Every business leader wants a strong brand. Why? Higher sales volumes through brand loyalty; more profitable margins through premium charging and talent attraction through increased awareness. These three simple reasons which immediately spring to mind, create enough of a compelling case alone.
So why is it that so many leaders get priorities wrong when it comes to employer branding? Typically they delegate ownership beneath its true place of belonging which should be at at board level. Brand creation simply can’t be done by marketing and PR departments alone. Instead of a silo approach with different departments handling their respective parts, every single employee from shop floor through to board level has a critical role to play in delivering a brand promise. Those companies that enshrine this approach in everything they do create highly engaged employees. These employees are more productive, create better customer experiences, and are more likely to remain with their employers.
We judge based on actions, not words. Experiences, not promises
Smart business leaders realise, therefore, that by developing a highly engaged workforce they can inspire employees to become everyday (and quite often every night in some sectors!) brand ambassadors. According to Edelman’s Trust Barometer, customers trust employees more than a marketing message or a statement from a CEO. That is to say, they perceive this to be the most authentic interaction with a brand. It’s true. We judge based on actions, not words. Experiences, not promises. Those brand-orientated businesses, by using solid metrics, can identify a clear correlation between highly engaged workforces and profit generation.
There is of course, substantial work already being done in this field. Gallup’s employee engagement work is based on more than 30 years of in-depth behavioural economic research involving more than 17 million employees. Gallup has identified twelve core elements; the Q12, that link powerfully to key business outcomes.
These statements emerged as those that best predict employee and team performance:
- Do you know what is expected of you at work?
- Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right?
- At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
- In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
- Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
- Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
- At work, do your opinions seem to count?
- Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?
- Are your colleagues committed to doing quality work?
- Do you have a (best) friend at work?
- In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
- In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?
Employer branding can positively influence the answers employees give to each of these questions. The Holy Grail being unanimous “I strongly agree” sentiment.
Brand influences culture. Culture influences operations. Operations provide the right structure to get everything right. Look how many questions are connected to an effective line-manager simply spending quality time with those they are responsible for. Look how many relate to regular internal communications. Without these basic internal building blocks, employee engagement plummets. And so does profitability.
At best, this is a missed opportunity. At worst it can be a negative, destructive influence. Employer branding really matters.
Gallup asked in another poll “I know what my company stands for and what makes our brand different from our competitors.” Only 41% of employees strongly agreed with this statement. This means that 59% (of the 3000 people surveyed) didn’t truly understand the core brand proposition of the organisation they worked for. At best, this is a missed opportunity. At worst it can be a negative, destructive influence.
How can your team deliver on a brand promise if they aren’t clear about what it is? And if they don’t understand it then forget about your customers doing so. If you aren’t joining up these dots internally, you are failing as a leader or a manager.
Edelman’s Engage study earlier this year asked:
Which of the following outcomes of engagement do you currently measure in your engagement research activities?
The top answer was ‘Pride in organisation’ (85%) yet the bottom answer was ‘Delivery of your brand promise’ (30%). The wider pattern is a tangible HR and operational bias rather than brand and customer-centric measurement thinking. Seemingly, 70% don’t care.
The solution is an evolving journey of internal brand education. No longer shall hygienic brand values remain hidden on a web page or within a bronze frame in the CEO’s office or behind reception. They need to be owned, lived daily and breathed with regular ferocity in every nook and cranny of an organisation. The brand proposition needs to be shared and promoted well beyond business development and marketing teams. It need to be carved deeply into HR, operations and frontline delivery. Until it is first instinct and then second nature. This could be the creation of a solid on-boarding structure. Or it could be ensuring that regular ‘Town Halls’ and meetings include brand-centred discussion. The question always being – “Why are we here?”
At Studio North we always take a step back when we get a request to discuss a single linear rebrand ‘project’. If, as a leader, you see it as something that starts, then stops and the end conclusion is a new website, logo or more, you’ve simply misunderstood the opportunity. Branding is an ongoing process that supercharges all workforces into the highly engaged category. If you want to find out more how we look at employer branding, or have any thoughts please drop me a line on Michael@studionorth.co.uk
- Think how your brand values can support the basic fundamentals of employee engagement in practice. The best answers can often come from the workforce itself so why not create internal champions to own different values.
- Ensure your brand proposition is widely understood creating a company-wide business development culture. Everyone can be part of your sales funnel.
- Involve colleagues in every aspect of a rebrand programme, ensuring views are listened to and considered carefully. If they feel part of the process, they’ll buy into the outcomes. It pays to instruct an external agency to facilitate such consultation as we are expert at extracting ‘the good, the bad & the ugly’.
- Bring your brand values into the hiring process. Skills can often be trained but values are usually a pretty fixed asset within an individual DNA. We don’t advocate employing an army of identical robots but employees of a similar mindset are more likely to stick around and perform.
- Don’t underestimate the pace of evolution within an organisation. If you aren’t paying attention to your employer branding strategy on a quarterly basis at very least, you might blink and wake up to a different business one day. Typically, disconnected silo mentality from team to team.