Jacqui Walford

Employee engagement = Brand engagement

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According to Wikipedia “Customer engagement (CE) is an effect, a reaction, a connection, a response and/or an experience of customers with one another, with a company or a brand”. The key word is “connection”. It’s all about connection. You want your clients or customers to connect with your brand. In B2B, and also in B2C, you need your customers to connect with your people in order for them to connect with the brand. It doesn’t matter if the connection is made in person, via social media, or just through reading your content. The human element is always there.

So, if humans count, and customers want meaningful, authentic connections with the people within your organisation, then you need your employees to be authentic and genuinely care about the interactions they’re having. The only way this will happen is if your employees are engaged. They need to feel engaged with the work they are doing day-to-day. The more engaged they are, the more effort they will apply to the work you would like them to do (including interacting with customers). This also applies to non-customer facing staff. Whatever job they have to do within the organisation will ultimately affect the product or service, regardless of what that is.

Published studies like the Aberdeen Group’s EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT: PAVING THE WAY TO HAPPY CUSTOMERS go a long way to demonstrating the direct correlation between employee engagement and customer satisfaction. In the report they state,

Engaged employees positively influence the buying behaviors of customers, leading to higher customer loyalty and profitable growth.

Aberdeen concludes through the research, linking employee engagement measures with customer satisfaction levels, that,

Companies with formal employee engagement programs are indeed enjoying the fruits of their labor in fostering an environment where employees are motivated to satisfy clients.

When we take this a step further and connect customer satisfaction with brand engagement, we conclude that employee engagement is intrinsically linked to brand engagement. Satisfied, happy, engaged employees equals satisfied, happy, engaged customers. So, you can have a direct and positive affect on your brand by implementing a formal employee engagement program.

When developing a formal employee engagement program, here are a few things to consider:

Better employee satisfaction surveys

When conducting staff satisfaction surveys, or employee engagement surveys, companies often don’t ask the right questions. Surveys should be asking meaningful questions linked to drivers of engagement. They should be measuring the employee’s level of trust in management, satisfaction with their job role, and things like connection to the vision of the organisation. Surveys should be conducted frequently, annually, quarterly, or even monthly, and can be large annual surveys, covering everything, or quick snapshots in particular areas of focus. The outcomes should be quickly publicised within the organisation and areas of improvement acted upon as soon as possible, or investigated further.

It must come from the top

Even the most sophisticated engagement program will fail without the support of a company’s senior leaders. Leadership is a significant driver of employee engagement and therefore the company’s culture. Employees look to the senior leaders for guidance, so it’s crucial that leaders actively support these initiatives.

It’s all about trust

The key to a positive corporate culture is trust. Employees need to trust the leadership team and, equally, leaders need to trust employees to do the best job they can do. Employees need enough space to determine the best way to complete a task within a reasonable amount of time. The default position should be trust first, unless someone does something to lose that trust. Employees shouldn’t have to earn trust. If they are qualified, and satisfied all of the recruitment criteria, they should be allowed to get on with doing the job they were hired to do.

Ultimately, your engaged employees will deliver exceptional service to your customers, which, in turn, creates brand engagement and brand loyalty, so it’s worth spending time and money on developing and implementing employee engagement strategies and initiatives. A formal employee engagement program can create brand engagement and lead to increased company performance.

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.

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.

 

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.

Branding internally at HLB

The biggest branding challenge for us as a professional services firm is to engage our external market with our brand promise, by making it unique and distinctive. Professional services brands struggle with differentiating their brand from all the others, as our service offerings are usually very similar. Also, professional services organisations will often work extensively on their external branding and marketing, but neglect to include their internal stakeholders in the process. By “internal stakeholders”, I don’t just mean the partners, as they are usually involved in this process, I mean staff at all levels.

Home Team

At HLB Mann Judd, we started with the knowledge of what we were known for providing and what we thought of ourselves, through the use of external research and an internal brand auditing process. We recognised that, in order to stand out from the crowd, we needed to not only develop our own brand personality externally, but, more importantly, engage our staff with our brand and branding messages. After all, our staff are going to be the ones telling people where they work and what we are all about.

Staff also need to deliver on the brand promise. We are well known for providing excellent service. We have been finalists in the BRW Client Choice Awards, for Best Accountancy Firm (revenue between $50-$500M), and we won this award this year. We are working hard to win it again next year. This doesn’t happen without a clear understanding from our staff about what is expected of them as they provide our services to clients.

To help deliver our messages internally and engage our staff with our brand we developed an internal brand called Team HLB.

Team HLB as a vehicle for sustainable behavioural change

We wanted to develop an internal identity that would support the key internal messages, such as our Vision and Team Values (which are now consistent across the Association), as well as engage and excite our staff. Team HLB is essentially a marketing vehicle to assist HR in building real, long term employee engagement.

The Marketing & BD Team and the HR Team regularly collaborate on various internal engagement projects and use the Team HLB imagery and key messaging to assist. The Vision and Values are now included in recruitment, onboarding, performance management and throughout all that we do.

We also use the Team HLB branding for internal communications, internal events, team building activities, internal competitions and other fun and engaging activities.

We are surveying staff annually to measure the level of engagement with Team HLB and the Vision and Values.

The HLB Mann Judd branding engagement journey begins…

I have been involved in a number of re-branding projects in my career. It’s an interesting process to go through, particularly for professional services firms, and often a challenging process to go through for any organisation. In professional services, brands are very closely aligned with the owners of the business and of course the people who work for them. The people delivering the service. When you have multiple owners who feel very strongly about how their brand is depicted, as they feel it reflects on them personally, it can be a challenging decision making process.

My most recent re-branding project has been for the organisation I work for now. We are HLB Mann Judd, an Australasian Association of independent accounting firms. The most interesting part of this re-branding is that we have decided to go well beyond our physical brand (our “look & feel”) and embark on a journey of brand and reputation management, including how our staff members feel about our organisation. I have a very forward thinking Executive Committee, who are able to make the connection between employee engagement and client/prospect/market engagement in the brand.

In 2008, we decided to purchase an external brand health report, which is produced by a company called Beaton Consulting. They survey buyers of accounting services. We found that our brand awareness score was not where we would like it to be. This didn’t surprise us, as we were going through a growth phase in the business, new member firms joining the Association and increasing our numbers, as well as organic growth, and we hadn’t spent a lot on marketing up to that point.

We decided to develop a brand management plan and actively work to increase our brand awareness. We were able to do that and, after measuring it again in 2012, found that we had increased our brand awareness and our consideration by the percentage goals we had set for ourselves.

Who delivers on the Brand Promise?

After implementing our targeted plan for increasing brand awareness externally, and our targeted recruitment campaign, we then launched and implemented an internal branding campaign, designed to engage employees with the HLB brand and assist in overall employee engagement strategy.

Research in this area often highlights potential problems with low levels of employee engagement. Across our organisation, most staff were proud to say they work for HLB Mann Judd, but were, at that point, unsure of the Vision, the Values and the Purpose of the organisation (all key drivers of long term employee engagement).

In order to assist each member firm with employee engagement initiatives, the key messages of the ‘Team HLB’ campaign were based on research, were extensions of the key messages used in our recruitment campaign and in the external brand awareness campaign, and centered around teamwork and our Brand Promise, which is ‘Great people delivering great results’.

In future posts I’ll go into more detail around what we did internally and what we have been able to achieve.