Let’s get one thing straight. Your brand is not your logo. It’s not your packaging. And it’s certainly not your website. Your brand is the promise you strive to uphold – or exceed – with your clients every day.
But, regardless of how much you spend to build your brand in the marketplace, through advertising, PR, and a host of other activities, it will never achieve its true potential if your employees are not engaged. In fact, without your employees, your brand will always flounder.
When clients ask me how they can strengthen their brand, my first response is: start with your employees. Communicate with them and, when I say communicate, I’m not referring to issuing a newsletter or holding a town hall style meeting each month. Those vehicles are fine for conveying facts: quarterly results, customer wins and such. I’m talking about having informal discussions – in small team meetings and/or one-on-one. You’ll be surprised at what valuable things you learn.
So, there we have lesson 1: Communicate often with small groups or one-on-one.
Leaders should also make themselves accessible and visible around the office, so that employees see them as approachable, available and genuinely interested in what’s happening at the ground level.
Lesson 2: Communicate consistently and bi-directionally.
Ninety percent of leaders believe an employee engagement strategy directly affects the success of their business but less than 25% of them have a strategy. You wouldn’t leave communication with shareholders or the trade media to chance so give the same attention to your employee communications plan. Use multiple methods of communication and be sure there are opportunities for employees to provide input and feedback about your brand.
The fact is it takes a concerted, consistent effort to keep communications open and active, but the payoff is immeasurable. In fact, the Gallup poll revealed that companies with engaged employees outperform those without by more than 200%.
Lesson 3: Encourage employees to pursue their personal brand.
When employees can be their authentic selves at work, productivity and retention increase. Help your employees discover their strengths and give them opportunities to apply them. Each individual needs to understand how he or she can deliver on the corporate brand promise in a way that’s authentic.
This strategy begins at orientation. This is the time to instill the essence of your brand and begin to demonstrate what truly sets you apart from other companies and from competitors. Don’t waste a new hire’s first days, when he or she is eager to learn and excited to make connections, by forcing them to fill out endless benefit forms, complete mandatory online trainings and watch corporate videos fraught with vision and mission statements.
Instead, connect them with a mentor, schedule time for them to meet colleagues at a similar stage in their career, and point out existing opportunities for them to socialize with co-workers – perhaps a softball team or Toastmaster’s club. A study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management found employees’ relationships with their co-workers was the second highest factor related to their connection and commitment to the organization.
With longer tenured employees, prove that you’re willing to invest in their professional development by offering training, assigning them to new projects, appointing them to task forces, and affording them opportunities to cross-train.
The Payoff for Your Brand
Consider an organization with 5,000 employees – each with a network of family and friends they interact with daily. If each person serves as brand ambassador telling hundreds of acquaintances, either directly or via social media, how exceptional your company is and what great products and services you offer, in effect exuding your brand’s values, that’s tens of thousands of new brand ambassadors you’ve amassed.
Tony Hsieh, CEO of shoe giant Zappos.com, said it best, “At Zappos, our belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff—like great customer service, or building a great long-term brand, or passionate employees and customers—will happen naturally on its own. We believe that a company’s culture and a company’s brand are really just two sides of the same coin.”