A Photo Is Worth More Than Just Words

Last week, someone asked me to describe what a brandful workforce actually looks like. I hesitated to answer as I needed to clarify the question: “You mean, visually?” My colleague nodded. I hadn’t actually thought of it before, but my mind immediately came to an image of photos. I had heard that the lobby of Southwest Airlines corporate headquarters was plastered with photos of cabin crews, airplanes, gate agents, families, managers, friends, and office employees that were taken throughout the history of the airline. When I worked at JetBlue, I could walk up to any office cubicle and see not only family photos, but photos of co-workers and fellow Crewmembers. Photos can be quite telling about the personality and culture of the organization. But a photograph can also be engaging and bring out feelings. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes words cannot describe feelings. And this is similar to the visual results of a brandful workforce – a strong emotional connection between employees, the organization and the customers.

Was it a coincidence that just hours following this conversation I happened to walk into a Starbucks and see photos of the employees? When I read the blurbs beside the photos, it told me more about the personal lives of the baristas. I noticed some things I had in common with some of them. It immediately felt more like a friendly hangout, not just a great place that serves coffee, but a place to meet others. Every employee has a story and a personality that can be part of the experience, and be authentic. Kudos to Starbucks for encouraging their baristas to be themselves and share their individual interests and who they are – as part of their brand. This is a great example of being brandful.

starbucks photos

Cream of The Crap

This week I was speaking on a panel at The Cleveland Clinic’s Patient Empathy and Innovation Summit – how to build and sustain a culture of service excellence. Quite an important topic in the healthcare industry, where the top performers in patient experience are known as the “cream of the crap,” according to Dr. David Feinberg, CEO of UCLA Health System.

Part of the foundation for building a brandful workforce (one that works FOR the brand, not against it), is first having a product or service that employees are proud of – quite difficult at a hospital where one patient may have, say 25, uncoordinated caregivers on any given visit. While one employee, like a doctor, could be proud of her individual contribution to the service, that does not define the overall service provided to patients. The Cleveland Clinic realized that every single employee, janitors included, was to be called a “caregiver” and deemed part of the patient experience.

But how do you get everyone together and build that culture of service? I wrote in a previous blog about incentives and how I am opposed to rewarding an employee for something they should already be doing.  But more importantly – if they really believe in what they are doing – they don’t need to be incentivized. My experience in Cleveland this week, confirms this. While both UCLA Health System and The Methodist Hospital System indicated that they do incentivize their leaders, The Cleveland Clinic firmly is opposed to this strategy, and was able to achieve desired results without using incentives.

On my panel, I focused on the brandful workforce roadmap that calls for increased employee involvement and ownership in the brand, as a way to build a culture of service. Another speaker, Ananth Raman of Harvard Business School, who also co-wrote an article about the transformation from bottom to top performance of The Cleveland Clinic, spoke about employee empowerment at Toyota. He explained that Toyota installed a rope throughout the factory so that all employees could pull it whenever they saw something wrong. Any issue could be addressed immediately. He believes this had a big impact on the success of the company. As well, I bet it helped instill a sense of pride and ownership in Toyota’s product, within each employee, as any one of them, could be personally responsible for improving the product.

I certainly consider the healthcare leaders to be more than “cream of the crap.” They not only have valuable insights for other industries on how to transform a culture and put patients (or customers) first, they are actually doing what no other industry can claim: saving lives.

Patagonia’s Business Changed Because They Listened to Employees

This week, I came across a great story from Patagonia. Prior to using organic cotton in their clothing, Patagonia had opened a new store in which employees were suffering headaches. They listened and brought in an environmental engineer to investigate the problem. The engineer found that the air in the work environment had toxins due to the materials being used in making the clothing. From this, Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s CEO, took it upon himself to research what all goes into clothing and could there be another way?  From his journey, he is now not only a proponent of organic cotton and top quality, long-lasting clothing with growing sales, but a leader of a healthy workforce.

What can we learn from Yvon? He says that when he listens, he learns and evolves. He says that 10% of his customers buy Patagonia clothing simply because of the organization’s good practices. Could he also be attracting employees for the same reasons and is this number expected to grow? I believe this is a big part of Patagonia’s success. And I bet they continue to listen to their employees.

Watch the Patagonia video.

Failing Provides Insight

We held our third executive roundtable at the end of April, hosted by IBM in Manhattan. We had a fantastic, intimate group of folks from different industries and organizations (pharmaceutical, social media, financial, business services, pharmaceutical, publishing, and healthcare), and all came with a similar goal: to share their experiences on specifically how they are creating and sustaining a workforce that truly believes in the products and services they help deliver.

I’m not going to give you a “blow-by-blow” of the discussion, which continued to be just as engaging as the first two sessions, but I will provide some key points that struck me. One is that folks were just as interested, if not even more interested, in what wasn’t working. Due to the confidential nature of the discussion, participants were able to openly and comfortably share their struggles. One executive revealed that some of the work they did over the course of two years – just plain didn’t work. He said: “You can’t just add water and get an instant culture.” Some consultants lead you to believe that they can do the work for you, however, he feels that you have to do the hard work yourself, so it will stick.  While it may be easier to get someone to come into the organization, introduce employees to a set of behaviors or values, or organize your performance management system so that it rewards the right behaviors – this may not be creating the meaningful and real connections needed for brand sustenance and authenticity.

Another participant shared that her organization spent a lot of money “blasting” communications at employees aimed at informing them about the brand. She confided in the group that while this method did get the point across, it was not motivational nor did it inspire employees to want to be a part of the brand. It was more of a “one-way street” approach rather than a way to build a meaningful relationship.

While many of us learn the hard way, by failing and trying again, some of us can learn from others’ mistakes. And that’s what our forum is really about. Once we realized some of the big mistakes, it helped us focus on what seemed to be most important – how to meaningfully involve employees so they can have a direct impact on the brand. Some suggestions that were working within organizations were to involve employees in solving business problems, outside of their day-to-day job. Encourage them to speak up when something’s not working and praise them for doing so. Have direct employee voices be the norm, not necessarily “official” corporate communications.

These were just a few tidbits from our day together. There were many more insightful exchanges. Our next gathering is being planned for September in California. Let me know if you’d like to join.