Employees First, Brands Second

Authentic brands don’t emerge from marketing cubicles or advertising agencies. They emanate from everything the company does…” – Howard Schultz, Starbucks

Companies create brands, but their customers define them. The days when brands were established based on a brand promise have long since gone. Customers no longer blindly accept what the expensive advertising campaigns are portraying; they are more fickle than that. They want to know the truth behind all the media hype. For the customer, it is their real-life experience with the brand that matters; it is substance over glitz or put another way reputation over promise. Words are no longer enough; it is how the brand actually acts that is now paramount.

Brands are only authentic if the customer experience matches or exceeds the promises made in their communications. These experiences come from every single touch point that the customer has with the brand. This can be everything from advertising to on-shelf display, to user experience, to packaging to customer support. However where the rubber really hits the road is when there is real human interaction. In a world when human interactions are few and far between, when they do happen they can play a critical role in how a customer perceives the brand, not only at that moment but also from that point forward. It is an opportunity where a brand’s reputation can be destroyed in an instant or where a customer advocate can be created for life. This all comes down to and hinges on how well a company’s employee acts at this critical moment.

“To win customers — and a bigger share of the marketplace — companies must first win the hearts and minds of their employees.” – Gallup study

Very simply, if your employees are not engaged and able to convey the values of your brand, then your brand will likely fail. It won’t matter what promises you make. If your employees are not able or willing to deliver the kind of experience that the customer is looking for, then the likelihood is that you will have lost a customer. So how engaged are employees today?

The latest Gallup “State of the Global Workplace” study makes stark reading. From their executive summary, “currently, 13% of employees across 142 countries worldwide are engaged in their jobs — that is, they are emotionally invested in and focused on creating value for their organizations every day.” Of the remainder, 63% are not engaged, and 24% are actively disengaged. So potentially one quarter of the workforce could be negatively impacting the organization even when they aren’t one of the front line employees. Remember, word of mouth is the single most influential factor in establishing brand reputation. Employees cannot only share their viewpoints with friends and family, but they also have the ability to amplify their views through social media.

The study also confirms that management is aware of this. The research points out that 79% believe they have a significant retention and engagement problem with 26% seeing this as urgent.

The challenge is that this is a leadership problem and not just an HR problem, where it seems to be stuck at the moment. In fact, it is in my mind, the single biggest challenge facing the Chief Marketing Officer in the foreseeable future. As a CMO, you may not have the mandate or remit to address this on a corporate-wide basis but you can certainly put your own house in order. With responsibility for brand reputation and customer experience, you just cannot afford to ignore this. Do so at your peril.

The solution to employee engagement is connection. It is about ensuring that every employee and team member feels connected not just to the company but also to each other. The more people feel connected, the more they trust the organization and their colleagues and the more in return they can take individual responsibility for their ability to contribute. Connection requires leadership through responsibility, corporate transparency, knowledge flow, a supportive culture and respect for the individual.

There Are 5 Main Principles To Improve Employee Connection

1.  Purpose:

People need to know and understand the core purpose of the organization and to feel passionate about what the company is setting out to achieve. This purpose needs to be brought to life and embedded in everyday work life. This includes those core values that are often just words on a noticeboard. People need to be connected on an ongoing basis, and this can be achieved by sharing progress through real-time dashboards. It is about achieving integrity through transparency.

2.  Performance:

People need to be treated like adults and given responsibility for finding the best way to deliver the results that the organization is looking for. Devolve from the command and control management style by focusing on desired outcomes, rather than limiting people to specific activities and tasks. Give your colleagues respect and they will reward you with innovation and creativity. Performance is potential less interruption so take away the inhibitors and let the team thrive.

3.  People:

Get to know your people and help bring out the best in them by understanding what they are passionate about and then deploying them on projects that align with their interests, skills, and development goals. In addition, hire and encourage people who are team players who have a strong desire to help others, even when things go wrong. It is guiding your talent to find the greatest avenue for contribution that is key, and this requires knowing your colleagues and establishing a culture that encourages mutual support.

4.  Productivity:

Time or lack of time is the enemy of every modern organization. It is the one resource that you cannot make more of. Employee’s time can be constantly drained by the constant demands of update meetings and zillions of emails. Break the mold, move to a more agile and responsive work environment that is characterized by spontaneous meetings, group chats, and rapid-fire Q&As. In addition, send people home at 5 pm, it is not more hours you want but quality hours when people are best able to produce their finest work. Ensure there is an acceptable work-life balance and your employees will repay you by reducing waste, becoming more efficient and focusing on what really matters.

5.  Platform:

One of the biggest disruptors to employee connection is the fact that in almost every case, everyone is not located in the same physical office space. You will have remote workers, flexible workers, people starting early, people finishing late and people out traveling to meet customers and visit the market. It is important that you are able to bring these people together in a way that connects and bonds them together into a united team. Technology can help – replicating a physical office space and helping people connect to a single work environment. The best of these new technologies makes users feel like “they go to work” in it every day, just like going to work in a physical office. This can have a positive impact on building connections that give everyone a true sense of belonging. It also has the added advantage of encouraging more spontaneous and informal interactions to help promote innovation and drive productivity.

Helping to improve employee engagement is not going to be an end in itself. You are unlocking the potential for every employee to deliver a world-class experience, for every future interaction that an employee has with a customer from that moment forward. Establishing a well connected and engaged employee base, unlocks a sustainable competitive advantage that has a profound implication for the company’s future profitability. Great employee engagement makes a real difference to the bottom line.

Referring back to the Gallop study, they stated that; “Engaged workers are the lifeblood of their organizations. Work units in the top 25% of Gallup’s Q12 Client Database have significantly higher productivity, profitability, and customer ratings, less turnover and absenteeism, and fewer safety incidents than those in the bottom 25%.” In other sections of their study, they are able to quantify this value in real tangible commercial terms.

There is a very real issue with employee engagement, and there is a very strong commercial argument to address it. The real question is can CMOs take the lead and start the catalyst of change within both their own teams as well as the broader organization? There are a lot of employees out there just hoping that they can.