This is the era of disruption – an unavoidable, sometimes uncomfortable, always immensely powerful force.  Businesses underestimate it at their peril.  But a conscious effort to harness this energy polishing an internal brand, attractive to employees, and an external brand, irresistible to customers, can reap big rewards.

Employees Ain’t Happy (Ain’t Nobody Happy)

As a marketer, you know better than most that consumers avail themselves of a wealth of information provided by fellow consumers when making purchasing decisions.  The same methods are used by job seekers.  Through social media platforms such as Twitter or LinkedIn, or dedicated online review sites like Glassdoor, potential employees can vet companies before accepting an offer of employment – or even bothering to apply.  Like it or not, your brand as an employer is an open book.

Meanwhile, prospective hires are often not just looking for work, or for a paycheck; they are looking for opportunities for self-expression, creative development, and a chance to realize personal dreams through meaningful employment.  In a very real sense, when they take a job, they are ‘hiring’ you to meet their needs as much as you are hiring them.  To compete for top talent, make sure that yours is a book these individuals want to read.

Companies that support and encourage their employees’ dreams, the engine of disruption, breed loyalty What is true of prospective employees is equally true of the already employed.  The ever-pressing corporate imperative of driving performance is colliding with a massive cohort of millennials bringing their dreams to work.  Companies that support and encourage their employees’ dreams – the engine of disruption – breed loyalty, resulting in higher profitability.  According to Towers Perrin, Intl., organizations with a highly engaged workforce increased operating income by 19.2%, while low engagement led to a 32.7% decline in operating profits.

A raft of other studies support the same conclusion: the higher the engagement level of your employees, the less likely they are to be looking elsewhere, the more likely you are to retain them, and the greater advantage the company will derive from their performance.  What could better endorse your brand as an employer than a cadre of happy, high-performing employees?

How do we develop this highly engaged workforce – the one that will drive profitability – within our own business?  The answer lies in encouraging personal disruption.

Here are a few suggestions:

Provide Stretch Assignments With Real Potential For Failure:
Encourage employees to explore dreams and ambitions, and cumulate the competence and confidence to risk playing where others aren’t – a hallmark of innovation.  People tend to rise to challenges but sink to low expectations.  Consider the tendency of even top-ranking athletic teams to play their worst games against poor-quality opponents.  Allow, or even generate, opposition.

Reward Talent Developers:
A real leader is not envious or repressive about the abilities and successes of others and would be willing to promote the person who could replace them.  Often the human resources we need are already available in-house, awaiting discovery and development; valuable managers search for and recognize untapped talent, and build morale and momentum by nurturing it.  Reward those who create that advantage.

Celebrate Strength:
Assess how well you are accessing your available talent, and redeploy employees to contribute where their strengths lie.  Speaking at a large multinational not long ago, I learned that only 5% of the attendees believed they were playing to their strengths.  How can that number be so low?  Managers are leaving an enormous quantity of human resources off the table.  Be willing to rearrange the pieces of your personnel puzzle to achieve a better fit.

Value The Step Back:
Disruption may require moving backward in order to grow.  Challenge employees to acquire new competencies by moving to tasks for which they show aptitude and potential, even if it requires temporary positioning on a lower rung.

Personal Disruption

Ensure your employees are relevant, and your brand will be too.

An alluring internal brand that attracts high-value participants to your company is an important first part of the business equation, but, of course, an attractive, high profile external brand is absolutely critical.  After all, you can’t afford to pay the employees without customers.

Disruption theory suggests a number of techniques that can help differentiate your company in a congested marketplace. They include:

Companies Don’t Disrupt; People Do:
Incorporate the guidelines for personal disruption recommended above.  If your people are stagnant, your business will be too.

Embrace The Right Kind Of Risk:
Too often, company leaders still speak in terms of competitive risk: how to go head-to-head against the competition and come out victorious.  But market risk is the real playground for disruption.  Identify a need that is not being met – potential customers that are not being served by your current offerings.  Find a way to meet this need, be the first player in this as yet undefined market, and your brand will be the one consumers associate with it.  Accept that risk, and according to the theory of disruption, your odds of success are 6x higher, and your revenue opportunity 20x greater.

Play To Your Strengths:
In the same way that individuals do best when they disrupt to areas of personal strength, so do companies. Standing out in the crowded marketplace is different than trying to ‘be’ the marketplace.  When you bring your 1-2 top strengths to work, and then use them deliberately, you are more likely to stand out.

Avoid Entitlement:
In the 1980’s, WordPerfect owned the market for word processing applications.  In the early 90’s, WordPerfect, comfortable and perhaps feeling a little entitled, hesitated to shift from DOS to Windows.  But it’s misleading to say “WordPerfect.”  The decision was made by a handful of complacent individuals in top management.  They trailed Microsoft with Windows by a year and a half, and their initial release in the new platform was dead-on-arrival.  Entitlement kills initiative.  So does stagnation.  Avoid the danger of these quiet assassins by integrating ongoing disruption as part of business strategy.

Disruption isn’t a one-time for all-time shift.  As employees have the opportunity and encouragement to disrupt themselves, your enterprise will be reinventing itself.  Encourage personal disruption, and your brand will evolve to remain fresh, appealing and relevant to prospective employees and customers alike.