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Inspiring Your People to Live the Company Brand

Bruna Martinuzzi 

September 28, 2018

“A brand for a company,” said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, “is like a reputation for a person.” We all know that a person’s reputation is important. Everyone naturally aspires to have a good reputation – it’s something precious that we want to protect and manage.

But, when it comes to a company brand, some employees may see it as a marketing initiative, a sort of slick promotion to generate more sales. So, if a company asks all of its employees to “live” the brand, those employees may think of it as management asking them to be inauthentic, or to act as clones.

Employees who hold such views may resist a company’s attempts to turn them into “brand ambassadors.” Some may even deride the whole notion as just “rubbish.” In short, they may feel that issues involving the company brand are not an internal concern; that the brand has nothing to do with them or their everyday jobs.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Employees are an integral part of a company brand, whether they’re creating products, delivering services, or interacting with customers. A brand is essentially a promise, and all employees need to align with the company’s promise. If there is a disconnect between what you promise to your customers, and what your customers experience at the hands of your employees, your reputation suffers. And, ultimately, you suffer financially, too.

That means it’s vital that all of your employees, not just the star performers, get on board and believe in and respect the brand.

So, how can you, as an HR or organizational development professional, overcome the challenge of inspiring those who resist getting on board? These ideas might be helpful:

1. Be Crystal Clear About Your Company Brand

The company brand may be evident to the owners, senior executives, or managers who had a hand in crafting it. But it may not be apparent to frontline employees. How can those employees adjust their behaviors to mirror the company brand if they don’t precisely know what the brand is, and what the company expects of them?

Let’s consider an example. I once consulted for a small company whose brand motto was “All support, no walls.” This motto referred to one of the values that shaped the company brand when it first started. However, through interviews, it became clear that only those at the senior level, and those who had been employees of the company for many years, understood what the brand motto stood for: it promoted transparency and knowledge sharing, both externally with customers, and internally, with employees. Most of the other employees just saw it as a nice slogan, with only a vague idea of what it meant. So, of course, everyone made up their interpretation.

You can avoid this by making sure that your brand characteristics are crystal clear for every person in the organization, from the boardroom to the boiler room. Make sure that you educate all new hires about the brand.

For the company in our example, we organized meetings to explain what the brand truly meant, with tangible examples of behaviors that exemplified every aspect of it. “No walls” meant, among other things, that:

  • Sales people were expected to share their prospects list.
  • Technical people were encouraged to share shortcuts and other know-how.
  • Hoarding of information was contrary to the company’s ethos.
  • No sacred cows were allowed – all topics should be discussed openly and honestly.

2. Reward People Who Live the Brand

It’s safe to say that what gets rewarded generally gets done. The same applies to employees who live the brand. Look for opportunities to reward them. This reinforces the behavior that you want to promote, and acts as an inspiration to others.

In our example, above, we held a brainstorming session asking employees to come up with ideas for steps that they could take to make the “All support, no walls” company motto actionable. One team suggested creating a knowledge bank.

The bank included all sorts of practical information, such as step-by-step instructions on how to accomplish specific tasks. It also included lessons learned from the many projects that the team managed. Everything was posted on the company intranet, and it inspired staff in other departments to do the same.

The team received a bonus to reward them for living the company brand.

3. Educate People on the Value of Corporate Branding

It’s easy to discount the notion of a brand if people see it only as a marketing ploy. So, help people to understand its importance. There is much research that attests to the fact that a consistently strong company brand can:

  • Promote trust in the company’s products or services.
  • Build loyalty and help to retain existing customers.
  • Attract new customers through referrals.
  • Enable a company to stand out from the competition.
  • Create financial value.

Educate employees on the ROI of a strong brand, and help them to see how it connects to their success. For example, a financially healthy company is a more viable company, and everyone benefits. As a minimum, it secures jobs. Moreover, as a company grows, so do the opportunities for its employees to develop and grow in their careers.

4. Make People Feel Like Owners

I used to patronize a small yoga studio close to my house. The studio employed four people. One evening, I was leaving the studio a little later than usual. It was closing time and, on my way out, I noticed that all of the employees had gone home, and the visibly tired owner was cleaning the mats.

I asked her why she cleaned the mats herself, rather than have one of her employees do it. She said, “No one would care to do it as well.”

The question is, how do you get people to care?

Build Trust

Treating employees as trusted “owners” rather than hired hands is a good start. I’d noticed that employees in the studio did not seem particularly happy to be there – perhaps because the well-meaning owner was often hovering over them.

Micromanaging employees makes them feel that they are not trusted. And, employees who don’t feel they are trusted to do a good job may end up giving only the minimum required to survive in the position. They may not give of their discretionary effort. It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy at play.

On the other hand, if you show people that you expect them to perform well, they may prove you right – as illustrated by the famous Pygmalion Effect. Hire the right people, provide them with the training they need, and trust that they will live the brand by doing a good job for you.

Make Every Job Important

Tom Peters, an American management guru and author, once told a story of a hospital that specializes in cancer treatment. A media interviewer asked the head housekeeper at the hospital what her job was. She replied, “I help to cure cancer.” A leader at the hospital had connected the dots for the housekeeper, making her feel that the job she and her co-workers did was an essential part of the mission of the hospital, which was to help people get cured. And rightly so, as housekeepers help to create a clean and pleasant environment that adds to a patient’s well-being.

Many years ago, I worked for a textile company in London. Whenever someone important visited the office, the owner made a point to introduce any employees who were around, regardless of our position. It made us feel important, too.

Involve People in Your Company Promotions

Another way to make your people feel important is to make sure they feel involved. Include them in your marketing materials. Add their photos to the company website. Feature them in your videos. All of these actions send a signal that they are valued, and that you are proud of your people.

5. Hire the Right Fit for Your Brand

Aligning your employees with your brand needs to start at the time of hire. Let’s say your company is a boutique hotel that prides itself on its customer service. You need to staff your hotel with employees who are warm, friendly and approachable; people who have a ready smile and know how to make guests feel at ease.

It’s safe to say that those who don’t much like working with people would not be a good fit to work in your hotel. What’s more, presenting a positive face for the job requires a certain amount of emotional labor. For example, staff may need to smile every time they interact with a customer, even when they don’t feel much like smiling.

If the people you hire are not naturally inclined to do this, you would be starting off with a challenge. The misalignment between their natural disposition and the requirements of the job would cause them unnecessary stress. And you may have a challenge getting this individual to “live” the hotel’s brand, because the employee in question would not feel authentic.

A better way is to select the people who are great matches for your brand. Consider not just the skills or knowledge that they need, but also – where appropriate – their temperament and personality.

6. Show and Tell

Finally, it’s essential not only to tell employees what is required to live the brand, but also to show them. This means leading by example, day in and day out.

A grocery chain where I live has this as their brand motto: “We go the extra mile.” Every employee who works at the stores pledges to go the extra mile.

The managers and supervisors also pledge to go the extra mile and model the way for their employees. This might mean not just pointing out the location of an item when a customer asks, but walking with them to find it. Or, it could mean listening with empathy to a customer’s complaint, without interrupting. Employees who see how their leaders live the brand are more likely to be inspired to do it themselves.

How does your organization encourage its employees to “live the brand”? Share your experiences in the Comments box, below.

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