community. Organization are differentiated in their structure and operations based on the needs of the people they serve, be it at urban level, rural levels, or other settings. Organizations must utilize different strategies to effectively deploy its personnel, while recognizing that these actions directly impact an organization’s ability to focus the commitment of the employees to the organization. Other points of differentiation include deployment of personnel into different divisions, development of shift policies, promotional opportunities, potential transfers to more challenging jobs, and the degree of autonomy to make decisions at the first line.

The closer organizational opportunities match the desires of the employee, the more likely the individual will show total engagement for the success of the vision, improve overall performance, and increase retention for the organization. An employee who realizes that the organization does not fulfill his or her expectations will likely leave. If the individual is committed to working in public safety, he or she will seek out other organizations that meet their expectations and needs. Simply stated, an agency that has spent time and money training an employee only to see them leave loses its investment because the organization did not effectively convey the culture of the organization before hiring. An organization that is able to attract and retain employees, who are engaged and committed to the organization’s mission, creates a financial advantage for the community by saving the taxpayer money. In the case of volunteer organizations such as volunteer rescue and fire departments the savings is in donated money; funding that is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain.

With the large numbers of people attracted to careers in public safety, Effective employee and organizational branding can help recruit the people you want and dissuade those who you do not want. It is in the best interest of both individual and organization to ensure potential candidates clearly understand the culture and expectations of the organization before they apply. In the public sector organizations use various forms of media to announce job vacancies. The announcements include basic job descriptions and qualifications but often fail in representing the organization in the clearest possible light. HR should ensure applicants understand not only the job requirements but also the culture of the organization they intend to join. Through organizational and employee branding, organizations will recruit and retain people who more closely fit the culture of their organizations. Organizations spend thousands of dollars in recruiting campaigns, just to get people to take the tests, then incur the cost of the testing process, pay evaluators to participate in interview on selection panels, background checks, medical and psychological screenings, and finally bear the expense of formal academy and field training. Developing branding strategies that differentiate one organization from another ultimately saves the customer-taxpayer-money.

The branding process begins with the culture of the organization and influences the recruiting strategies. The new recruit should already have a basic understanding of the culture arriving at the training center with a set of expectations of the organization. Even in the training phase the new hire begins the process of deciding if the organization meets his or her needs. Once deployed to the field, the new employee continues to develop a cultural awareness of the organization. At this point, he or she will determine if the organizational branding lives up to expectations. If not, other organizations in the same field will be investigated to see if there is one that more closely meets professional expectations. Many public safety employees, to their advantage are enrolled in the Virginia State Retirement System, and are not penalized if they go to another organization that participates in that system. However, the organization that is left behind pays the price for hiring an individual that was not a good fit with the culture of the organization.

Employees who are enthusiastically branded into the vision of their organization are a great source for recruiting people who will fit the organizational culture, lowering the chances of an employee misfit. Recruiters should not be only concerned with filling today’s vacancies but be proactive in cultivating the branding image for future recruiting cycles. Recruiters can begin by visiting high schools, junior colleges, and universities, and explain to people who are still too young to apply what the organizational culture is about. With continual contact individuals who believe that the particular organization meets their interests can further explore the future opportunities within the organization. Recruiters can arrange ride-a-longs, site visits, and possible volunteer opportunities which continue to build upon the branding of the organization and employees.

Organizations, that have media relations departments, can also be utilized to strategically market the organization to the public at large. HR can work with the media relations departments to develop strategies that accurately represent the organization to the public. By the nature of their work public safety organizations have a multiplicity of opportunities to get their branding message out. Through the news at critical incidents, monthly public service broadcasts on public television channels, and general media announcements, the media departments can inform the public on the attributes that separate their organization from the others in the region. The more opportunities the public has to receive what separates one organization from another, the more the prospective employee will naturally gravitate to the organization that best fits his or her needs.

The implementation of a department’s vision and deployment strategies has a direct impact on the organization’s culture. Organizations want an individual who fits in well and can make positive contributions within the organization. The proper branding of an organization and its employees increases the likelihood of a proper hire. A person who is hired and does not fit the culture can actually hamper recruiting efforts by spreading negative information about an organization. HR can recommend strategies to the command staffs that develop and publicize the organization’s culture, which in-turn helps to attract people who will best fit into the organization.

HR should be employed to play an integral part in developing the culture and expounding it onto current and potential future employees. HR has the specific expertise to and should be involved in training programs to improve leadership at all levels. Ineffective leaders can drive people out of an organization. HR should survey employees and develop strategies to retain the best workers through fulfilling the satisfiers that keep the employees committed to the organization. Employees who choose to quit should be exit interviewed by HR for the same purposes. HR should stay abreast of the changing external and internal environment and prepare for challenges to the organization’s culture and ability to recruit and retain its employees. Utilizing HR, with its knowledge of organizational and strategic employee development, by the command structure will have a significant impact on the organization’s abilities to meet its goals for the future and better be prepared for the challenges of tomorrow.

Branding in public service organizations requires the total commitment of the employees and the organization to develop the aura that will attract the right candidate and dissuade others. Branding of the organization helps to drive the culture and focus the employees on a vision of themselves and the organization for which they work. Having people who fit the organization culture reduces the number of bad hires, saving cost in recruiting, training, and efforts to retain the best employees who may otherwise leave for other organizations. Branding will successfully further the organization in a fulfilling its mission.

Leadershiprva copyright 2008

Life Lessons from Bob

I arrived at my precinct the day after my graduation from the police academy. I walked into the roll call room with my bright shiny new badge pinned to my shift. I nervously introduced myself to the sergeant who just looked at me and pointed to a chair and said sit there. I looked around as the older officer began to come in and take their seats. They were joking about an officer who split his pants while jumping a fence on a call the day before. None of the officers spoke to me; they would just occasionally stare at the new guy. Eventually, the sergeant, still not knowing my name, came in and asked who would field train me.

An officer with glasses, salt-and-pepper hair, looked up and said, “I’ll do it”. The sergeant said, “Bob” you sure? You are about to retire”. He replied, “I got it”. After roll call, Bob introduced himself and said for me to get my stuff. Before we headed out on my first shift he sat me down and said, “This is a calling for some and a job to pay bills for others. In time they will all become your family. If you make it you will see things that will break your heart, and things that will make you fall over laughing. When you think about giving up, something will happen and you will see the impact you can have on people’s lives. Above all else, remember you are a professional and the people you come into contact all had the same hopes and dreams as you at one time. Some people made it and some didn’t. One day your career will come to and end and I hope you look back and think it was worth it”.

For the next six weeks I rode with Bob. At first, he showed me the area and where the problems were. He showed me the places that I must have back up and the places people like to hide. Bob would constantly explain, “It is important that the same number of officers go home alive as attended roll call. But if you aren’t willing to risk your safety to protect your fellow officers and citizens then I should get out before I risk someone’s life”. During the time I reinforced my basic tactics and learned how to start investigations. More importantly, I learned how to really talk to people. The officer walking the beat comes into contact with people determined to commit crime, wealthy people who do not recognize the officer as he walks by, the person who lost everything and is now homeless, and the happy-go-luck person who is simply enjoying life. I learned to blend into each societal group and make the connection.

I learned that Bob had only a few months left before retirement. He had two grandkids and he and his wife were going to visit all of the places they dreamed of over the years. A couple of times his wife would come down and meet us for lunch. He had volunteered to train me because the day he started out an older officer about to leave volunteered to train him. To that day Bob never forgot what his training officer had told him all those years ago. After a while the older officers began to warm to me and I learned their stories. Eventually, the six weeks ended and it was time for me to go to my permanent midnight shift. I would see Bob in only in passing most of the time. If I had a question I would hurry in to see him and he would walk me through the problem.

Soon Bob retired and began to travel with his wife. After a while I lost track of him. I met my wife and had two kids of my own. The officers I worked with did become part of my family and we all helped raise each other along the way. Bob was right, I did have heart breaking experiences, ones that were so hilarious that the best comedy writers could never create, and when things looked bleak somehow something would happen that touched you and made the sacrifices worth it.

As the years went on new officers would come in and older ones would move on. I trained my share of officers who went on to very successful careers. One night my wife and I discussed when I was going to retire. We picked a date and the next day I told my sergeant that I would be leaving in a few months. We joked for a few minutes about the good-ole-days when a new kid fresh from the academy walked in. He too had a new shiny badge; mine had tarnished years ago. The sergeant looked up and said, “I guess I’ll have to find someone to field train him.” I looked at the nervous young man and said, “I’ll do it”. The young man walked up to me and said his name was Joe. After roll call I took Joe outside and sat him down. I then told “It is important that the same number of officers go home alive as attended roll call……” When I look back over my career it was worth it, and my foundation started with Bob.

Bob was not simply a leader, a mentor, but a friend. At the end of ones career in any profession, you will be extremly luck to have had your own Bob.

Hypocrisy of “We do this in order to protect you from yourselves”.

On a daily basis we hear the platitude that we must ban guns on one hand to protect people from harming themselves and other. It is interesting to hear we have to ban guns from hunting because people can accidentally shoot themselves or someone else. Sometimes people do shoot themselves or others while hunting. But let’s examine the shifting idea on the gun debate. As our population grows, we require more land to develop and build upon. We increase and develop the rural areas and turn them into bedroom communities creating our ever larger commutes to work. The loss of rural areas cuts down on the area where people can hunt. With loss of areas to for game to live there are less people who can go out and hunt and use firearms. With fewer hunters than non-hunters the idea grows that “We don’t need guns to hunt.” Why, “Because we don’t know anyone that hunts” and therefore its bad to have guns that can hurt people in my neighborhood.

But here is the hypocrisy of our society. Look on ESPN and watch extreme skateboarding, X-Games, motocross, or even NASCAR and see those people endanger their lives. Every weekend sports channels highlight NASCAR wrecks at 200 miles per hour. For more excitement they show when the cars under extreme stress come apart and debris lands in the stand hurting innocent spectators. We celebrate and reward people who fly through the sky, on a board, 30 feet in the air. We mourn that people die participating in these extreme events, but is having a gun is more dangerous? On average 38,000 people die a year in automobile accidents. But you say, “That’s different, we need them. They are a part of society.” So were rifles for the past 400 years. Even today, some people need firearms to hunt for the survival of their families. Even the excuse that the Second Amendment is outdated because we don’t have to worry about the government being tyrannical has gone by the wayside. When the government goes after the media and uses the IRS to suppress the rights of its citizens then it looks tyrannical, and thus breathes new life into the argument of needing guns to protect us from oppression.

If we are going to outlaw anything that can hurt you, or potentially everyone else, then park the cars that may kill someone in an accident and wrap everyone in bubble wrap. I don’t hunt and therefore someone can’t say I’m just a crazy NRA fanatic. The fact is life is dangerous. Don’t try to ban one thing saying we are looking out to protect society while celebrating others which are just as dangerous. To go all out on one and ignore the other because “We like the other one” is simple hypocrisy.

Two rules that must be followed before being promoted.

two rules

The hardest day a leader, manager, or supervisor will ever have is the first day in their new position. On the first day, the supervisor comes in with grandiose ideas how they will be the “leader” and transformer of individuals in the group into a “team” that beats all existing records. They will develop a spirit of collaboration and camaraderie that everyone in the organization will want to join. Other leaders with lesser ability will clamor to your office to know the secrets of ultimate team building and success. For most this is a dream. Unbeknownst to most new supervisors, the stage has already been set for failure because they did not do two critical steps to lay the foundation for their success.

Let’s start at the bottom and work our way up to fix the problems. The foundation for success begins when the supervisor does some introspection and determines what is truly important to them as a person. This is extremely difficult for most people, because they are afraid of what they will find when they examine their inner self. For example, you may realize you are truly not a “people person”. You can decide to work on that skill, or develop other approaches to make effective connections to the individuals who now work for you. But you learned a critical lesson about yourself and can now work around the problem to make connections. Effective leaders make connections to their teams on the one to one level. They are authentic about themselves and what they want to accomplish. Supervisors create goals that they believe should be reached, but never make the deep down connections at the individual level.

If you inherent an effective team, or group in need of development, you are starting from scratch. The existing effective team may instantly dissolve when you arrive. Again, you must make the connection at the individual level that you are someone to willingly follow. People will do what you tell them to do because you are their boss. The supervisor who uses this hard power is “pulling” the people to his or her goals. You have the power to reward or discipline them. People will go the extra mile for people they believe will help them, and are looking out for them. These people are “following” their leader to a goal that benefits everyone. Teams are effective, when the team is focused on a goal, and striving to reach it. If you are a bad supervisor your individuals may form up as a “team” to get rid of you. When you are a “leader” and people follow you, and your goals are aligned with the organizations goals, then as a team, you are benefitting the organization.

The second myth and mistake new supervisor make when they are first promotes is not coming in with a set of rules everyone must follow. That sounds counter intuitive to come in with a set of rules when you want to develop a team. Think about the statement in a different way. When you come in with a set of rules for people to follow you are setting the table of expectations. You are setting the stage for success by letting people know not only the sport you are playing, but the field you are playing on, and rules that must be followed. By developing a set of rules and setting down what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior you are creating the foundation for success. When you come in trying to build camaraderie and say, “we will make it up as we go” you have just made a fatal mistake for you becoming a leader. As situations arise you have not set foundation for your decision making. Your individual’s, notice I did not say team, will be always be wondering what is and is not acceptable. They will push the limits because they do not know what the boundaries are. You will become angry because the individuals are breaking your nonexistent rules. By trying to be friendly and not setting down rules you are in fact going to make it hard to create a team. In fact you will create a dysfunctional atmosphere because your individuals do not know what to expect from you, the supervisor. By first setting your rules down, and consistently following them, you can then develop a sense of acceptable behavior with consequences for rule breaking. Then, you can start developing team norms that are developed and agreed upon by your team.

The first day as a supervisor is always the hardest. The dream of the position now meets reality. By understanding two simple rules you can significantly improve your chances of success. First, determine what is important to you. Second, setting rules and standards for people to follow, you are now setting the foundation for success and building a highly effective team.

Question of Impact, Good or Bad?

A strong leader will have an impact on his or her organization. If the impact is good or bad is in the eye of the beholder. The impact is directly related to your sphere of influence and the amount of resonance it will have around the organization. Think of a bomb going off. A small firecracker is a very small bomb and has a small impact, similar to most decisions managers make. A good or bad decision may only impact the team and not the entire organization. Now think extreme, like a nuclear bomb going off. A decision by a company or industry head can have a overwhelming impact on millions of people, for good or bad.

Look at the impact of the digital camera on the world. Most would say it was fantastic. However, Kodak is going out of business because it can not longer compete, and it is too late to transition to a new industry. Look at the impact of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates on the world. Imagine they changed the world for the betterment of man kind. Now imagine how many businesses and industries they made obsolete. But they had Impact! There are many organizations thriving right now who will someday be impacted by new technologies and ideas not yet dreamt. Some will be positively impacted and for others the impact of the next new idea will signal the end.

In the end, the question of Impact being good or bad is like unraveling quantum physics. It may be good or bad depending on your point of view.

Linking your present, past and future through the symbol 8

Past Present Future. revised jpg

Mike Phibbs

I have never met anyone who didn’t want to make a difference with their lives. No impact at all, just coast through to the end. But what is stopping 2 billion people from having an amazing life and impacting everyone else to greater good? Many make excuses. Others simply say, “Life is too hard”. A small group will explain that they didn’t have the power to make changes; other people have all the power. So, are you also powerless? Did I mention excuses? To tap into your power and ability to change your life, your business, or anything else lets introduce you to the number 8 where your past and future merge into your present.

The number 8 represents the unfolding of your life in the present, past and future. Everything is congruent through two never ending circles with the only connection being the present. The bottom circle is your past from which you cannot hide. The top circle is your future which you have the power to influence every second of the day through thought, feeling, perspective values, and the processes used to bundle it all together to become: You.

When you understand the power and reality of the figure 8 you begin to understand how much control you do have over you own life and destiny. No more excuses; success and abundance or the continuation of your present life is in your own hands to shape and enjoy. Excuses begin when common wisdom that you have no control over the future is exacerbated by the ignorance that the past is always longer than the future. Through quantum physics we know that the past and future are different perspectives of the same thing. The figure 8 represents the unfurling of the eternal universe onto itself.

When you were a child the past loop appeared small and the future loop enormous. As you grew the past loop grew bigger and the future loop smaller. Truth is, the top and bottom loop are always exactly the same. They grow in proportion to each other as you grow and experience the universe. The future never exceeds the past. Well, let’s take a deeper look at the idea and change your perspectives for the better. You are linked to your past. Even your first seconds of life are still apart of the loop. As you move along the loop is every second you lived and what you did with it, lessons learned, passions, excuses, all coming together to converge at your present. You future starts with your present and moves forward. As you read this line you have added to your past, and anything you learn in the article adds to the potential of your future. You future is bases on your past and where you intended to go. It loops back around to your present. You decide how fast the 8 will expand. If you sit idle the 8 expands slowly. If you take control of you future, by adding new experiences to your present, and as they are experienced they go to your past, and then you are setting new experiences up for your future. Your 8 expands every quicker because you continually stoking the fuel of the universe. So how do you tap into the power of 8?

Start looking at the number 8 as equal halves. One side is not larger than the other. When one side expands the other will equally. If you are stuck in a rut your 8 is probably not expanding very much. When you see people flamboyantly enjoying their lives their 8 is rapidly expanding to accommodate their past and potential formations of their future. Let the universe expand by changing your thinking and trying new things out. Eat something different next time you are out. When you go to the book store get a different book than you normally wood. Whenever you try something new you build upon your past and your future equally. If you didn’t like something then the future will respond and he experience will not be offered again. When you look at your past, if you found taking on new experiences and challenges was exciting, fulfilling, or important to you development you will try to have similar experiences then your future. With this in mind, other similar experiences will come along as well. If you want a variety of experiences in your future then you must make an equal number of experiences to be a part of your past. Clearly, you can see how trying new ideas, thoughts, and activities, provides the blue print for your future. The key is present in the now to take advantage of the potential that the future provides to you.

If you want to take the concept even future simply fold the 8 in half. Then you see how the past and present are one through your perspective of the present. In order to make an impact on your own life and those around you simply tap into the power of the 8. Remember, if you want to make and impact you must first expand your future through expanding your past by actively living in the present.

“He who knows others is learned. He who knows himself is wise”
-Lao Tsu

Overcoming an Organization’s Primal Fear of Ideas


Over the past few years, organizations have learned to value new ideas that create competitive advantages and help develop a critical mass for success. Senior managers look in wonder at people in other organizations who can come in and seamlessly create synergy and transforms them into an industry leader. Often leaders go to retreats in hopes of developing new strategies that bring thought leaders flocking into their organizations. But let’s stop and back up. Before bringing in new talent, let’s take a crucial look at how organizations already deal with new ideas developed in-house.

From the outset, everyone understands that people dislike and resist change, and new ideas bring change. Change creates anxiety and upsets people, and most resist even the most straightforward idea, that will lead to success. From a distance, we admire people who can develop and initiate change in other organizations, but may disdain people trying to make changes in our own organizations. We are brains are hardwired as a part of our evolutionary process to conform. Through our evolutionary past we learned, people who tried something new and different may have been eaten by the large animal waiting for an easy meal. Today, a new idea brings up the same connotations of fear and trepidation that one company may get eaten by another after it implements a new idea.

Now, at the individual level, we have to examine how organizations treat their own employees with new ideas and strategies to create effectiveness. Have you ever heard some version of the saying, “If I wanted to hear your ideas, I would give you them.” We may bring in a consultant for new ideas, but intentionally over look internal ideas from subordinates. This train of thinking goes back to the heart of the matter in developing organizations. When someone is hired, at a lower level, they are brought on to accomplish tasks set out in their job descriptions. They do day-to-day tangible activities that in general do not impact the long-term success of the organizations. Initially, their job is not to develop long-term strategies, which are the jobs held in senior management positions.

When someone in middle management, or below, develops a new idea they have to find a champion at a higher level who is willing to run with the idea, or it will not gain needed traction. However, they must still overcome the initial fear that someone at a lower level has an outstanding idea which may create a competitive advantage. How dare a lower person presume to have the next big idea? Why, because senior managers resist ideas from subordinates. Why, because senior managers fear losing their jobs to a subordinate. Worse, one may think senior managers would value a person who brings lots of creative ideas that improve effectiveness and efficiency to their attention. Well, yes and no. If the person has already been picked as a future leader in the organization then the ideas have a better chance. If the person is outside of the established developmental pool then ideas are less likely to be listened too; and the person may cause greater fear in the senior management. Why, because he or she is an unknown commodity and sees things that the senior management has missed. This perception of blindness by senior management creates more resistance to new ideas; especially if they were not looking for new ideas. Again, conformity to ones station in the organization is valued at the subconscious level over conscious level saying we value new ideas.

So, let’s recap and tie it all together. We are hard-wired to conform to norms as a way of surviving. In most organizations, out of the box thinking is valued, as long as new ideas were requested from employees, or is occurring in other organizations. Every idea will have some level of resistance no matter how much an impact it will have on improving efficiency. When unsolicited ideas are brought up a champion at the senior level must be brought in who supports the idea for it to have any chance. Ideas from the lower levels are always said to be welcomed, but in most organizations actually cause fear in senior managers who are in charge of long-term strategies, over people who handle day-to-day operations. In short, all organizations who want to succeed need to develop cultures where fears of ideas at any level are overcome, and in fact welcomed. The way you do this is through open dialogue. Open the communication pathways both up and down. As the culture of inclusiveness grows, the fear at the primal level of new ideas is mitigated with every success. In the end, managers are still responsible for strategic development, and lower level associates are responsible for day-to-day activates; however, as a group, they can develop synergy and take their organizations to levels only previously dreamed. So, let’s recap and tie it all together. We are hard-wired to conform to norms as a way of surviving. In most organizations, out of the box thinking is valued, as long as new ideas were requested from employees, or is occurring in other organizations. Every idea will have some level of resistance no matter how much an impact it will have on improving efficiency. When unsolicited ideas are brought up a champion at the senior level must be brought in who supports the idea for it to have any chance. Ideas from the lower levels are always said to be welcomed, but in most organizations actually cause fear in senior managers who are in charge of long-term strategies, over people who handle day-to-day operations. In short, all organizations who want to succeed need to develop cultures where fears of ideas at any level are overcome, and in fact welcomed. The way you do this is through open dialogue. Open the communication pathways both up and down. As the culture of inclusiveness grows, the fear at the primal level of new ideas is mitigated with every success. In the end, managers are still responsible for strategic development, and lower level associates are responsible for day-to-day activates; however, as a group, they can develop synergy and take their organizations to levels only previously dreamed.