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.

Don’t Do It For Employee Retention- Do It Because You Believe In It!

I saw an article this week entitled, 86% of Employees Not Engaged By Companies’ Sustainability Programs. You can read it here. It says that while many organizations promote sustainability, most employees are dissatisfied with their employers’ sustainability efforts. And many believe that organizations do it just for marketing and sales.

I do believe that some organizations push corporate social responsibility programs, like sustainability, as way to attract and retain employees. Most likely, an executive came up with the idea because that’s what college graduates want. And in order to attract them, that’s what you have to have. If you develop any program, not because it’s the right thing to do, but solely because it’s a means to an end, it will not help you in the long-run.  

The brandful workforce roadmap is about authenticity and passion. Keep your eye on what special product or service you deliver and how it benefits society. In this, you will find the right citizenship platform that really will propel your brand as well as your community.

One of the six channels through which employees can promote the brand of the organization is citizenship, or as I like to call it, “doing good.” When employees can get out and do something they care about, that truly makes a difference in the world, and to the organization, they want to promote that everywhere, because they are proud.

I highlight two areas that are most critical to building an authentic citizenship program:

One is alignment with the business. There should be a sensible connection between the cause and the product or service of the organization. Take Hagen Daaz. They had a big campaign to protect the honeybee. This makes perfect sense because they use honey in their ingredients. I wish all programs could be so simply connected.

Two is internal support. Employees need to be able to participate in the programs, provided time, resources and moral support.

When employee participation in your corporate social responsibility programs is low, that’s a bad sign. Employees should not be incentivized to participate. Re-think your strategy. Make sure it is integrated to your business and there is real passion behind it. You can really make a difference and so can your employees.

 

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 juliagometz@gmail.com 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?

Laying Off – The Brandful Way

Did you hear about the layoffs this week at HMV – a British electronics retailer? One of the employees who got laid off was running their twitter account and decided to tweet what was going on as it was happening. Perfect example of what not to do.

It’s amazing how far the brandful workforce approach reaches. It gets at the root of running a good, solid business. If you don’t, then it will eventually catch up with you. You can’t decide at the last hour to start treating your employees better. It’s something that has to be part of your way of doing business; an accepted norm. If your organization doesn’t have sound internal practices, they can be changed over time, however it does take time, but it will pay off.

Brandful employees continue to promote the brand long after they are gone, regardless of the reasons they leave. But the flipside – having employees that are disgruntled – can force an organization to pay the price, as seen in this article about HMV.