Employees are the most valuable resource that an organization can have, and the most forward-thinking companies understand the importance of making sure that their staff members are engaged and happy at their jobs, knowing that this will eventually translate to increases in the bottom line.
Further, engaged employees are more likely to act as the organization's best and biggest ambassadors, letting their family and friends, as well as customers, know about the benefits of doing business with a particular brand.
Unfortunately engaged employees aren't very easy to find, let alone retain. According to figures released by Gallup, in the third quarter of 2011 a shocking 71 percent of workers in America were either "not engaged" or "actively disengaged" in their work. Gallup points out that these workers "are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and are less likely to be productive."
This is a bleak reality for business leaders and one issue that's quashing engagement is lack of awareness of the impact the brand they work with has on customers. This is especially a problem in larger organizations, where employees are unable to see how their work impacts the end customer.
The majority of organizations have strategies in place to win over customers. But the most savvy business leaders are also working hard to turn their employees into brand evangelists. Starbucks is one such company and spends millions of dollars to make this happen. According to an article on Fast Company, the coffee chain organized Leadership Lab, a massive show held last October that exposed Starbucks store managers to different aspects of the company, including where it sourced its beans from, how it helps farmers, and its ethical sourcing initiatives. As the article puts it, "Starbucks is selling its employees the Starbucks brand."
Not every organization can fork out $35 million for a similar event, even if the outcome were to be guaranteed. However, there are still steps that companies can take to make sure their employees are fully cognizant of the work of the brand and its impact on customers. Apart from helping them do their job better, brand immersion will instill pride in employees to be part of that firm. "Employees need to know what the company is doing and where it is going," notes Beth Miller, president of Executive Velocity.
Here are four tips to help immerse employees in the brand.
- Be transparent: It is imperative that organizations communicate with their employees, but they also need to make sure they're transparent. According to Sara Tatchio, Ford's manager for integrated global communications, when Ford was experiencing financial struggles, the company undertook a policy of transparency, making sure it was sharing information with staff members and even letting them know months beforehand that the organization was going to be making staff cuts. "Sometimes transparency means having to say 'I don't know yet,'" she said during the Corporate Image and Branding Conference, organized by The Conference Board earlier this year.
- Train frontline managers: Good communication goes a long way in making sure that employees are properly immersed in the brand. Miller notes that a big barrier that organizations tend to face is making sure that information from the top echelons of the company trickles down to employees. Miller explains that this tends to happen because frontline managers are not effective communicators and aren't providing timely feedback to their staff members. She says one of the first things that an organization needs to do is solve any communication problems. "Especially in rapidly growing companies, single contributors might be promoted to management positions but not trained in leadership," Miller says. Training frontline managers will help ensure that employees are given the true brand message, allowing them to better understand the company's work and priorities. Miller also recommends communicating with employees in the way staff members prefer, for example using video to share with Millenials.
- Inspire and educate: It is human nature to want to be proud of what we do. Employees want to feel good about their jobs and be able to talk about the achievements of their organization. However, this can only take place if they are cognizant of the company's work and its impact on customers. During The Conference Board session, Jeanne Trogan, Dell's executive director of global internal communications, spoke about the company's recent internal brand campaign, which exposed staff members to the company's work. Trogan said the brand campaign, the first in Dell's history, showed employees how the company was giving customers the power to do more and showing them how the organization's products impact customers' lives. Integral in the internal branding campaign was a video that showed the involvement of Dell's products in well-known events, like the Mars rover, a U2 concert, and recovery following Hurricane Sandy.
- Turn employees into advocates: Further, employees need to be well versed in the company's products, allowing them to share their enthusiasm with their friends. "We wanted every single member at Dell to recommend [Dell's] products and services and Dell as a great place to work," Trogan said. But this won't be possible unless employees feel positive about the products or services that an organization delivers. Ford was encountering this problem because its employees didn't fully understand the company's products and how they added value to customers. According Tatchio the company overcame this issue by exposing all staff members to the different vehicles that the company manufacturers. Tatchio said the organization launched an initiative that encouraged employees to test-drive Ford cars and expose them to future products.
Finally, organizations should give their employees the necessary tools to assist customers who ask for their help, even if this happens in an informal setting, for example when they meet someone at a party, and the issue isn't directly related to the employee's job. It is therefore imperative for companies to have clear structures in place that allow staff members to direct customers to the best person or department which is likely to help them. This leads to higher satisfaction and employees who are proud to tell everyone where they work.