Addressing the Optimal Distinctiveness Problem by Changing HR Strategy and Practice in a Global and Local Company

Published on 1 December 2022

Graeme Martin's research has been at the forefront in enabling board-level executives resolve problems with new HR strategies and practices.

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HR strategy and practice in a Swedish-headquartered multinational and a fast-growing, local SME have been significantly changed as a direct result of Graeme Martin’s HR-focused research with colleagues into innovative strategic HR and corporate governance, organizational trust, employer branding and employee engagement. His research has been at the forefront in enabling board-level executives in these companies resolve key reputational, talent management and employee engagement problems with new HR strategies and practices. 

The research

All organizations are tasked with addressing the optimal distinctiveness paradox – balancing the need to have a different business model and identity with the need to be same as others in the sector If organizations are unable to resolve this paradox, typically they fail to differentiate themselves in relevant product and labour markets. This failure is especially evident in hi-tech firms’, which become unable to attract, engage and retain high value adding and scarce employees, arguably their most important resource. Thus, creating a virtuous circle between innovative talent management and organizational reputations in hi-tech firms has become critical to their sustainable success – high quality people create reputations while reputation attract high quality people. Exploring these links between corporate reputations, branding, trust and innovative HR strategies and practices has been a major focus of Graeme Martin’s work over the past two decades or more, since publishing his first report on employer branding for the CIPD in 2002 and the first book linking corporate reputations, branding and people management in 2005. Since 2014, he has undertaken a sustained program of research, impact activity and public engagement in the UK and Sweden, leading to outputs in refereed international journals and books/ book chapters that help academics and practitioners understand the corporate reputation-talent management relationship. This work has produced novel theory in corporate reputation management, employer branding, corporate governance and HR, employee engagement, organizational identification and trust dynamics. As a result, his research with colleagues has been, and continues to be, influential with policy and practice in organizations.

The impact

Impact on Getinge’s HR Branding and Engagement Strategies and Practice

Martin’s research with Katie Sinclair helped change strategic HR during 2018-20 in Getinge, a Swedish-headquartered multinational medical technology company employing 16,000 people. He facilitated a 2-day strategy development workshop in March 2018 with Getinge’s senior HR team, which critiqued existing strategy and led to a new corporate HR strategy based on R1, R4 and R5. This enabled the HR team to re-align their corporate identity with local employees’ expectations and identities in subsidiaries. 

Following these sessions, Martin and Sinclair were invited to help Getinge redesign their bi-annual employee engagement survey in April 2019 as a way of understanding employees’ identification with the corporation. Drawing directly on Martin’s employer branding, HR innovation and trust research, Getinge’s HR team changed their approach to assessing employee engagement in 2019-20 by using focused ‘pulse surveys’ and qualitative interventions rather than large-scale corporate surveys. These focused approaches were designed and implemented by Martin and Sinclair, which also involved an extensive programme of internal qualitative research with 80 interviews in 10 plants in Sweden, Germany and the USA during 2019, so evidencing significant reach. The interviews pointed to trust-building and employee identification as necessary elements of Getinge’s new HR strategy. These changes followed the researchers’ extensive in-company qualitative analysis of trust/ mistrust dynamics and employee identification, acknowledged formally by Dr Magnus Lundback, VP for HR).

Impact on Waracle’s Scaling-up Process

Martin’s research findings also led to strategic OD and HR change in Waracle, a rapidly-growing mobile app development and IOT company, based locally in Dundee. Martin worked consistently with Waracle’s executive team from October 2017-July 2020, advising on: (a) the OD and HR problems resulting from rapid scale-up, and (b) new HR policies, changed organizational structures and processes. Martin conducted an extensive programme of internal interviews and surveys over three years to help senior managers develop new policies on talent management, employee engagement and corporate identity. This research has enabled Waracle to enhance its reputation as a leading employer of high value-adding and scarce developers in the UK. Martin has also mentored the new HR Director, helping her introduce advanced methods of selection, appraisal and flexible working to improve Waracle’s reputation.

Waracle’s HR Director reflected: As Waracle have grown and developed we have faced growing pains in employee branding strategy, talent management and integrating different sites in our journey to become the UK leader in the field of mobile app development. Graeme’s research on HR and corporate reputation, and his continued work and advice for us over the past three years has been essential to us scaling-up very quickly and preparing us to attract and retain talented developers. Having a reputation as a top-class employer is absolutely essential for us to grow sustainably, nationally and internationally”. Waracle’s rapid growth is evidenced with a  listing of 82 in the Financial Times Fast Tech Trak 100 Companies of fastest growing UK tech companies, with employment rising from 10 employees in 2017 to nearly 300 in 2022, located in offices in Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh and London. 

Public Engagement Leading to Wider Impact

Martin has also presented his research at eight major events during 2014-21 to HR managers in the UK, Sweden and Australia, which has extended the reach of his impact. One example is his appointment from 2018 as academic advisor and visiting professor at the Centre for Global HRM a leading university-industry HR collaboration in Sweden funded by organizations including Volvo and Astra Zeneca. The co-director of the Centre wrote on 12/09/20: ‘Your engagement with our business partners in the Centre is certainly creating an impact on how organizations such as Sahlgrenska Hospitals and Region Västra Götaland, two of our largest employers, think about HR and leadership strategy’

Story category Research