When asked about employee engagement not long ago, a CEO who was embarking on a brand repositioning told me his employees were absolutely engaged and could be relied upon to be strong brand ambassadors. How did he know this? The most recent employee satisfaction survey showed that a majority of employees were, in fact, satisfied.
What this CEO and many others in the B2B space don’t realize is that satisfied employees are not necessarily engaged employees. And an organization that is about to reposition a brand must make sure employees are part of the process so that afterwards they can articulate and deliver on the brand promise. Employee engagement means bringing a brand to life across all of its interactions with customers. It means having them use a well-defined set of brand attributes as a filter for decision making in their day-to-day responsibilities. It requires helping employees understand what a brand is, why it’s important to the organization, what it stands for and how its story will be told to its audience.
Companies that do this well — General Electric, McKinsey & Co., to name two — internalize and operationalize their brands. Internalization means communicating the brand to all employees. Operationalizing is training-based. It ensures the brand is infused into all functional areas of the company and is used as a driver for decision-making in employee’s day-to-day responsibilities. Both make employees excited about living the brand. Both demonstrate the value to employees — the critical “what’s in it for me?” factor — and to the company.
Employees must have clear expectations, resources, and support to deliver on a brand promise. And most importantly — they must be inspired to do it. A few best-practice tips:
- Get employees involved in the repositioning effort. Companies often see brand strategy as a high-level executive activity, choose to keep it close to the executive team and then do a big reveal to the organization at the very end of the process. It is far better to be transparent from the start, involve employees along the way, help them understand the journey, and seek their voice by involving them in the research, capturing their perspectives, and vetting their hypotheticals with customers. People are much more likely to implement what they have helped create rather than something they are given.
- Include everyone. It’s important to include those “onstage”: employees who actually interact with customers — and “backstage”: those without direct customer interactions. I liken it to a play. The actors are onstage interacting with the audience, engaging them with their lines and their passion for the play. But the show would not go on without those backstage — costume, lighting, makeup, rigging — who have a huge role in how the audience sees the show. Make sure everyone knows his or her role is important to living the brand.
- Share information in many different ways. Different people learn in different ways. Some learn by reading, some by listening, and some by experiencing. Some want to hear from authority figures; others are more influenced by peers. In designing an effective employee engagement strategy always use a variety of different media and communicators to maximize the reach of your efforts
- Break the mold. Look for new and different ways to communicate and train that aren’t deemed the same old same old methods employees are bombarded with every day. Create a theme and a graphic that allows communications and training sessions to hang together as a whole and break through the clutter of other messages vying for their attention. Get creative!
- Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Most people need to hear and experience information several times before they can really understand it. The most successful organizations engage employees around the brand into perpetuity — infusing it into hiring, onboarding, performance and compensation, budgeting, strategic planning, and so forth, to ensure its stickiness.
- Make sure organizational leaders model brand behavior. Your employees will listen to what leadership has to say but they will really look at what leadership does. If they see leaders’ actions that are inconsistent with the words, they will believe the actions. Walking the talk is a must.
- Tell each employee exactly how he or she can support the brand. It isn’t enough to tell employees to be friendly or innovative. Everyone will interpret these attributes in a different way. Each employee needs to understand his or her role in delivering the brand promise. The best practice is to facilitate each work group or functional area to help them work this out for themselves — helping them define on-brand actions relevant to their role in the organization.
- Build in reward and consequences. Once people know what they need to do support the brand — those that exhibit exemplary on-brand behaviors should be publicly rewarded and those that don’t must have the training and coaching needed to get them on board.
- Provide feedback mechanisms. No plan is perfect. However well you think through implementation there will be issues. Be sure to build a plan with good feedback mechanisms but understand that changing a plan is not failure; it’s healthy adaptation.
Developing a brand strategy is just the beginning; it’s meaningless if it isn’t followed by excellent implementation. Employees need to know what the brand stands for, believe its positioning – or repositioning — and know what they need to do to bring the brand to life.
That CEO I referenced earlier would be glad to hear that giving his workforce that knowledge and power would serve to boost employee satisfaction even more.