Many firms in healthcare design spend a great deal of time and money developing their brand image. Marketing communications departments consistently crank out elaborate and sophisticated material that highlights their firm’s great projects and significant capabilities. Fostering a strong brand image is an essential part of running just about any successful business and is often highly effective in influencing the perception of prospective clients and consumers.

Most healthcare AEC chief executives can articulate their company’s brand image with both a qualitative and sometimes quantitative assessment, evaluating, re-evaluating, and enhancing it on a consistent basis. Rightfully, the success of the business is often directly tied to management of the brand. 

However, leaders are not typically attuned to arguably the most important component of their brand, their “employer brand.” What is the employer brand? Put simply, it is the organization’s reputation as an employer. Leaders often neglect how their company is perceived by prospective employees, assuming that if their firm is successful, works on great projects, and wins design awards, their employer brand will take care of itself. They’re so wrong!

At Sanford Rose Associates, we often advise our clients that if they want to consistently attract top talent (defined as the top 20% in the industry), they must doggedly monitor and evaluate their employer brand. Like most sub industries, healthcare design, is specialized, finite, and suffers from “small world syndrome,” and events such as a key leader leaving to go with a competitor, layoffs, or losing out on a high-profile project can dramatically impact the employer brand.  


Why is employer branding important?

In just about every industry, good times or bad, a key metric for successful firms is their ability to attract and retain top talent. These are the individuals who stand above and beyond the rest; they possess the technical, collaborative, and trust-building skills sets that empower internal and external customers. These are the people who can really make a difference in an organization, driving growth, increasing profit margins, breaking down barriers, and not only developing but enhancing best practices—talent is one of the greatest advantages a company can have over its competition.

The ability and drive of one individual can have a catalytic effect on an organization, spurring other employees to work above their normal capacity, increasing positive momentum, and putting a business on the road to success. Most leaders will agree to the talent factor, but most either neglect their employer brand or employ practices that erode their employer brand.

The following are examples of employer branding neglect and common mistakes: 

  • Assessing employer brand on metrics like number of applicants and not by accepted offers by top talent;
  • Relying on the global employer brand and not recognizing that healthcare design is like politics, everything is local;
  • Relying on rankings, like “best places to work” surveys and other PR-generated propaganda that has little or no value to top talent as the sole metric for the employer brand strategy;
  • Conducting employee research and exit interviews but not using the findings to improve the organization; and
  • Having recruiting efforts conducted by various internal and unaccountable external resources that deliver a disjointed, inconsistent, and non-compelling message that erodes the employer brand with top talent.


How is top talent assessing your brand?

Most individuals in the top talent slot know their value, and they often are the most discerning when they consider any type of career move. They are typically in good standing with their current company and their value is very much recognized. With the power to either stay where they are or explore options with other potential employers, they are almost always going to choose the company that not only provides an engaging workplace where they can obtain new skills to help their career, but also that allows them to have control and flexibility, a place where they will ultimately be happy.

The kinds of companies that will catch the attention of these kinds of individuals are those with a strong employer brand, those that are known to possess a superior work culture.


How do I build my employer brand?

According to the Employer Brand Institute’s Global Research Study, the most important step in developing your employer brand is clearly defining your strategy upfront. How this strategy is defined will vary from company to company, but in almost all cases it needs to start from the inside. Some think employer branding is used mainly to attract prospective employees, but good employer branding also delivers to existing personnel, taking into account the entire employment cycle and not just recruitment.

No matter how good your image may be, if your organization’s branding stops there, you will most likely be left with employees who feel betrayed and disappointed, which will inevitably lead to low morale and, in some cases, the loss of newly acquired talent. When an organization takes this route, the result is not only wasted time and effort, but also further degradation of your employer brand when it comes to recruiting new employees.

The strategies involved in employer branding to potential employees can be surprisingly similar to those utilized in product and service branding. The only difference is that instead of marketing a service, the organization is marketing an experience. The most effective employer branding strategies involve targeting a specific audience and understanding the needs and wants of that audience.

Here are some employer branding best practices: 

  • Leaders define their employer brand and make sure all stakeholders, not just HR, are on the same page and delivering a consistent message;
  • The organization is consistently evaluating its carefully  crafted brand image and the realities of how its employer brand is perceived by the top talent;
  • Recruiting efforts should yield unbiased and candid feedback on how the employer brand is perceived by top talent in the local market;
  • All media, social and traditional, is optimized to deliver the employer brand message;
  • Recruiting efforts not only are focused on yielding accepted offers, but also on preserving and enhancing the employer brand with top talent for a future courting opportunity; and
  • Leading organizations recognize employer brand building is fluid, changing, and subject to events and local conditions. They continually monitor how the firm is perceived by top talent and look for ways to improve their culture.   

The bottom line is your company’s reputation now—not last year, not last month—is driving the flow of talent into your organization. Leading firms in healthcare design recognize this fact, continually monitoring, adapting, and improving their employer brand. They understand the value of cultures that build trust with employees and create systems that support the entire lifecycle of an employee.  Moreover, they understand that a strong employer brand leads to a strong consumer brand, and by following their lead, you, too, can turn your company into a magnate for top talent. HCD

Drew Sonier is Managing Director and Senior Partner for the Healthcare Design and Construction Practice at Sanford Rose Associates. He can be reached at

Drew Sonier's column Talking Talent offers an insider’s perspective on the value of identifying, developing, and acquiring human capital for healthcare A/E/C organizations. The column provides best practice leadership strategies for building an organization around its most important assets, while providing career development insights for those looking to build upon their own career equity.