The Future Is Now…No Now

I recently spoke at The Learning Forum’s gathering called, The Future of Innovation and The Work of Innovation, held at Convene’s newest conference center in lower Manhattan . Key takeaway: The future is here. It used to be that the future was very far off, say fifty years down the road. Now, we invent the future every day and advancements are much quicker than ever.

I can’t think of a better organizer for this topic than my colleague, Brian Hackett. He brings executives together on key topics like analytics, innovation and learning, to discuss challenges and wins, directly with one another. His forum is effective because there’s nobody trying to sell anything, only meaningful dialog that adds value to what you’re doing.  As well, members join for a year or more at a time and meet three times per year, so when you attend a forum, you can continue conversations and check in on progress. This kind of format attracts those executives who make good peers. This means they are not only willing, but prepared to share their expertise to help others. As well, they truly want to engage, ask questions and gain insights from the rest of the group, as it relates to their current and future goals.

At the latest session, one participant commented that he has stronger relationships with peers at The Learning Forum than with his peers at his company. I’m not sure whether things are bad at his workplace or just exceptional at The Learning Forum, but it’s interesting to note.

Food for thought from the conference:

  • Intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation in the future.

It has already been proven by neuroscientists that intrinsic motivation leads to better performance than extrinsic motivation.  This explains why there is a current shift toward culture as a key component of success. Traditional means of attracting employees with pay and incentives continue to be questioned as emphasis on culture, values and purpose continue to rise as top motivators of performance. This supports the brandful approach of employing people because of their genuine interest in the products and services, which expands the criteria for selecting and retaining employees. Having employees participate in the evolving brand is the highest form of intrinsic motivation, as they are creators of the success.

  • Employees versus contractors

Some discussion focused on the trend to hire more contractors and temporary workers as opposed to employees. What does this mean for the future workforce? How will this impact productivity and engagement? The ability to quickly integrate workers in and out of the organization seamlessly, regardless of their status will be critical.  As well, a strong brand (internally and externally) will be an important component of this process.

As a side note, I met with an executive at American Express this week who commented that LinkedIn’s talent brand index was unhelpful as it calculates the strength of your brand based on activity from your employees on LinkedIn. With 50,000 recruiters who are not employed by American Express, the index is not helpful.

  • Paying employees to learn versus hiring expertise externally

It’s not as easy as before to hire externally. Someone with a top track record at another company doesn’t necessarily spell success at your organization. As well, there’s not a lot of great talent pool out there as new skills are constantly needed. I learned from the Dell innovation team, in attendance, that it may be easier than you think to build the talent yourself. But it clearly takes a visionary and eye for potential talent within the organization. I was intrigued to learn that Dell pulled a team from across the organization (highly intelligent folks) and paid them to learn for the first number of months. That’s the investment part, however most companies pay as much to headhunters. Dell’s innovation team struck me as being on the forefront of innovation and they had only been in existence for four years.  Great example for anyone interested in doing the same.

  • Creativity and Value has no boundaries

Who could imagine that a global company like Lowe’s would hire a start-up science fiction innovation company to help plan their future? Kudos to Ari Popper, Founder of SciFutures, who spoke at the conference about his incredible approach to envisioning the future and creating it.  There are no boundaries to what might interest today’s CEOs as they are all challenged to maintain an edge on the competition. Watch the news to see the fruits of his work.

Finally, I can’t end this post without mentioning my colleague Andrew Tow, who shared some of his wine from The Withers Winery at the evening reception. For someone like me who cannot hold alcohol very well, I was able to enjoy his low alcohol-high flavor wine thoroughly. Now that I’m done with this, I think I’ll have a little more.

Send me your thoughts about the future of innovation and the work of innovation. Don’t forget to check out some other blog posts from The Brandful Workforce. Purchase the book.

Brandful Approach Gains Momentum

Last week, I spoke to a fantastic group of Long Island human resource professionals who understood the value the workforce can bring to the brand.

While I do give a lot of presentations, I enjoy customizing my message and content for each unique audience. When deciding what to include for this group, I carefully reviewed my materials including videos, stories, and company examples. I decided to feature one of my favorite videos from Clear Vision Optical, a small Long Island-based company of 250 employees, that designs and distributes eyewear for all ages. The video offers a quick peak of what can happen when an organization has a brandful workforce. While companies can spend thousands of dollars on a single video (or even millions for a series of videos), brandful employees have the genuine desire to create their own videos that come across as more authentic than corporate-produced versions.

As I passionately spoke about how to build a brandful workforce, up popped the Clear Vision video. Immediately, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the excitement from two women about eight rows back in the middle and I heard them whisper loudly so as not to interrupt the presentation: “Hey, that’s us!” They got out their cameras and began to take pictures. Later I found out that they had emailed their co-workers saying that Clear Vision was on stage. The pride they exhibited only confirmed their brandful workplace.

Following my presentation, we chatted and someone snapped the picture below of me with Jennifer and Ann Marie from Clear Vision:

Clear Vision

The Brandful approach is gaining momentum. And it’s not just from audiences such as this.   I see more and more the need and desire to merge the external brand perceived by customers, with the internal culture of the employees. Customers and employees have direct relationships that are real. Well, on second thought, sometimes they aren’t real, but those aren’t the strong relationships. Companies that truly understand this bond have the potential to succeed, but only if they can build an action-based strategy around the brandful approach, which is based upon employee involvement in the evolving brand.

A company like Rolls-Royce is part of this new trend which is encouraging employees to become part of the living brand. For example, one of the employees was inspired with a wild idea to gain more exposure for the changes going on at Rolls-Royce. She thought it would be cool if the company could build a jet engine out of legos.  This would highlight the focus on jet engines, as well as the fresh innovative spirit at the company. When she conveyed her idea to Jeff Lackey, a leader in Global Sourcing, he immediately supported it. Yes, there would be investment – Who knew a lego project could cost as much as €20,000? However, it ended up paying off. The project, which took eight weeks for four people to assemble, ended up generating about one million euros worth of brand advertisement given the response it generated on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. As well, it drew notable attention at the Farnborough Air Show. Check out the video.

While many companies haven’t even attempted to involve their employees in shaping the brand, many are starting to test the waters. They aren’t accustomed to giving up control or empowering employees in this manner. They may be averse to risk or change or what damage such actions might do. But this attitude will ultimately stunt growth.  Other companies like IBM and General Electric are at the forefront, investing in employee ideas.

Investing in employees as brand innovators and brand ambassadors is not just about employee engagement, or employee motivation to be productive on the job, which usually relates to liking their boss and/or peers. Being brandful is about employee participation in the ongoing creation of the brand, the products and services that they help deliver.  Isn’t that what a workforce comes together for anyway?

Share what your company is doing to become brandful. I’m always on the lookout for new examples and ways to encourage others to be brandful.

Check out my previous posts and don’t forget to share this one with your colleagues and friends.




America’s Not Got All The Talent

This week I was in Las Vegas speaking at a conference on workforce planning. This topic explores how organizations can best plan for the right mix of talent competencies they will need in the next ten years to achieve success. Not easy with the retirement of many baby boomers. It was interesting to note which skills will be needed and where there are voids – for example: computer programming. We have to bring in computer programmers from outside the country right now to fill this gap. Some organizations are already beginning to take action to address the need for more computer programmers such as who produced this video, encouraging our youth to get involved.

One of the most compelling speakers was the President of Devry University, who seemed to be on the constant lookout for the latest talent needs of the nation’s largest organizations. He wants Devry to be able to provide employers with folks who are ready to take the company to where it needs to go. His team creates new programs specifically for organizations that are at a standstill in finding the talent they need. And they will take existing talent and give them new skills until a new talent pool can be created. I give him a lot of credit. While many educational institutions are struggling with ineffective business models instead of course content, his focus is on solving real issues with education.

And being in Vegas, I was expecting to see a couple of brandful employees from Zappos, which I did. So what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in girls

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.

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.

How to Convince Your CEO That Employees Matter to the Brand

Human Resources Executive invited me to conduct a webinar this week on how to build and sustain a brandful workforce. If you’ve been reading my blog or following me, you’ll know that’s a workforce of “brand promoters.” (You can click here to listen to the presentation or download the slides.) After I ran through the roadmap, I got a question that is often asked: “How do I convince my CEO that employees matter to the brand?” In my book, I point out that the CEO’s people philosophy is a pre-requisite to building a brandful workforce. It’s not something that can be faked. I introduce a people pyramid, kind of like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but it’s a hierarchy of the importance of people to the brand of the organization. At the top, they are critical to the brand. At the bottom, they don’t matter at all. Every organization places their people somewhere on this hierarchy, whether or not they know it. Where they place their people, usually is a result of the CEO’s philosophy and his or her ability to instill that thinking in all levels of leadership.

How do you get the CEO to see employees at the top of the pyramid, not the bottom? Well, some already see employees as being critical to the brand. But what about the ones who don’t? Some CEO’s can never be convinced. If I worked in an organization like that, I’d leave, but that’s up to you. Other CEO’s respond to fear. They see someone like Eric Smith from Goldman, who did major damage, and they get scared that they might have an employee who could do similar harm to their brand. Yes, fear is one tactic and there are many examples and growing. A second strategy is the rational approach, using data: “Hey Chief, look at these numbers that support the fact that if we mobilize our employees to support our brand, it can yield us higher revenue and separate us from our competition.” You would need some good data analysts but it can be done. A third strategy would be to get an example that your CEO can appreciate – an organization like Wegmans or The Container Store and detail how they incorporate people into the success of their business. Some CEO’s respond well to seeing it in action. If all else fails, give me a call, I’ll try a fourth strategy – you’ll have to call me to find out what it is.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to check out my other posts, and add to the discussion.

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.

Brandful Recruiting

I just got back from Miami where I spoke to a great group of recruiters at TMA’s Strategic Recruiting Summit. There were some fantastic companies represented like USAA, Kellogg’s (who both recruit their customers as potential employees), Hilton Grand Vacations, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Gate Gourmet, AbbVie, McKesson and Kaiser Permanente. I was glad to see that many of the organizations are focusing on recruiting as part of their overall brand strategy (their candidate experience reflects on their brand- especially when the folks don’t get the job- they can continue to like the products and services and remain a customer), however I did see some unfair challenges that recruiters face – because some of the c-suite still don’t get it. Why should recruiters be boxed into an “employer brand?” Aren’t they, along with every single employee, part of the larger brand?  (Side note:  a brand is simply what folks say about you behind closed doors. It can pertain to an organization as a whole, a specific product, a person or a group of people.)  In our transparent world, can you really separate the employer brand from the consumer brand anymore? Should it be up to the recruiter to figure out the workforce brand and recruit toward that? Why are organizations asking their employees to describe their work environment and help the company figure out their employer brand? I don’t get it.

I’d like to see the c-suite take more of a lead in not just figuring out the employer brand, but shaping it into what it should be. And what it should be, is aligned with the business model and customer promise. They need to ask themselves: “What kind of employee do we need working here that can delight our customers and fulfill our business model?” Once they figure that out, then the recruiters can more successfully find the right kind of folks to charge the company forward.

But don’t forget about the brand. I asked the audience how many of them were looking for a “brand match” while recruiting. (That is- someone who, in addition to having the right skill set and experience, is also passionate about the particular services or products that they offer.) Many recruiters raised their hands. I didn’t get the chance to find out how they were doing it, but I did hear a great story from Tomya at Sloan-Kettering.  She explained that they ask every single candidate whether they’d feel comfortable being in the hospital setting around cancer patients. If not, they don’t get hired. Being one of the best (if not the best) cancer centers in the world, they are ensuring that all of their employees care about their cause. Tomya suggested an accountant could choose to be an accountant at any type of organization. If she wants to be an accountant at Sloan-Kettering, she needed to care about the services they deliver and want to be a part of it. No wonder, employee engagement is at the top of the charts at Sloan-Kettering.

During my presentation, I suggested the following steps to implement a brandful recruiting strategy:

  • hire from your customer base
  • hire folks with a demonstrated passion for your product or service
  • hire folks with a passion for your mission or cause (could come from nonprofits)
  • hire folks who are excited to use your brand perks (ie. discounts)

I mentioned a comment made to me while I was shopping at Trader Joe’s. The store clerk said to me: “I spend my entire paycheck here!”  That’s when you know you have a brandful employee.

Thanks for reading my blog. If this is your first time on my site, please look around at my other posts and events, and join in the discussion. Catch you later!

Did I “crack the code?”

This week, I was invited to present my Brandful Worfkorce model at a small private executive forum hosted at Hertz Headquarters in New Jersey and convened by The Institute for Corporate Productivity also known as i4cp. While I enjoy presenting at both small and large audiences, the benefit of a small, intimate audience is the chance to really interact and have a dialogue. What I’m noticing more and more, especially having recently moved from the corporate environment to my own independent venture, is that the divide is growing between corporate and non-corporate, particularly in the realm of social media. It is much more difficult for large corporations to keep up with new technologies and leverage them to their advantage while smaller organizations can move in and capture a unique niche. However, if employees within large corporations were treated as individual entrepreneurs, maybe that would not be the case. See my blog about LinkedIn’s program. Anyway, that was not the point of today’s blog, but it was on my mind.

What I wanted to talk about was whether or not I “cracked the code.” You may ask, “What code?” Answer: The code to corporate success. After having presented my roadmap on how to build a workforce that promotes the brand – see my blog on the Brandful Workforce Overview – the participant from Cisco came over the me and asked: “So you don’t have to be a Richard Brandson or Steve Jobs -or some godlike leader – to build a brandful workforce?” I said, “No, of course not.” And he replied: “Then Julia, you cracked the code!”  If anyone can do it, then it opens the door to many other organizations. He wanted to know if a brandful workforce was something that could be created in a mature organization that had no history of involving the employees in the brand – or did it only apply to startups, where it had to be built from the beginning. I do absolutely believe it applies to any type of organization at any level of maturity. It just may take more time and effort.

The Cisco participant then introduced an example. He mentioned Saturn – the car company. From his point of view – he described Saturn as a company that started out with a cool car and everyone loved it. The employees were quite thrilled to promote it. Then, the car changed and in his view – became a bad product. (He phrased it differently.) The employees were no longer promoting it and he wondered if it was how leadership were treating the employees. According to the brandful workforce roadmap, employees cannot promote a product that is not stellar, no matter how they are treated by management. So much of the work that management does to foster positive relations with employees is not going to amount to anything if the product stinks.

The Brandful Workforce roadmap is quite simple. It’s usually the organizations that get lost in the weeds of their business – rather than focus on the three keys to a brandful workforce, which also happen to be keys to general success: a solid business model, customer promise and employee promise. Did I crack the code?