Being Brandful Is Taking A Risk to Be Yourself

I saw an inspiring video with Barbara Corcoran. She started out with nothing and went on to be one of the most successful real estate entrepreneurs. The video clip ends with her telling the audience the worst advice her mother ever gave her (and most of the advice was good): “Don’t go out and start something on your own. Build up your resume first.” Barbara says that she never meets anyone who was disappointed to have tried a new venture, to have taken a risk, even if it failed. On the other hand, she says that most people she meets are disappointed to have never tried what they always wanted to do.

Just like the saying: “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” I like to think “It’s better to have tried and failed than to have never even given it a shot.” We need more folks to take risks, but not just financial risks. Being brandful is taking a risk on doing something that you love, falling in love with a product, and following that passion over a certain promotion or career ladder. By the way, ladders have made may to lattices and not all momentum is upward. I see many folks that have invested so much into their profession or career, only to find out along the journey that they are really passionate about something else. Don’t allow yourself to become trapped. Thank you Barbara for inspiring my blog today.

Click here to see the short video clip of Barbara Corcoran

Being Brandful Is Telling The Truth

It’s one thing to lie to your employees so they can be truthful with the customers, without knowing they’re lying. And it’s another thing to actually instruct employees to lie to the customers. But why have any lying at all?

This week, I was early for a meeting so I decided to check out the hand cream at L’Occitane, a global retailer of beauty products, at their Fifth Avenue flagship location in Manhattan. I was greeted by a warm smile and “Would you like to try a fresh cup of rose tea?” Still being a bit chilly at the end of March, I accepted the offer. Mineli was the store associate who poured my cup of tea and asked what I was looking for. As I tried various fragrances, I noticed right away that she was definitely a role model for being brandful. She knew the products inside and out. She was passionate about them and used them herself. And she raved on and on about the French CEO and how she knew him personally. She also told me – without my asking- about the corporate social responsibility programs and how the company supports women.

But what caught my attention most was when she told me about her previous employers -who shall remain nameless. (For those of you who don’t know me, I have a golden rule: If you don’t have something nice to say – say it, but without damage – only a lesson.) Mineli told me that she had worked at three other beauty retailers, and consistently left when she was lied to or worse – she was asked to lie to customers – about what was actually in the products. For Mineli, who takes her work quite seriously and passionately, like any other brandful employee, would rather not work at all, than to compromise her own value system. She was head-over-heels to be at l’Occitane for over a year now – at a company she truly knows, understands, believes in and can promote.

I do believe that organizations that allow integrity to be compromised, will be exposed if not by the customers, by the employees. They will erode from the inside out, as shown through Mineli.

If you know a brandful employee, I’d love to hear about him or her. Please email me at and thanks for reading my blog!

Customer Surveys Get Kicked by Brandful Employees

Forbes recently released its 2013 Forbes Billionaires list. Believe me, I wasn’t waiting on pins and needles for this to come out. I just happened to hear it on the radio and something caught my attention. No, it wasn’t the fact that this is the first time since 2000 that Warren Buffet was not in the top three. And no, it wasn’t that Amancio Ortega of Spanish retailer Zara, made it to number three for the first time. But it does have to do with Zara, the company he founded.

Zara’s success can be attributed to their supply chain speed and customer-centric approach. Clothes move from concept to design to stores within days. But the real secret seemed to be their pulse of the customers. They listen to their customers and are attentive to their needs. How? Through their employees. While most organizations have a centralized customer team, who usually is in charge of customer surveys and feedback, among other responsibilities, Zara zeros in on employees who contact headquarters daily with customer needs. If someone wants a shirt in a certain color, that information gets transmitted immediately. No waiting for customers to fill out surveys, and with a typical response rate of 5%, would it even be helpful?

How empowering is that for an employee to be able to advocate on behalf of the customer and provide quick results? The entire process is a win-win for the company and for employees.

What is Industrial-Organizational Psychology?

Last night I met with a great group of students at NYU’s Graduate Program of I-O Psychology. They were a diverse bunch from different parts of the world and different stages of their careers, but all shared a passion for understanding the functions and dysfunctions of employees and the workforce in general. I discovered this academic specialty while working at JetBlue when I happened to interview and eventually hire a couple of graduates from this program. The more I understand about I-O Psychology, the more I believe it is an under-leveraged expertise that organizations need, especially to build their competitive advantage.

Some of the questions that academics, students are practitioners address in this area are: What motivates employee behavior? How can employee behavior be measured and linked to bottom-line business results? What makes an effective leader? I-O psychologists specialize in designing and implementing organizational assessments and employee surveys, conducting executive or leader coaching programs, and mining data to determine employee program effectiveness, efficiency or prioritization of initiatives that will make the greatest impact on the organization.

I-O Psychologists are analysts, only they are quite different from financial or other technical analysts in that they deal not only in the rational realm but the emotional side as well. This is where many organizations miss the boat. Many executives make decisions based on fantastic analyses that do not account for non-rational influences, because it’s usually a business person, not a psychologist providing the advice. I’m not saying for executives to abandon the business perspective, but rather, to include another voice among the discussion.

Why am I writing about this in my brandful workforce blog? Because the lines of internal and external branding are blurred. It’s going to take a multi-perspective approach to build a brandful workforce – it’s time to collaborate across disciplines and get to know new ones.

Employee Rewards Can Be Corrosive

One of my meetings this week was down on Wall Street. It was great to see the progress of the rebuilding going on down there. Lots of visitors to the 9-11 Memorial.

While sitting with a couple of executives (one Marketing and one Human Resources), overlooking the New York Harbor, we discussed what they were doing to build a workforce that can truly be a part of their valuable brand. We talked about their compelling business model and how they differentiated themselves by their innovation. We discussed new uses of social media that would thrust them ahead of their competition. And then they mentioned how to motivate their workforce and I heard the word “recognition” which immediately raised a red flag.  Over my years of experience, I’ve begun to cringe at the whole idea of employee rewards and recognition as a technique to develop a culture, or instill the “correct” behaviors. Shouldn’t employee behavior be a result of something deeper than a $25 giftcard?

The brandful workforce roadmap requires a successful business model and organizational mission. If that’s in place, that should be the motivation behind the workforce – to fulfill the higher purpose behind the organization. Wouldn’t that be more meaningful than a getting recognized for a specific behavior – to know that you are contributing to a greater good?

Then, the executives in the meeting looked at each other and agreed. They told me that in thinking about rewarding employees, they had seen it backfire so much so that they said it was” corrosive.” Recognizing individuals for specific behaviors can actually take focus away from collective efforts and overarching goals and divide employees rather than unite them.

I realize that there are entire businesses dedicated to helping organizations with rewards and recognition programs, but are they really needed? What do you think?

Kindness Makes You Crave Donuts

I stumbled across a new video this week. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s authentic, meaningful and packed with emotion. It’s certainly brandful. But let’s get our priorities straight. Most importantly, it brings on that donut crave.

Dunkin Donuts is doing something right. Or maybe it’s just that one Dunkin Donuts location.  Or maybe it’s just that one employee that inspired a group of 60 customers to come together and make this video.

I’d like to remind you what being brandful is all about. It’s about working at an organization whose product or service you truly believe in – so much so, that you naturally promote it. In the video, we meet Zamir, a Dunkin Donuts employee who connects to his customers (college students), cares about them and sells them something he loves, with love. Isn’t it interesting that Zamir doesn’t even feel that he’s done anything special? He is simply being himself. And that is what’s so simple about being brandful. It’s knowing yourself well enough to enter into the right relationships that allow you to be you – and be appreciated for that.

One of the comments regarding the video sums it up nicely: Moral of the story, kindness makes people crave doughnuts, which means that guy [Zamir] probably works in the perfect spot.

Now, I think I’ll go out and get some donuts… my local Dunkin!

(If you haven’t read other articles in my blog, please check them out and let me know what you think. Thanks for reading and joining in the discussion.)