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Connecting the Disconnect Between Marketing and the HR Recruitment Function

By: Les Stern
March 2006 Corporate

Smart organizations understand how important market research is to the success of their organizations. That is evidence by the fact that $3 billion is spent annually on research, according to the Market Research Association. Some of the things market researchers do well:

  • They conduct market research with prospects. They seek to understand what drives prospects’ purchase decisions and perceptions about their brand. With this information, they can craft the brand, products and messages to convert those prospects into customers.
  • They conduct market research with customers. They seek to understand how satisfied customers are with their products and services, and what they can do to enhance value. With this information, they can refine product, pricing and service offerings to retain customers and increase customer value.
  • They conduct market research with employees. They seek to understand how satisfied employees are with various aspects of their relationship. With this information, they can change compensation systems, review systems, reporting structures, etc. so they can increase employee loyalty and reduce turnover.

Market researchers also gather information from various other stakeholders, including suppliers, community leaders, government officials, donors, etc., for the general benefit of obtaining a greater understand of how they can better go about their business.

With all this research going on, it is somewhat remarkable that there seems to be one void. That is in using market research to aid in employee recruitment. While HR departments may do a good job working with marketing to understand employee attitudes and perceptions, they do little in the way of understanding what would motivate potential employees to come work for them.

A Case in Point

Recently, a client – a renowned healthcare provider in Chicago that had successfully taken a customer-centric approach to develop and communicate a solid brand with patients and physicians, realized it was not satisfied with its efforts to recruit nurses.

Our client had done the basics. It had some recruitment materials. It advertised. It had an employee referral program. But it wanted to do more, especially given the shortage of nurses and the tremendous difficulty in recruiting them.

So, working with the client, we conducted market research. The objective of the research was to understand the career motivations of these professionals, and what would drive them to change jobs in general, and to come work for our client in particular.

Our first decision was to conduct focus groups, as opposed to telephone or Web-based quantitative research. Even though the groups would not yield statistically significant results, we thought it was important to be able to probe beyond closed-ended questions and find out why nurses felt and acted the way they did.

We then decided on different nursing segments to talk with. For example, we believed that younger and older nurses might have different career aspirations, and might react differently to different offers. We also thought it was necessary to talk with nursing students nearing graduation.

We conducted two groups with each of the three segments. It was important to have two groups per segment to make sure we would not have to base our thinking on one outspoken person in one group. Additionally, one group per segment was comprised of city residents; the other of suburban residents. This way, we could get different perceptions based upon travel time to the employer.

The Discussion Guides developed for the groups were designed to provide answers to three basic issues:

  • What employment environment and benefits would appeal to nurses;
  • What types of messages would appeal to them; and
  • Where nurses seek potential job information

Findings

The groups yielded a plethora of useful information. While some of it was not surprising, much of it was. We discovered, for example, that while nurses chose to be nurses to help people and not necessarily to get rich (no surprise there), we found that for one segment, once they decided to become nurses, compensation did become a driving force. We did not expect that.

Other nurses, however, were motivated primarily by schedule, with the desired schedule frequently based upon lifestage. Some nurses, in fact, wanted to work weekends. We really did not expect that. Other nurses would be driven by the department they would be working in (Emergency Department, neonatal, etc.). Important to all nurses was a positive work environment. In fact, in targeting nurses, it became clear that we could have success by targeting nurses working at organizations that were known to have poor work environments.

Finally, the client also found that there were some negative feelings about it as an organization for which to work. Rather than minimize the opinions of focus group participants, the client determined it would be important to address those perceptions head-on during the recruitment process. This would be done by changing certain things, as well as by addressing perceptions that, in reality, were not true.

Taking Action

The research led to the following actions:

  • Different employment options were designed. Nurses can now be hired and placed based upon their experience, the level of care in which they want to work, the desired patient population, location preferences and scheduling requirements.
  • A multimedia promotional campaign was created to deliver the appropriate key messages to the target segments. This included image ads and public relations efforts. Additionally, the career pages on the client’s Web site were expanded, and a new brochure also was created.
  • The employee referral bonus program was enhanced, since nurses rely upon the opinions and recommendations of other nurses when looking for jobs.

Results

The client’s efforts at understanding the needs and desires of its nurse “customers” and then developing strategies and tactics based on these items have paid off in several ways:

  • There has been a significant increase in referrals from existing staff.
  • Recruitment has been much more effective.
  • There has been a significant reduction in vacancy rates.
  • There has been a significant reduction in the time it takes to fill positions.

Additionally, because this initiative was so successful, the client applied the same process to recruit therapists.

Lessons Learned

We learned the following lessons from this project.

  • The research phase is critical. Without the information one obtains through market research, employers can only guess at how to structure employment packages and communicate with prospective employees.
  • Segmentation is essential. Just as different factors motivate consumers in their purchase decisions, different factors motivate prospective employees when choosing an employer. Therefore, employment options must be designed to appeal to the different needs of different segments of the market. Messages must be tailored to those needs and delivered through media preferred by the various segments.
  • Results will be different for different companies within an industry. Through the research, our client learned things specific to nursing in general and its organization in particular that contributed to the success of the employment options, messages and media. Prospective employees will have important perspectives on your organization and the types of vacancies you are looking to fill. So, be sure to ask questions specifically directed toward their perceptions of your organization and what would be required to entice them to work for you.


About the author

Les Stern, president of L. Stern & Associates, has more than 20 years of marketing accomplishments across several industries, including healthcare, financial services, information and technology. He holds an MBA from the University of Chicago and a BJ in journalism from the University of Missouri. For more information, call 847/205-1936 or visit http://www.lsternmktg.com/index.htm

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