Five Tips for Positively Engaging Employees in a Renaming Process

As part of a strategic overhaul of its business to jump-start its larger, faster-growing snacks business, Kellogg Co–the 117-year-old cereal manufacturer–decided to split itself into two companies. Last month, the company unveiled the two new names.

“Kellanova” will represent the larger and faster-growing snacks and plant-based foods business, while “WK Kellogg Co” will be the name of its traditional North American cereal business.

By combining the “Kell” from Kellogg with “anova,” which incorporates the Latin word “nova,” meaning new, the Kellanova name reflects the company’s past and its future, according to Kellogg. Kellogg said it had solicited suggestions from employees around the world, ultimately assessing more than 4,000 ideas before arriving at the name.

While Kellanova is certainly an interesting choice, what is more noteworthy is the decision to involve employees in the process.

Rebranding a global business is an immensely difficult and complex undertaking. As CEO Steve Cahillane himself said in an interview, renaming an institution that is a household name is a daunting task. More reason then, to bring in professional help. Naming is best led by brand strategy, creative, and linguistics experts.

But, on the other hand, involving employees and asking them to submit name candidates can foster engagement and create excitement about the upcoming change, and help make the eventual transition easier internally.

We do not know what employee participation specifically looked like for Kellogg, but a decision to include employees in name development should not be made lightly. It is not as simple as sending an email blast asking people to populate a Google Sheet with awesome ideas. The process must be managed very carefully. Failure to do so creates a very real risk of exercise back-firing, demotivating your workforce, and wasting valuable time.

Having been down this road before, here are five  tips for including employees in the naming process:

  1. Supplement a formal naming process that includes an outside agency with employee input. Your agency partner can include the employee-generated name candidates into their process, and vet them against strategic and creative criteria
  2. Provide employees with direction and criteria for name creation. It will focus their efforts and prevent a creative free-for-all that results in lists of useless names.
  3. Temper expectations, be clear upfront that it is unlikely their name suggestions will survive the screening process. This helps to combat eventual disappointment. (A related point here–professional namers know at the outset the types of names that have a higher likelihood of survival).
  4. Consider a contest in which your agency partner and the internal management team together select the top three employee generated names, regardless of eventual outcome. Those who generated the winning names could be awarded a prize and celebrated internally, boosting morale and engagement.
  5. Clearly communicate with your employee base throughout the process, addressing the process, timing, what to expect, what’s next, etc. And make sure they know the name first before it’s announced to the outside world.

There are numerous ways to engage employees prior, during, and after a rebranding. Including them in the naming process may not be an optimal tactic, given the complexity of name development and strength of other engagement tools. That being said, if done correctly, the experience can provide lift and excitement.

But who knows, you just might get a name. In the spirit of Anton Ego in Disney’s Ratatouille–not everyone can be a namer, but a great name can come from anywhere.