Given the importance I place on the unassuming everyman as the pivotal brand champion, that’s good news for those with the wisdom to realise that sustainable brands aren’t forged in the flames of advertising but evolve steadily from within.
While Microsoft; Apple and co continue to attract the sexy headlines in the technology sector, Fujitsu has become the world’s third-largest IT services provider with over 172,000 employees supporting customers in over 100 countries. Very much a brand to watch, Fujitsu’s Next Generation Technical Computing Unit, for example, recently developed the world’s fastest supercomputer.
But just as very few of us are aware of the impact Arm Holdings has had on mobile technology, chances are you probably had no idea about the credentials of this company. And therein lies the cultural essence of the Fujitsu brand.
Fujitsu’s brand attributes are:
At the start of their brand engagement journey around 4 years ago, the leaders were conscious that in order to grow, that growth would need to be outside of Japan and Fujitsu would need to become accepted as a global brand in key markets and among stakeholder groups externally. But they also recognised that the first step on their journey would have to involve gaining and then sustaining the belief, involvement and engagement of their colleagues within.
Standards of modesty (also called demureness or reticence) are aspects of the culture of a country or group of people, at a given point in time. It is a measure against which an individual in a given society or culture, whether a nation-state or a corporate collective, may be judged.
It’s often expressed in social interaction by communicating in a way exhibiting humility, even shyness and is associated with:
- downplaying achievements
- behaviour, manner, or appearance intended to avoid impropriety or indecency
- avoiding insincere self-abasement through false or sham modesty, which is a form of boasting
Quite a contrast to the traditionally boastful and über confident philosophy underpinning most marketing campaigns and certainly the flip side of the behavioural coin that has caused so much controversy within the financial services sector.
I recall a long conversation with a senior executive from one of the UK mutuals which took place just before the banking crash. He was lambasting his colleagues for their lack of ambition and was calling for more of a performance culture in terms of risk and reward and wanted this to be driven by people processes like recruitment and appraisal. He didn’t get the chance to make those changes. Yet his business, like many of their more prudent peers, has more than weathered the prolonged and repeated financial storms.
The salutary lesson for that brand is that transformation can be achieved without sacrificing the essence of the brand, provided that essence is sound in the first place of course. This is epitomised by Fujitsu.
There’s a healthy balance about the Fujitsu brand attributes, between listening and responding to changing customer needs; having ambition yet remaining genuine or authentic. It’s a formula that respects the all important notion of being able to back up the promises in the glossy brochures with actions, quietly meeting and exceeding expectations rather than shooting wildly from the lip.
Fujitsu’s employee brand engagement champion Julie Clarke is in many respects the apotheosis of the Fujitsu brand, although she would blush at the compliment. Julie has had a long and distinguished career, importantly spanning front line; hr and latterly marketing functions, an important mix of ingredients for the central brand champion. But Julie is characteristically modest about her achievements. She has undoubtedly been instrumental in developing and implementing one of the most comprehensive global employee engagement programmes to have launched since the economic downturn began, very much bucking the global trend. Yet Julie spends most of her time celebrating the pivotal role played by the country champions rather than the centre.
Testimonials from VIP customers, business partners and employees alike are proof positive that in the fourth year of their brand transformation journey, internal and external advocacy levels, colleague communication, good news stories and best practices are on a high despite the global downturn and unforseen natural catastrophes like the Asian Tsunami.
“Our brand engagement journey is the product of constant and ongoing collaboration and is very much the sum of its many parts. We make no secret of the fact that we’ve collaborated with thought partners and external agencies to bring best practices and to help frame our thinking. Brand Engagement was pretty much my bible as I transitioned from HR to Marketing as it speaks to both audiences and sets out the key stages while recognising that the nature of the journey differs from one brand to the next.
Some of our key milestones along the way have included:
- creating a compelling business case for change
- obtaining buy-in at senior leadership level first
- identifying senior sponsors and champions
- simplifying the engagement programme into 4, bite-size phases
- collaborating across hr and marketing
- encouraging everyone to think global but act local and personalise content for their markets
- investing in local training and development
- improving internal communication substantially
- building on the Fujitsu legacy, not reinventing the wheel
- working within the prevailing culture rather than imposing alien approaches
- setting hard and soft goals
- sharing best practices and celebrating wins
- creating a network of credible local brand champions as catalysts and ambassadors
- managing the evolution of the Fujitsu brand story in the context of the wider strategy
It was always our aim to ensure that the programme had local ownership. We’re really seeing momentum now in the form of regional stories and best practices and are well into the embedding and reinforcing stage where the role of local champions will become increasingly important. It’s great to see some of the very real customer case studies making the link between the Fujitsu values and the bottom line.”
There’s clearly still work to be done and challenges to face before Fujitsu assumes the position in the pantheon of global brands that it quietly aspires to. But built as it is on a platform of modesty, realism and engagement-driven innovation, blossoming steadily rather than erupting aggressively, Fujitsu is very much a brand of its time.
* Julie Clarke and her Fujitsu brand engagement story will be one of the brand champion case studies to feature alongside brands like M&S and Arm Holdings in Brand Challenger, the third book in the Brand Engagement trilogy.
June 18, 2012
Yesterday I made a rare visit to a bank branch and left after a lady in her 70s attacked the security screen in frustration at receiving a “computer says no” answer to a query that would have been child’s play to the former staff of that branch.
That evening, I witnessed at least half of a very mixed cinema audience jeer and slow hand clap an expensive advertisement for an insurance brand which was cynically seeking to capitalise on the recent banking collapse. The mocking laughter reached a peak when the actors promised values like integrity and honesty on behalf of an organisation they probably never heard of before receiving the casting call .
Almost five years since the start of the collapse it was apparent that the brand promises and the reality were still poles apart and I couldn’t help feeling that the FS sector should be much further forward than it appears to be right now. This view was endorsed by new CIPD chief Peter Cheese, in his very first public address as he can plainly see the need for urgent change within the sector and the role that HR should be playing to bring change about.
Watching the too numerous public debating forums however, the apparent paucity of basic knowledge amongst pundits and public alike about the key issues which recently sent world financial markets and economies into a tailspin is worrying. Most still blame the regulators and national governments for the crash. But the implosion had very little to do with regulation. It was predominantly caused by cultural schizophrenia conveyed via individual brands responding to the demands of the markets, and much of that schizophrenia sadly has its origins in HR.
That’s a fairly punchy statement, so let me deconstruct it.
Many of the more informed critics and commentators of the sector typified by Will Hutton who has been a leading writer on matters financial for over 30 years, and Richard Edelman (of Edelman Trust Barometer fame) point to a fundamental breakdown in trust between:
- the institutions and customers
- institutions and shareholders
- the institutions and other institutions
but most importantly in my view, the institutions and their employees. It continues to baffle me how so many informed analysts miss this fundamental issue.
Governments rather belatedly appear to have “rumbled” the core structural cause, namely the convenient blending of the high risk investment banking operations with the steady cash cow of retail operations. It’s going to be tough disentangling them. But even as the structural wrecking crews move in, they are missing a more insidious issue. Deep seated culture management issues are at the core of the financial services brand management problem.
The media in the main has targeted the once heroic and now infamous senior leaders. But if we allow ourselves to obsess about hunting tabloid scapegoat caricatures of “Fred the shred” and his peer group we’re in grave danger of very much missing the point. The shortcomings of the directors/lapsed hero leaders themselves and problems the City faces are merely the symptoms of a much more invidious infection – the notion of the so-called performance culture tied into quarterly stock market reporting.
Not so long ago finance was a relationship business. Customers expected to retain a relationship with their manager for many years. Staff expected to remain loyal to one brand for most if not all of their careers and relied on fostering internal relationships and networks. Even in the corporate sphere, commerce conducted business to business was largely relationship based. Investors including pension fund managers had a stable relationship with banking stocks, the steady and guaranteed incremental performers.
These relationship patterns all changed after Big Bang.
But as the financial institutions evolved rapidly in many respects to reflect the increasing demands of investors; the march of process automation (including people processes within HR) ; cost saving outsourcing and off-shoring and what I believe to be the mis-interpretation of the performance culture concept caused cultural schizophrenia.
The core problem is that the brands failed to evolve to reflect their operational reality. They still promised values like listening; integrity and stability to staff and customers yet were acting very differently both in the markets and arguably more importantly within their own offices.
Employees who were accustomed to five-year strategies and three-year plans became tied into the life cycle of executives with 18 month bouts of tenure. They were encouraged to take risks pursuing incremental rises in targets despite market conditions heading in the opposite direction and we’re now witnessing some of the consequences as the OFT and FSA belatedly show their teeth.
Notions of customer service were subverted in part by apparent exploitation of customer inertia. HR had nearly all of its developmental edge undermined by process re-design. Six monthly performance contracts replaced annual reviews and increasingly locum and short-term contracts began to phase out loyalty bonuses and expensive benefits packages.
None of the factors like these would be sufficient on its own to unilaterally bring about a catastrophe of such scale. But together these elements have slowly poisoned the well of goodwill, often through internal communication that is essentially disingenuous at source. Increasingly the words and figures failed to add up for staff and customers alike summed up in increasing spin like the ABBEY re-brand which, let’s face it, was never going to turn banking on its head. I describe this phenomenon as” behavioural brand creep” in Brand Engagement (2008), my first book.
Now, even the hitherto untouchable Masters of the Universe like Goldman Sachs, are witnessing unprecedented levels of market criticism and scandal. When the premier brands are tarnished, the financial services sector really is running on empty.
So what’s to be done?
This is a case where the “hair of the dog that bit you” isn’t going to put things right. The FS companies have to change the way they manage their brands and to place HR (yes, HR), at the core of that process.
These steps may help:
- Leadership teams should take a back to basics approach to stakeholder engagement, look beyond shareholders, regain control of the core narrative of the business and ensure that the story of the evolution of their vision; mission and strategy and brand development approach are all in harmony. The power of giving customers and employees a real voice, listening hard and then acting should not be underestimated
- The link between culture and brand needs to be recognised and so-called EVP/employer and commercial brand brought sharply back into single focus
- A brand valuation should be prioritized and current and requisite culture analysis undertaken to start to develop a future organisation culture that is fit for purpose
- Brand coalitions need to be created consisting of at least Marketing/HR and the CEO’s office to ensure that the brand promised is the brand employees are capable and willing to deliver
- Internal communication needs to be professionalized and encouraged to shift from push communication, technical gimmicks and director led Town Halls to encourage more intimate, local, face to face, engagement, up down and across the organisation
- Measurement: The annual employee survey should be discontinued and replaced with regular pulse takes and a suite of measurement tied into a balanced scorecard for which all leaders are accountable
- Performance management has to refocus on accountability over the medium term rather than encouraging short term “win at all costs”
- Training and development and organisation development strategies must embrace the values and behaviours stemming from the brand rather than re-inventing them
- Line managers and first line supervisors are undoubtedly the modern pivots around which the organisations revolve. They should be recognised and rewarded as such and development support provided accordingly
- The FS organisations need to take a long and hard look at the consultancy and professional services supertankers who have been advising them about how to put right problems which they arguably played a large part in creating. Are they flexible, fleet of foot and even impartial enough to help facilitate the engagement levels to bring about the necessary change?
It’s not entirely doom and gloom out there for the sector. Performance figures seem to suggest that, although much damage has been done, the worst is over – for now. There are some leading lights including brands like First Direct, which was remarkably ahead of its time and innovators like Virgin who are influencing the sector from within. Increasing competition from the retail sector may help.
Interestingly, the hitherto unfashionable mutuals who value prudence and place great stock on values and behaviours are leading the way with their values based management approaches and word on the street is that even some of the investment banks are attempting to simplify and synchronise their organisation development; brand development and communication functions.
But when you consider the adverse impact that the global financial services brand meltdown has had on world economies, it’s a worrying time. As profits bounce back, will the fresh finances fuel much-needed investment in the brand infrastructure and investment in managing the organisation culture that underpins brand? Or will the budgets continue to be squandered on bonuses, thereby rewarding the behaviour that brought about boom and bust in the first place fuelling advertising to entice customers and investors back through the doors, lured by false rhetoric about a performance culture that is ultimately unsustainable?
Not only are the critics asking which brands will bounce back the fastest but surely the fund managers underpinning so many pensions have to be asking serious questions about sustainability, don’t they? And will we ever see a financial services brand topping the FTSE; brand charts and employment leagues by keeping the promises made to its own people and the market?
Whatever happens next, it’s undeniably time for some joined up and fresh thinking within this critical sector. As someone who knows financial services very well, I know how much people want to restore the pride bank into the term banker and I have little doubt that HR functions are uniquely placed to come to the rescue of their organisations by leading the transformation charge and arguably have greater motive, support and opportunity than they have ever had before. But until then, the cat-calling and slow hand-clapping seems destined to continue…..
June 11, 2012
When, as a partner at SDL, I first worked with Bill Parsons, Arm’s leader & chief strategist for most things with a pulse, he was giving a keynote speech to a large room of senior insurance executives at an event we had organised aimed at helping to cultivate a culture of innovation within the organisation. Despite employing less than 500 people at the time, Arm shortly thereafter entered the FTSE 100 (in 2000) and grew revenues by more than 60 percent that year, outselling Pentium at a ratio of 10:1.
That insurance brand went on to do rather well too.
I’ve written a number of articles charting Arm’s evolution for various journals down the years and featured a major case study on this Cambridge-based global leader in semiconductor intellectual property in Brand Engagement (2007).
I’m not exactly a “tech-head” but I do have a great deal of admiration for this paradoxically modest UK powerhouse of a brand especially as their success isn’t built on the superhuman qualities of a few but on the cultivation of a collaborative, sustainable cuture amongst the many.
Having caught up with Bill last week, I’m pleased to report that nothing has changed yet everything has improved, despite the worldwide economic downturn. They’re a truly multi-national business now, albeit still a brand typified by characteristic understatedness to the point of being virtually unknown outside of the IT technology world. As their corporate literature states: ARM technology is enabling the world’s leading companies to succeed. It stresses their partnership ethos rather than conveying a sense of dominance even though in 2011 ARM maintained a >95% market share of smartphones and tablets and Google and Microsoft announced that they were creating versions of their PC operating systems and application software to support ARM processor-based computers.
As I wrote back in 2000, innovation is all talk at Arm. They may employ the cream of the technology graduates from over 50 nationalities, but employee engagement is at the forefront of their people strategy and face to face communication is prioritized wherever possible. They may have been at the leading edge regarding the use of wikis as collaborative development tools but they greatly prize leadership accessibility and cultivate the sort of partnership culture internally that they so prize in their external stakeholder relations. As Warren East, CEO states in their 2011 annual report, “we believe partnership is the smartest approach to creating value. Rather than establishing a business that tries to do everything we partner with many companies each of whom can focus their efforts on where the best add value.” They take the same approach to leadership and project management and as a consequence their employee engagement statistics have improved from 83% to 89% over the last two years. I’m struggling to think of a set of figures that could compare during the same period.
It won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone but perhaps Bill that his time is very much in demand by executives struggling with the challenge of change. He’s even helping to shape thinking around marketing & communications and the ever-evolving use of social media, something he admits he never thought he would be asked to comment on. But it’s both reassuring and pleasing to see that, regardless of the part ARM is playing in the evolution of the tools and gadgets that are in many ways opening up a world of possibilities for enhancing the ways we communicate, for Bill, engagement is still very much all talk @ Arm Holdings.
June 6, 2012
To the employee engagement zealots the phrase “wrong type of engagement” is an anathema.
But it certainly exists.
I’ve long been warning of the dangers of what I call “car crash” engagement: the type that brings out the rubberneckers and clogs up rather than liberates the metaphorical corporate communication highways.
Employee engagement is a means to an end and not an end in itself as often implied. Take employee brand engagement for instance. It’s simply a term to describe the process of clarifying and forging a relationship between employees and the brand they represent in a way that ensures they are able to deliver on the promise the brand makes to the market. It isn’t an obligation to entertain through corporate drama and expensively staged events nor is it achieved by performance management alone or by ramming benefits statements down the gaping maw of the collective needy. Engagement is achieved through involvement and by appealing to both logic and emotion. But above all it should be pragmatic in ambition as employee engagement initiatives for the sake of it are potentially damaging unless they enhance the ability of the business to deliver on its mission, vision and core goals
The latest CIPD research backs up this view. It rightly differentiates between transactional and emotional engagement and suggests that employees who are just transactionally engaged only connect with the task or job role at hand. They may well respond positively in engagement surveys however, thereby giving a false positive. Certainly in the short-term, they can display behaviours associated with commitment. But they are less likely to perform well and will quickly leave for a better job if offered a better financial deal, gathering intellectual property at the expense of the organisations they join as they go. That may suit some and may help to explain the growth in the interim market, but it has worrying implications for brand sustainability in the medium term and beyond.
In contrast, staff who are emotionally engaged believe in the organisation’s mission and values and feel a connection with their own. They are more likely to perform well, have higher levels of wellbeing and remain loyal. Great news all round provided they in turn, are encouraged to keep their “eye on the ball”.
Not surprisingly the research found that high levels of transactional engagement were potentially damaging for both individuals and their organisation because such employees report higher levels of stress and more difficulty in achieving a work-life balance than emotionally engaged employees. Transactionally engaged employees are also more likely to behave in ways that could damage the business, for example acting out of self-interest rather than in the interests of the organisation or making decisions that seem fine in the short-term but come back to “bite” long after they have left.
This potentially damaging type of engagement is arguably more prevalent during times of economic hardship when employees have shuffled down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and become more obsessed with the need to earn a living and meet minimal workplace expectations rather than nurture more developmental or higher order needs and values in themselves and their colleagues.
As Claire Churchard states in her PM article, 23 May ”Emotional engagement is prompted by elements that go beyond the job role itself, including colleagues, line managers, the organisation and clients. It is driven by an employee’s desire to do more than is expected for which they gain a more fulfilling psychological contract.”
Angela Baron, research adviser at the CIPD, said: “While we definitely encourage organisations to measure engagement, it’s not enough to focus on increasing scores without considering what type and locus of engagement is being measured. What people are engaged with, and the nature and driving force behind their engagement, also need taking into consideration – otherwise organisations risk misunderstanding the actual extent and nature of engagement.” In short, it’s entirely possible to be engaged in the wrong way leading to counter-productive outcomes for both the business and the individuals. Surveys aren’t enough, they’re just the starting point, as we’ve always said, leaders need to understand the underlying factors and that requires involvement through timely and frequent face to face consultation.
Baron added that HR and line managers have a key role in clearly defining engagement criteria and interpreting engagement surveys and scores because they have the insight to identify the different interactions at play in the workplace. Any support for the pivotal role that first line managers have to play at the engagement front line is very much on message as far as we’re concerned.