March 28, 2012
In Part 1 I listed the issues poisoning and undermining the engagement landscape.
1. Measure what you treasure: We’ve criticised the measurement industry which has grown up around employee engagement, largely on the grounds that the processes are all too often too cumbersome and there’s far too great a lag between recognition of the problem and action. When directors are obsessed with quarterly reporting and expect to move on every couple of years, what’s the use of a bi-annual staff survey?
We’ve also spoken in the past however, about the need for some form of measurement to win round the left-brained, data-worshipping cynics and to create a stake in the ground from which improvement can be tracked.
It’s far better however, to ask a few powerful questions and take swift action to address the issues highlighted. It sends out a signal that the leaders care, especially if they can see swift results. After all, there’s usually time to dig deeper at a later stage and to involve more people in that process.
2. Pull together a brand coalition: Sustainable brands are built on sustainable stakeholder involvement inside and out and side to side. Constructing and maintaining a united and consistent picture of the business is very important if the business is to back up the promises made about the brand. This can’t happen in isolation, however, and needs at least HR; Marketing and Comms working in concert to address the process and behavioural challenges.
3. Think beehive, think culture: I can’t think of a board room where “the way we do things” isn’t tabled daily. Yet so few attempt to clarify what that means in practice, usually fearing the consequences of shaking the beehive. Organisations are the sum of the behaviour of the people who work for them. You can’t engage people unless you understand them. Involvement is key to engagement, so find a way to understand the current norms and then work with the decision makers to create a compelling picture of the culture required to deliver the goals, strategy and vision and an engagement programme to bring it to life, role modelling that desired culture as you go. If in doubt, ask a trusted advisor to lend a hand in shaping and facilitating the journey.
4. Lead by example: It’s tough at the top. But that’s what you’re paid for. Remember how you used to look to your leaders for cues about how to behave, and how not to? That never changes. Yes, organisations have had to adapt to prevailing social norms and become more democratic and affiliative in leadership style. So-called social media and the communication revolution is going to ensure that this trend continues. The modern manager simply has to lad by example if they’re to sustain a career within a sustainable business. Values-based leadership is a powerful development strategy, as is mentoring and hugely cost-effective. These are tough times but how are leadership development budgets or even personal development budgets being spent where you work? And what’s the opportunity cost of a disengaged workforce?
5. Appreciate the power of appreciative comms: Last but not least, conscripted armies of favourites don’t build sustainable brands. Cynics don’t destroy them either. Brands are undermined by a million small cuts; insidiousness and passivity leading to what I call “creeping brand death” like the spreading darkness in The Never Ending Story. The thriving brands, however, have champions everywhere in all shapes and sizes who feel connected because they believe in what they’re hearing via the internal communication channels and their values resonate with what they experience at work not just what they hear the leaders saying. So be appreciative and start actively seeking out examples of best practice behaviour that exemplifies the business you want to see and celebrate it. Good news is infectious, especially in dark days.
If you would like to know more about the detail underpinning these 5 approaches which are all based upon recent case studies or would prefer a confidential chat about the engagement issues you’re facing, please contact Ian.
British branding establishment figure, Wally Ollins claims in a Marketing Week article that “It’s too late for BA ‘To fly. To serve’ when you’re in a tailspin”, criticising their latest, timeline-based advertising campaign.
Wally alleges that: “The problem for BA and, for that matter, most European and all American airlines is that they have become cold, mechanistic and absolutely uninterested in their passengers.” Fairly punchy stuff on the one hand.
“Fine for internal morale….leave us passengers out….”!?
I’m afraid this is the perpetual minefield for the external-facing brand fraternity which includes Wally, namely the persistent notion that employee engagement with brand is somehow consigned to morale building, push communication or internal advertising.
Speaking from the standpoints of passenger, engagement and change consultant with intimate knowledge of BA and as a brand specialist, I have to admit to finding his comments puzzling.
Firstly, I agree that the advertisement is clever. I know from past and current experience that brands with a legacy have a potent opportunity to provide a sense of stability in troubled times. Wherever possible, especially during mergers and acquisitions or periods of major change I urge my clients to embrace and respect the history of the brands involved. People retreat to the comfort of the known during troubled times, the village and the homely embrace of trusted values and associations. Consumers and employees alike are comforted by heritage and “stickability”and seek out islands of stability when the cold winds of economic misfortune blow. Brands with a rich heritage like BA, should be valuing and re-communicating that heritage. After all, Virgin recently did the same regardless of the fact that their roots extend only as far as the 80s. And is it a coincidence that the tv series Pan Am, about a long-lost and much lamented brand, has become a hit now?
I disagree that the BA campaign is largely irrelevant for customers and much more relevant for BA employees. Of course BA has to back up their service promise. It’s patently wrong to suggest that the advertising campaign is primarily for the benefit of BA employees, however. I’ve been vociferous in my own cries for the BA leaders to do much more than simply “show their employees the adverts” as internal engagement is a more subtle art, requiring very different approaches to convince the harshest of critics that the leaders are listening, consulting and acting to preserve an organisation and brand they hold dear. But at least they’re taking brand engagement seriously and are seemingly investing accordingly.
It’s obvious that the airline industry is in turmoil and has been for some time. Banker bashing has overtaken airline strike spotting as the business media’s favoured sport. But it wasn’t that long ago that I hosted a debate between some of the leading airline brands at Interbrand hq in which it emerged that the impact of bargain-basement airlines; short-termism and obsession with quarterly shareholder reporting had become the biggest risks to the industry.
Contrary to what Wally’s article implies, I don’t believe the blanket negative caricature of BA employees he portrays. Yes, the airline industry would benefit from a refresh, even if that has to be a brand at a time. But BA is still one of the most beloved brands of these British isles and to a large extent, the problems the BA brand faces are synonymous with the trouble brand Britain finds itself in. And we know what happens when Brits are backed into a corner.
Sure, the BA leadership could do with some help re-connecting with their stakeholders inside and out. Yes, they would do well to explore the fabulous engagement initiatives of the past. Of course they should listen with open minds to the opinions of the marcomms critics, their customers and employees. Yet they do need to be applauded for investing and taking risks at a time when most board rooms are content to hunker down and ride out the economic storm. Most of all, they’re absolutely right to look back in order to move forward.
Plan A at M&S (because there can be no plan B)
Back at the start of the year, I facilitated the first in a series of executive networking breakfasts, this time featuring Mike Barry, Head of Sustainable Business
Mike wouldn’t call himself an iconoclast. But the first of many myths he debunked over the croissants was the notion that a corporate conscience was somehow a luxury for the boom times. A sustainable brand embraces the full range of stakeholders, inside and out, engaging the key communities with a compelling vision and conveying a genuine sense of corporate responsibility reflected in both the value set they project and the behaviour they demonstrate.
The evolution of sustainability at M&S covered the philanthropic and fair trade touchstones we would all expect. It is an extension of the CEO’s vision of the growing power of customer and NGO communities. And it is a powerful motivator for managing reputation risk. But few of the gathered executives listening to Mike’s story could have expected that the drivers of sustainability within M&S now include:
- continuously managing down their cost base
- the increasing power of customers and the citizenship movement, liberated by new media and powerful communication tools
- the impulse to stay ahead of the competition who in many cases are adopting an increasingly visionary stance and often seeking to differentiate themselves as brands who are sustainable, focused on all stakeholder groups and are here to stay
- the need to continuously drive innovation through engagement or run the risk of being undermined by a disruptive, game-changing development in their core market
As most businesses tiptoe tentatively into 2012, organisations across sectors are under unprecedented pressure given the ongoing turmoil in world markets. Leaders are under fire as never before and they need all their stakeholders on side, acting as advocates for the brand. To achieve this they have to encourage inspirational and silo-busting thinking. Yet the notion that developing a culture of sustainability detracts from the day job or is a complicated or complex process is the second of the major myths undermined during the discussion.
Mike highlighted the following key milestones in the development of their strategy:
- the appointment of a self-managing role-model champion or catalyst
- the close integration of what we refer to as the brand trilogy of Communications; HR and Marketing working in harmony with the core team
- having a strategy and a plan (an overlapping 5 year one in this case)
- focusing on a consistent set of key metrics accessible to all, especially line managers
- linking a significant percentage of reward to the programme
- clear leadership, sponsorship and role-modelling from the top
- sharing and reinforcing best practices through supporting communication
- creating a compelling brand for the programme
- creating a network of local champions to re-educate; engage and drive “viral change”
- engaging, educating and inspiring stakeholders across the 4 Cs: community; colleagues; customers and corporate
- focusing minds on a few high-profile engagement events but encouraging local initiative, empowerment and innovation
To a large extent, Mike was preaching to the converted. Stakeholder integration has always been at the heart the Brand Engagement philosophy. But even the assembled group of like minds couldn’t fail to be impressed by the multi-million pound financial benefits the M&S management information system has directly attributed to their Plan A sustainability strategy. The scale of tangible benefits represents quite a compelling business case for the doubters, especially in a downturn and that’s before a value is attributed to the so-called intangibles like employee engagement levels; customer advocacy and good will.
Needless to say, the questions from the floor ranging from “how to simplify the engagement process” through to “how to adapt the programme for a global audience” and the resulting discussion could easily have filled the day. We’ll be pleased to share the outputs and insights at greater length if you drop us a line. Better still, join us at a future meeting of the Executive Breakfast club.
On this occasion we were pleased to be joined by my Brand Engaged colleagues and senior executive contacts from the following brands: Pfizer; British Library; Barclays; HSBC; John Lewis; RBS; Fujitsu; McDonalds; Tullow Oil; Vodafone and Rio Tinto.
* If you’re interested in the noton of sustainability, values and mutuality take a look at this editon of Ian’s People Management blog
“Public-sector cutbacks”, “corporate re-sizing”, “brand relaunches”, “values implosions”; “threats of strike action”: yes, we’re knee deep in massive change again. And there’s nothing quite like the threat of change to test the mettle of your leaders and the tolerance of your employees.
If leadership is partly about inspiring a community of individuals to undertake a collective endeavour, then stories are essential to articulate that vision. Noel Tichy in his book The Leadership Engine remarks that: “The best way to get humans to venture into unknown terrain is to make that terrain familiar and desirable by taking them there first in their imagination.”
Further, writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry remarked that: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
When a leader inspires, he or she breathes life and energy into their followers. When we reflect on the extraordinarily motivating speeches Winston Churchill made, it’s clear that no amount of PowerPoint (had it existed) and no amount of consultancy or accountancy models would ever have had the effect of his well-chosen words. And Martin Luther King had a dream, he didn’t have a change goal and wasn’t at a critical point of inflection. Or was he?
The results of a study at London Business School show how much of the message we retain depends on the vehicle of communication.
• Statistics = 5-10%
• Statistics and Story = 25-30%
• Story = 65-70%
And the moral of this story is that if you are delivering the “who we are” (brand identity), “where we’re going” (mission/vision), ”what culture we need” and “how we’re going to get there” (strategy) piece, then don’t rely too much on statistics alone to land the message. As Ian illustrates in the case studies in Brand Engagement, involve people, paint pictures, provide a context, use metaphors, bring challenges to life use live forum theatre and empowering communal problem solving, take responsibility for the emerging narrative and work towards the best possible outcome for all groups.
Engagement, regardless of the subject matter, relies on achieving resonance between corporate and individual values. Unless that resonance is there, there’s no psychological contract, people won’t relax and be themselves and employees simply won’t go the extra mile and invest that little bit more that may just make the difference.
This is most definitely the time to reflect on the story of the foundations as well as the evolution of your organisation and where your people fit into that narrative to create a culture that positively supports rather than resists change.
Ian writes: I was more delighted than usual to recently receive a card from the leadership team of a particular client company who have had more than their fair share of challenges, most of which would put the usual corporate change travails to shame.
The Northern Ireland Tourist Board was one of the brand development case studies I featured in Brand Champions.
I’m sure I don’t have to labour the difficulties they have faced in turning around stakeholder perspectives about visiting their country.
I’m sure I don’t really have to mention the impressive advertising and marketing campaign they have embarked upon to chart the re-awakening of that beautiful part of these islands as you’ve doubtless seen it already.
I possibly don’t even have to point out the huge leaps forward Belfast has made as a City destination of choice; or the way the pride of the people of Northern Ireland has blossomed as they have grown in confidence and joined together to embrace the future, regardless of the hostile financial backdrop or ever-testing political landscape.
What you probably don’t appreciate, however, is that the transformation of the Northern Ireland brand started and has been continuously role-modelled from within. Alan Clarke and his team at the tourist board have been on a journey of transformation that has ensured that they walk the advertising talk in terms of the values, behaviours and culture they cultivate and perpetuate when they’re promoting their national brand. They are passionate about delivering on the brand promise and are now rightly proud of the fact that they can invite visitors to share in their stories, a far cry from the bitterness of the past.
It’s incredibly heartening to see the fledgling signature projects like the Giant’s Causeway re-development and Titanic exhibition come to life as planned and to witness the passion, confidence and pride with which they are being promoted. That wouldn’t have been possible without the internal engagement signature projects which gave the brand refresh its backbone by leading with the values and transforming the corporate culture. Many congratulations to the senior leadership team and your colleagues for what has been a real team effort throughout.
Take a look at the NITB website to see what’s happening in Northern Ireland in 2012, experience a dose of positivity and to witness a brand flourishing from within.
If you haven’t visited yet, you really don’t know what you’ve been missing.
Out-takes from our Brand Engaged breakfast with Professor David Clutterbuck and executives from leading brands.
They exaggerate those marketers do. Brand building is clearly less about the colourful and shiny stuff and more about cultivating the behaviour you need to keep the promises made by the business. This means understanding what underpins that behaviour, celebrating best practices and addressing performance problems.
It also implies some form of critique.
Yet in the shadow of the nanny state that spawned the non-competitive school sports day, criticism somehow became a dirty word. It’s still usually accompanied by raised eyebrows and notes raised on personnel files if uttered in a corporate context. But I’m pleased to say that we reclaimed the c-word at breakfast this week, when a seasoned group of senior practitioners drawn from across sectors acknowledged and celebrated the importance of real, constructive dialogue to brand building from within.
To my mind, critical has always implied balanced critique. It’s all about the motive. If intent and style are clearly positive, critical conversations can be well-rounded encounters of huge importance. Clearly, however, culture and context are key.
It’s no surprise that the enquiries into the collapse of many high-profile financial services brands are belatedly highlighting the effect that command and control norms had on entire executive teams, blinkering their leaders and leading to some devastating decisions with catastrophic consequences not only for the brands themselves but global communities.
David Clutterbuck has spent 40 years or so studying and striving to improve the quality of conversations and dialogue within organisations. He has written over 50 books in that time (!) and has another on the way. During his talk he shared many examples of the impact of re-wiring the norms of dialogue that become ingrained within corporate culture. These ranged from his work with the police and household brands like Asda through to the transformation of conversations during board meetings by building in more time for consideration and reflection; building more respectful relations by borrowing time normally spent posturing and speech-making.
David reminded the group of the difference between the transactional elements of conversations (the task) and transformational (relationship development) and the impact that remote working and time-poor decision-making can have.
He shared 7 types of transformational conversation and 5 levels of all-important listening in a way that was easily accessible and actionable. But perhaps most importantly for the assembled group of senior executives, he emphasised the vital role of internal change agents who, through a mixture of leading by example and influence, were in roles where a large proportion of the power to transform the communication culture from within rested with them.
During the discussion David encouraged the HR and communication functions in particular to cultivate a suite of “bloody awkward questions” in order to overcome some of the barriers to more powerful dialogue. He also called for these functions to cultivate cultures in which 4 core conversations happen daily:
- “Who am I, what do I stand for and where am I going”? Some would call this a personal branding conversation within the head of the employee and largely reserved for conversations with trusted advisors/ their mentor.
- “What are my intentions with regard to my current role and this organisation”, a more fulfilling conversation with their immediate line manager and peers.
- “What’s working, what isn’t & what can we improve” between the organisation and its talent base generally.
- General conversations on the social networks of the employees themselves from which the organisation can learn and evolve. This is the polar opposite to the strategy of policing social media adopted by some high-profile brands.
It was broadly acknowledged that the role of the internal change agent is on the one hand helped by access to information and first-person experience of “the way we do things”. But on the other hand, it’s not always easy to remain objective about what needs to change and even more difficult to influence the most senior of stakeholders who appear to wield the most significant impact, especially when your salary is at stake.
Our own conversation over croissants centred on the growing importance of mentoring and coaching as one way of helping internal executive change agents transform the quality of dialogue and in turn culture from within even if it has to be one conversation at a time. It was acknowledged that not only does this enable access to external support and expertise in a less intrusive way than a consultancy intervention, but it is a highly effective way of developing networks of skilled champions committed to the communication cause.
At breakfast this time we were joined by clients and contacts from 10 different organisations ranging from Bonhams through to Virgin. The beauty is always in the blend and it’s impossible to do justice to the quality of the discussion in this format without the attempt undermining the intent. Hopefully however, this provides a flavour of what was, in the words of one of our guests: “A great session & an inspired discussion in an excellent environment. I really enjoyed myself and left with loads of ideas and plans.”
If you’re interested in hearing more about this breakfast session; would like more information about ways to promote more effective dialogue where you work or would like to join our breakfast club yourself, then do get in touch.
We will be holding a series of workshops and drop-in sessions on similar themes throughout 2012, so watch this space.
March 20, 2012
There’s plenty of doom and gloom about. But it’s always this way in the eye of an economic storm. Yes, there’s a certain macabre fascination watching the car crash that is European finance play out before our eyes. But as the ancient wisdom goes, the fast track to feeling more empowered is to focus on what you can personally influence. We all have some degree of empowerment in the workplace whether we’re the CEO or ceo.
If the barrage of statistics are to be believed (and it’s not fair just to trust the bad news), companies with high employee engagement levels grow on average 4.5 times faster than those with low levels (Hays 2010).
We know that engaged employees are:
I – involved
E – energised and energising
We hope these tips help but if you want to explore any of these points in more detail, do get in touch for a confidential chat.
March 20, 2012
I was pleased to be sent a recent report in which the team received some fabulous feedback about a service and brand champions workshop designed and delivered for a new client as part of a brand transformation programme.
Having been around the block a few times however, (so to speak), we unfortunately had to temper the excitement about the event by looking to the future and the fact that a change programme never survives or thrives on the back of the catalysing event, no matter how inspiring it may be.
Any serious attempt to improve an internal culture needs to be accompanied by serious initiatives covering each of the following phases:
1 Evaluating and defining
2.Communicating and engaging
3. Educating and learning
4. Sustaining and motivating
And when you arrive at phase 4, yes, you’ve guessed it, you start at 1 again.
Unfortunately, too many change programmes are dogged by a short-termist notion of performance and mistaking action for progress or SOS (sending out stuff) versus engagement-led communication. Hence the obsession with “giving good conference” or “giving good copy”.
Lasting change is largely the product of behaviour change. Based on the principle that it’s far better to do a few things well and succeed in some way rather than attempting too much and failing completely, why not try the following:
1. When measuring, why not ask your colleagues/customers whether they would recommend your organisation to their friends (advocacy) and then dig into the detail?
2. When communicating, try using the term colleagues rather than staff, or employee; talent rather than resources; mentors rather than managers and see the difference it makes.
3. When attempting to educate, upskill or train, treble the amount of interactive, hands-on and delegate-led sessions at the expense of facilitator speeches and see what happens.
4. Ensure that the project or programme team as well as the senior leaders first and foremost role-model the values or standards they are seeking to transform by ensuring they receive regular feedback from their internal stakeholders.
The internal change agent’s lot is seldom a happy and almost always a thankless one.
But be brave, keep the faith, keep it simple and best of luck!
And if you lose your way, shout!
One of the benefits of an economic downturn (yes, benefits), is that organisations have little choice other than to do things better or do better things. They have to make the most of their existing assets as they don’t have the luxury of replacing them.
It may be a tired cliché that people are an organisations’ greatest asset. But I, for one, happen to believe it, qualified by the assertion that it very much depends on how the leaders treat them. Viewing people appreciatively as a pool of talent is very different to seeing the back office as a cost base or the support team as “burden”.
With this in mind, it’s encouraging to see some of the people-focused debates finally starting to emerge in the business press. I recently stumbled upon the belated revelation that the workplace has become the least enjoyable place to be for the majority of people. This week the revelations included the belated dropping of the proverbial penny about RBS, namely the report that the financial crisis was as much a cultural as it was a regulatory issue; a point we made three years ago or more, having deep knowledge of the sector and the company. Perhaps more surprisingly, these debates included the recognition in the CIPD publication People Management (for which I write a regular column), that people are more effective when they feel free to be themselves, namely that they are many times more innovative in the pub, for example, than at work.
In 2005, a BY2W survey of 1500 employee in ceo roles (pivotal internal communicators), rated the following characteristics of leaders as most valued:
Conversely, they saw the following as most hindering engagement:
- cascaded messaging
The overwhelming majority of those surveyed stated that they believed they were more effective when they could be themselves at work. Clearly the above-mentioned characteristics have a major influence over the internal culture and extent to which they feel able to be themselves and be effective in turn. The degree to which they were prepared and equipped to suggest new and better ways of working (or be innovative) falls into this definition of effectiveness.
In his visionary book Future Minds, futurist Richard Watson corroborates the data supporting the notion that people are overwhelmingly more effective at generating ideas when they aren’t in the workplace by publishing the results of his own survey of leading thinkers and everymen alike.
But what can leaders do to create a more authentic internal culture in which talent will thrive not just survive?
First and foremost, leaders clearly need to recognise the cause and effect relationship between performance and a definitive description of the culture of their organisation as well as the way they communicate the essence of their organisation within and beyond the pool of talent. They then need to take responsibility for shaping that culture through the values and behaviours of their line managers.
However you look at it, there’s an overwhelmingly compelling business case for authenticity in the workplace if you’re the sort of leader who has the courage and the vision to look beyond the next quarter’s results. Authenticity is a major driver of innovation and can be turbo-charged by the example set by the right sort of role models drawn from the pool of existing talent, the organisation’s greatest asset.
If you’re convinced or at least worried enough by the why to be curious then pick up a copy of Brand Engagement or Brand Champions for many more clues about the how.
Alternatively, drop us a line. We’ll be very happy to share stories.