Jacqui Walford

Leading with Empathy: Why do we Still not Believe?

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A lot of people when they hear the word “empathy” in a business context still think of it as soft, somehow lacking authority and conviction. That leaders who have empathy for the people they lead aren’t making the difficult decisions or commanding the appropriate respect.

We now have conclusive evidence this is not the case.

In her Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, The Hard Data on Being a Nice Boss, Emma Seppala cites research by Harvard Business School’s Amy Cuddy:

Leaders who project warmth – even before establishing their competence – are more effective than those who lead with their toughness and skill. Why? One reason is trust. Employees feel greater trust with someone who is kind.

Seppala goes on to cite studies by Jonathan Haidt at New York University Stern School of Business:

Jonathan Haidt at New York University Stern School of Business shows in his research that when leaders are self-sacrificing, their employees experience being moved and inspired. As a consequence, the employees feel more loyal and committed and are more likely to go out of their way to be helpful and friendly to other employees. Research on “paying it forward” shows that when you work with people who help you, in turn you will be more likely to help others (and not necessarily just those who helped you).

So, with these and many more studies, there is no reason to still be skeptical of empathy as a trait of a great leader.

Tony Norton, in his article Why the empathetic leader is the best leader, talks about Simon Sinek in his best-selling book on team-building.

Empathy—the ability to recognize and share other people’s feelings—is the most important instrument in a leader’s toolbox, Sinek believes. It can be expressed in the simple words, “Is everything OK?”

It’s what effective leaders ask an employee, instead of commanding “Clean out your desk” when he or she starts slacking off. It’s what you ask a client when a once-harmonious relationship gets rocky. “I really believe in quiet confrontation,” Sinek says. “If you had a good working relationship with someone and it’s suddenly gone sour, I believe in saying something like, ‘When we started we were both so excited, and it’s become really difficult now. Are you OK? What’s changed?’ ”

Sinek has been training himself to be more empathic by paying attention to everyday gestures, such as holding elevators for others or refilling the coffeemaker. Even small acts of kindness release a tiny shot of feel-good oxytocin. What’s more, “These little considerations for others have a building effect,” Sinek says. “The daily practice of putting the well-being of others first has a compounding and reciprocal effect in relationships, in friendships, in the way we treat our clients and our colleagues.”

I have no doubt that empathy will become further recognised as one of the traits of a truly great leader. Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the list goes on and on. As we recognise true leaders in history, and analyse what makes them great, we’ll come to understand the importance of empathy.

In the business world, leaders need to have emotional intelligence and the ability to truly listen and hear what their employees are telling them. True leaders in business will think about how management decisions will affect their employees, they’ll clearly communicate the changes, and will minimise any adverse effects.

When employees feel their leaders truly hear them, and understand where they’re coming from, they’ll feel more comfortable and trust that leaders ‘have their back’ and are making the right decisions for the organisation. This leads to more engaged, happier employees who are more productive.

I’m a believer.

Building a B2B Brand: Why Culture is Critical

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Strong brands are built over time. These days, we are much more conscious of brand equity, so we are able to plan for, and intentionally create, a brand identity, a brand’s voice and perceived value in the market.

Most dictionary definitions of “Brand” go something like this:

– a category of products that are all made by a particular company and all have a particular name

– a particular kind or type of something

– a mark that is burned into the skin of an animal (such as a cow) to show who owns the animal.*

In fact the last definition is where the word “brand” comes from. A brand is so much more than that. A brand is the reason why people will queue for hours for the next iPhone and it goes far beyond the product itself. The quality of the product does have an impact, but it is more about what you perceive that product to say about you.

In a professional services environment, a brand is an implied promise (to existing and prospective clients) that the level of quality people have come to expect from a brand will continue with future purchases of the same brand. If you’re selling a service, you’re selling the skills and the knowledge of your employees to clients. What if prospective clients have had no experience with your brand at all? You need to create the desire to experience your brand.

It begins with your culture. Capturing the hearts and minds of your employees and activating a purpose. Your purpose is the defining reason for existing that extends beyond the bottom line and provides necessary meaning to all who interact with the brand.

The history of accounting is thousands of years old and can be traced to ancient civilizations, but the oldest continuously functioning accounting firm can be traced to Josiah Wade in 1780 in Bristol, England, who specialised in auditing the accounting of merchants. The company became Tribe, Clark and Company in 1871 and finally merged with Deloitte in 1969.

Deloitte is an excellent example of where brand is synonymous with culture.

Deloitte considers its 195,000 skilled professionals to be actively shaping its brand. The professional services providers are the brand. In Deloitte, B2B is viewed as P2P — people to people — and Deloitte member firm professionals offer personal knowledge, insights, and experience. Training is provided worldwide to educate Deloitte professionals about the importance and function of the brand.

In September 2008, Deloitte Belgium welcomed its newest class of recent graduates and held a special event at which they met some of their new colleagues and were introduced to the firm. The introduction was most notable for its conclusion: at the end of the day, each of the newcomers received keys to their very own Deloitte-branded Mini Cooper car. Following the screening of a promotional film featuring hundreds of the cars touring the streets of Brussels (shot from a helicopter) and group participation in a safe-driving course, the new hires departed with a new car and a new appreciation for the organization they had joined. The initiative was rolled out in 2008, but juniors who start at Deloitte Belgium still receive a Mini and color the streets of Belgium.**

Deloitte recognises that people are the driving force behind the interaction with all relevant audiences. They use communication to lead to connectivity, to lead to brand awareness, to lead to brand experience, to lead to brand loyalty.**

Culture can be deliberately influenced. There are many ways to positively influence employee engagement and have a positive effect on the firm’s culture. Employee benefits, such as Deloitte’s cars, are only a small part of the overall cultural picture. If your people are engaged and united in an authentic, genuine purpose they will work hard, achieve shared goals, and deliver the best possible service to your clients.

*http://www.merriam-webster.com
**Designing B2B Brands: Lessons from Deloitte and 195,000 brand managers, Carlos Martínez Onaindía & Brian Resnick.

Tell your magical brand story

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If you are asked to describe your organisation to someone, in 2-3 sentences, how do you go? How will your employees respond when asked to do the same?

In some ways, branding can learn from the science of Anthropology. One of the primary ways we make sense of our world is through story telling. Stories are the way relate to each other and the way we make sense of who we are and what our place in the world is. Stories are shared in every culture as a means of education, entertainment, cultural preservation, and instilling moral values.

The same is ultimately true of brands. Brands are the stories that unite us in a common purpose, within the organisation, and connect us with the people we serve on the outside. Brand stories give meaning to who we are, what we do and why we do it.

The stories we tell inside our organisation, to our employees, shape the way they feel about the organisation and therefore shape the way they interact with clients and customers. The organisation’s brand stories become a key driver of employee engagement and a key driver of the business. If an organisation has a long history or a history steeped in tradition, this forms part of the brand story. Conversely, if a business is relatively young, but has experienced success early, this too will influence the story.

I encourage leaders to be very strategic about the creation and telling of the brand story. Think about the impact of various events along the way. If the organisation has won an award, or a number of awards, it’s just as important to keep celebrating internally, as much as it is to promote it externally. If employees feel proud of where they work, they pass on this positivity to clients and customers. Leaders can be very strategic about the words they choose, as well as how and when they choose to relay the brand story. It should start before the recruitment process. Employer branding becomes part of your overall brand strategy, so potential recruits know some of the story before they apply for a position. Then, when they do apply, they learn more of the story through the recruitment process and even more when they begin employment.

The brand story is continually evolving and, as the organisation grows, more chapters are added. Leaders should take every opportunity to reinforce the brand story and provide positive connections to it. Marketers and internal communication professionals should place the brand story, and the creation of brand loyalty via the story, at the top of their list of priorities. Brand stories should be created by skilled communications specialists and delivered via internal communications channels. Leaders deliver consistent messages (i.e. the same story) as part of the overall communications plan.

Disney is probably the best example of an organisation consistently telling its brand story, over many many years and with deliberate authenticity. Disney has developed its brand essence over the years and delivering a ‘magical’ experience is ingrained in their culture. They also continue to tell the story of Walt Disney and his mantra “We create happiness by providing the finest in family entertainment.” In fact, Walt Disney’s take on defining a company culture was based entirely around creating a genuine shared purpose that people would be proud to support*.

Create some of your own magic, by creating, refining and consistently telling your positive brand story, inside and out. You will create a culture within your organisation that will not only last, but become the very thing that leads to brand loyalty in your clients or customers. Engaged employees, working with a shared purpose, created and supported by the brand story, will provide a positive experience for clients and customers again and again and again.

*Source: “How Disney Creates Magical Experiences (and a 70% Return Rate)”, Gregory Ciotti. http://www.helpscout.net/blog/disney-customer-experience/

Internal cheerLEADING™

How do your employees become brand ambassadors? How do they speak the language of the business at every single touch point, in unison, naturally and comfortably, believing in what they’re saying? How do they “live and breathe it” and feel passionate about it. In short, you need to develop a team of internal cheerleaders. Cheering for the organisation and cheering for the brand. They need to love what they do and be happy to tell everyone about it.

There are many different ways to engage employees, but the trick is aligning brand messages. The best way to do this is to create an internal culture which is synonymous with the external brand. Google do this extremely well. Google is the number one cited organisation for corporate culture. Google employees are called “Googlers” and being an employee means being “Googley”. This infographic illustrates their philosophy.

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Infographic: Corporate Culture Mindset via HumanResourcaMBA.net

At Google, culture is guided from the top. The leadership team drive the internal employee initiatives. If they don’t believe it will add to being ‘googley’, and achieve results, they don’t do it. They also have a very solid foundation of trust. Trust in employees, trust in leadership and trust in the culture. Of course innovation is key and employees are encouraged to fail and try again.

A few things Google does:

GOOGLE’S BEST PRACTICES FOR BUILDING CULTURE

  • Engineers are ½ of the organization. Engineers like to “do cool things.” After one year, an engineer can bid to work on anything they want to. “Popular projects” get more bids, less popular ones don’t. Project leads have to learn to sell/pitch their ideas to appeal to engineers.
  • “Innovation from Everywhere.” Innovation is expected at Google, in every segment of the business. You can use 20% of your time on anything – people vote and pledge their 20% time to projects that are seen as promising or cool. It’s “a license to pursue your dreams” says Marissa Mayer. “If I don’t have a good 20% project yet, I need one. It could negatively impact on my review.” Half the new products and features launched by Google are said to come from work done under the 20% rule.
  • Google is constantly building “dog food teams” – the groups who work to make all products better.
  • Google products are always in Beta. It is a Silicon Valley punch line that Google products stay in beta forever. Mistakes are celebrated. There was a product launch in 2009 that didn’t catch on – a big failure, externally and internally. That product launch team was celebrated, given a bonus, AND given a Founder’s Award (prestigious). Eventually that workstream rolled into what is now Google Plus.
  • TGIF – every Friday, Larry and Sergey stand on a stage and answer ANY question. People log on and ask and then vote on the questions they most want answered. They go through the screen and take every one on, candidly. It is common to hear someone say “I think you made a mistake with _______.” And they will come back with “Here’s why we did it.”
  • “Hiring is the most process-driven thing we do.” (Shannon Deegan, VP of HR). They have 2 million applications for 500 jobs. The screening process is rigorous – they will leave a role open a year if they don’t find the right fit.
  • All people decisions at Google (in fact, all decisions period) are based on data and analytics. Google VP Marissa Meyer once said “If a Google employee is meeting with Larry and Sergey to talk about users’ needs, they’d better come with more than their own conclusions – they had better come with data. Their immediate question will be “How many people did you test?””
  • Nooglers (new to Google) are given lots of on-boarding support. They are taught early on:
    • It’s fun to work here – have fun.
    • Think big and take risks.
    • If it’s broken, fix it or find someone who can.
    • Invent solutions not yet thought possible.
  • One of the most-asked questions at Google: “Wouldn’t it be cool if…..”
  • We take employee surveys very seriously. There is a 90%+ response rate (very high compared to most large organizations) and most people elect to reveal their identity, although they don’t have to. Recent changes from surveys:
    • Make it easier to find a mentor
    • Simplify internal mobility (transfer) process by making it transparent and user friendly
    • Provide more tools to help Googlers define, articulate, and plan for career development
    • Reduce bias during performance reviews
    • How closely does employee perception of the value of benefits, match reality?
    • Is employee networking valuable to the organization?
  • Create internal agility by putting in place only as much structure as absolutely necessary. Managers are RESOURCES not bosses. They work FOR the team.
  • Give people the tools to make innovation easy: New computers every 18 months. Also, lots of server space, 24 hour help desk, Radio Shack on-site.
  • Peer bonuses – anyone can log on and give someone a $200 peer bonus, no approval needed. (the person just cannot be in your direct team.) We have never seen it abused.
  • Everyone at every level gets stock on the day they start, which vests at one year.
  • Teams are responsible for the culture globally – all offices watch the Larry & Sergey TGIF chat on video and are accountable to create an office that “feels Googley.”*

I love these best practices, but what can we learn from them and actually implement in our own organisations? On top of trust, other key elements include staff benefits, rewards and recognition, bonuses, responsibility and accountability, on-boarding support, leadership, communication, and a flat organisational structure.

At the core of it all though are Google’s values or what they call ‘being googley’. I think this is the real key. Their values are ingrained, intrinsic to the organisation. It’s an expected way to behave. You don’t get a job there unless you behave this way and you certainly don’t keep your job if your behaviour is anything but ‘googley’. The meaning of being ‘googley’ is well communicated and staff can articulate it. It’s what makes Google Google.

I think you have to start with your core values. How you want your people to behave. Every single person in the organisation needs to subscribe to your core values and be engaged with them.

I think if we concentrate on defining ‘googley’ for our own organisation and focus on being ‘that’ everyday, through everything we do, we can build a team of internal cheerLEADERS™ and build an organisation achieving real success.

*Source: “THE REAL SECRET OF GOOGLE’S CORPORATE CULTURE” corporateculturepros.com.

 

Design elements and branding

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Carefully chosen design elements are crucial to your organisation’s visual identity. They help to identify your organisation and differentiate you from other similar organisations.

Your logo is your first design element. Your logo will be the single symbol that identifies what your brand is and what it represents. The best logos are clean, uncluttered, and memorable. If your logo has a unique shape and colour it can become a design element to be used throughout your material. Target’s logo is used like this. The red target element is used throughout their advertising and marketing material.

The colours you choose are also important design elements. Some research on branding and colour psychology shows the link between colour use and the perception of your brand’s personality. It’s not about stereotypical colour associations, but supporting your brand’s personality with the correct colour choices. Ultimately, the most important thing is consistency over time. Customers like recognisable brands. Choose your logo colour and supporting branding colours for the traits they portray and stick to them, forever. Even if you are re-branding, the logo and colours should not change so much that the brand is unrecognisable.

A brand’s look & feel usually has primary colours and supporting colours. It’s important to get the balance and complement of these right too. Some brands have colours that are complementary, on the opposite side of the colour wheel (such as blue and orange). Others use shades of colours that support the main logo colour. There are many ways to use colour palettes.

Images are also a crucial element to your brand’s visual identity. Imagery needs to match your logo and colours in style and tone. However, your imagery does so much more than that. A picture speaks a thousand words. The images you choose evoke feelings. You want them to evoke feelings that persuade.

Another element to think about is your fonts. Again, you want to choose fonts that reflect your brand attributes and say something about who you are and what you do. For example, san serif fonts tend to be a bit less formal and more modern.

A branding project, or a re-branding project, would begin with identifying the brand attributes. For example, is the brand fun, modern, exciting etc. Then, the look & feel would be designed. You want your brand to reflect who you are and what you do. The physical representation of the brand needs to do that for you. The thoughtful choice of physical branding elements helps you do this. The brand is so much more than the physical look & feel, but you need to get this right from the beginning to build the brand and ultimately build brand loyalty.

Positive Psychology and CheerLEADING™

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Wikipedia says “To Martin Seligman, psychology (particularly its positive branch) can investigate and promote realistic ways of fostering more joy in individuals and communities”. Don’t we all want some of that? Team members need it more than anything. People need to have a goal to work towards. Something positive to look forward to, to give them the motivation to keep working hard.

I’m not pretending to be an expert on Positive Psychology, but, from what I have heard and read, I think it’s a really useful scientific discipline which can be easily applied to the work environment, particularly when it’s applied to leadership.

Martin Seligman is considered to be the founder of modern Positive Psychology. Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote, in their article “Positive Psychology: An Introduction“, “Because negative emotions often reflect immediate problems or objective dangers, they should be powerful enough to force people to stop, increase their vigilance, reflect on their behavior, and change their actions if necessary.” I think this is the key to Positive Psychology as a leadership discipline. It takes just that, discipline, to practice it effectively.

It takes a conscious effort, everyday, to be aware of how one’s actions impact others, particularly those who work for us. It is easy not to take notice, but we need to take notice and we need to adjust our behaviour if necessary. “Positive Psychology represents a commitment to the sources of psychological wellness, such as positive emotions, positive experiences, positive environments, and human strengths and virtues (Lyubomirsky, 2007).” I believe that leaders have an obligation to provide a positive environment for people at work.

Leaders also have an obligation to provide positive, as well as negative, feedback. In fact, the positive feedback should outweigh the negative. It might sound overly simple, but I believe leaders forget this. If people aren’t receiving positive reinforcement when they are doing a good job, they tend to cease doing such a good job.

Why ‘Ruby Red Dot’?

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It’s all about branding. The words have personal meaning for me, which helps me connect emotionally to my brand. My Nan, who passed away last year at 102, was one of the most positive influences in my life, particularly as I was growing up. Our birthdays were three days apart, which meant we had the same birthstone – the Ruby. Her name was Doris, so people called her Dot.

She was the most amazing person with an incredibly positive outlook on life. I learnt so much from her and will be eternally grateful for that.

I will be blogging about internal and external brand engagement, as well as any general thoughts and opinions I have regarding various subjects. I hope to make the posts entertaining and interesting, as well as practical.

I hope you enjoy them!