AOL Has Guts. Do You?

We all know the story of the first day on the job, and things not seeming the same as they did in the interviews.

Is your advertised culture what it really is? It’s tough to compete for talent. Some companies try to be as hip and cool as their competitors, but are they really who they say they are?

Last month, I conducted a webinar with my colleague, Susan Amori, Senior Director, AOL Talent & AOL Cultural Ambassador Program. Susan and I spent an hour with our listeners, most of whom were recruiters. I shared my how-to approach on attracting and hiring employees who would best serve the brand. (See my book, The Brandful Workforce for more info on that.) Susan chimed in with specific examples from AOL.

My favorite example from Susan was how AOL organizes informal events for employees to bring in friends and potential future employees. Being a content company, it aligns with the AOL brand to attract thought-provoking speakers and draw in top talent. These events create introductions and comfortable peeks into the AOL culture, for perspective workers. The AOL team maintains a contact list of everyone who attends their events and later can tap into that resource in their hiring efforts. According to the brandful workforce approach, this program simultaneously supports their business and their employees.

Later on in the webinar, I spoke about the importance of employee involvement in the continued evolution of the brand. Selecting employees who want to participate in shaping the future of the company is a win-win for any company and especially AOL. That’s when Susan mentioned the AOL hackathons. These are specific days in which employees are encouraged to think up and submit new ideas and collaborate across the company. If you don’t have this kind of program, you should think about starting one. Your employees may be sitting on your next big product or new service, and you don’t even know it.

But back to the employee promise.

Susan did something following our webinar that many corporate executives don’t have the guts to do. She put the AOL employee promise to the test. She asked her team to tell her the AOL employee promise to see if it was in fact what she thought it was. An employee promise is like a brand in a certain sense – you have one whether or not you know what it is. It’s a perception.

An employee promise answers questions like: “Why am working here?” What am I getting and what am I giving here?” or “Why should I join?” or “Why should I leave?”

Here’s how the test went according to Susan:

The experiment with our recruiting team was quite interesting. I asked them just to jot down their personal view of our employee promise. The top 6 consistent bullets that came up were summarized as follows:
• The opportunity to work in a great culture (Culture)
• The opportunity to work with smart, passionate and dedicated employees (People)
• You will have the freedom to be creative and create change (Culture)
• You will have the opportunity to grow your skills and manage your career with support from leaders and AOL University (Development)
• You will have the opportunity to work with cutting-edge technologies (Exposure/Tech)
• You will have the opportunity to get involved with community/volunteer initiatives to help others (Volunteerism)

Compare this to what I thought our employee promise was:
• Fast-paced, agile business – you will never be bored here (Business)
• Work with global brands that have tremendous reach and continue to grow (Business)
• Encouragement and support to help others – especially at the local community level (Volunteerism)
• Strong emphasis on personal wellness – ‘whole’ person wellness, not just fitness and nutrition (Wellness/Benefits)
• Company values that are ingrained throughout the business – and reinforced through recognition programs (Culture)
• Fun, creative working environment – you get back as much as you give (Culture)
• Structured training and leadership development programs – with special focus on training for people managers (Development)

This was just a quick experiment that Susan was interested in running to see if her team was on the same page. Any organization dedicated to building and sustaining a brandful workforce needs this kind of guts. And I mean the guts to continually check in to see if what you advertise is really happening within your organization. And if it’s not, do something about it. It helps with authenticity and sustainability of the culture and brand.

Yes, it’s sometimes easier not to ask any questions and plow full steam ahead. Of course, you risk having something unforeseen thrown in your path that you could have avoided, if you’d only asked. You might even be surprised at much more value your workforce can bring to your business in addition to their daily responsibilities. If you decide to do a similar experiment with your team, post it here. I’m sure Susan would love to see results from other organizations. And so would I.

Watch the webinar referenced above. See more brandful workforce blogs.

I Quit!

A long time ago, it was rare for someone to quit. People stayed in the same job for years and years, and even more years, until retirement or death, whichever came first. Today, the opposite is true. Change is so rapid that it’s hard to predict the future of any organization, let alone job or role.  So when I stumbled across this video, I thought: “Ah, a new way to say ‘Adios’ to your boss.” Quite creative, especially given the fact that the employer was a video production company…not surprising that the employee’s video of her quitting, went viral immediately. Maybe her boss was  happy that she finally produced a viral video, however maybe he or she wasn’t anticipating it would be her goodbye video that would get the most number of views.

But not everybody quits. Some leave unwillingly. Like the employee who was fired by the AOL Chief during a recorded staff meeting. She was taping the internal conversation, a big “no-no” if you listen to the recording, which shouldn’t have been recorded in the first place. What a way to go, publicly in front of the entire company and then later publicized to the world.

Some folks quit, but go about it in the wrong way, like the JetBlue flight attendant, who illegally deployed a slide. At the end of his flight, he simply slid down the slide and attempted to leave…for good.

Some folks do it the right way. Well at least, it is well-intended, like the Goodwill employee who was just trying to help folks pay for the merchandise by reducing the prices. The teenage employee was only wanting to help and do “good” as suggested by the name of his employer. But Goodwill didn’t see it that way, fired him and pressed charges, according to the news story.

How does this relate to our topic of The Brandful Workforce- which is a workforce that promotes the brand of the organization? In all of the cases above and in most employee departures, it is critical to keep in mind that the brand of the organization, that the employee leaves behind, continues. And it continues with or without that employee. It is incumbent upon every organization to ensure that every departure can reflect the brand integrity – and if it doesn’t, the organization should take a good look at itself. For more about brandful, read my other posts.

Canadian Brandful Workforce

Having spent part of my summer in Canada, I have to include one of my favorite Canadian brands in this week’s post: Tristan, a men’s and women’s apparel company. I first discovered Tristan in about 1998 when I was working in Times Square in New York City. They had a location on Avenue of the Americas and 49th Street, that I would frequent in between meetings. And then one day, it was gone. This summer, while I was in Toronto having dinner at The Pickle Barrel across from The Eaton Center, my waitress started talking about her second job as an assistant manager at Tristan. I asked her why they closed the New York store and she explained: “We realized much of our customer base, not only loved our line of clothes, but were dedicated to buying Canadian. This didn’t necessarily work in New York.” I thought about Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue and all the major clothing stores, and could understand the difficulties that may have hit Tristan.

But it wasn’t just the branding toward consumers that could have been tough. I wondered if it would have been possible for any non-Canadian employee -like an American – to be equally as passionate and proud. I could tell how passionate my waitress was about Tristan, and how proud she was that it was Canadian. She told us all about the new technology that Tristan was putting in its stores whereby customers could virtually try on different combinations of clothing to see how it would look instead of going in the dressing room. And she told us about the expansion of the company and her face lit up with excitement as she spoke. Could that have been the reason for the failure of the Tristan store in New York? That the employees were not as good brand ambassadors as those from Canada? Or was it that the competition of other international apparel brands was too fierce?

I guess I’ll never know for sure. But judging from the Tristan employee I met in Toronto, the company is alive and well – with a Canadian brandful workforce.

What Do Employees Do All Day?

When employees achieve progress at work, they not only feel valued, but they truly are valued.  They want to succeed and be part of the success, just like being brandful is being part of a successful brand. An easy way to help connect your employees to your company’s accomplishments is to find out what they actually do all day, and make sure they are able to make the greatest individual impact. You’d be surprised what you can uncover – that you didn’t know – especially the time-wasters and inefficiencies in your operation. When I was at JetBlue we conducted a project within one department to find out where employees were spending their time. And then we looked for inefficiencies. Usually these types of projects point out if there are duplications of effort (there were), processes that need improvement (boy- who knew it took so long to do a simple task?) or tasks that can easily be eliminated (we don’t need that anymore). This kind of work can be done every 2-3 years and can be very useful for organizations that experience change.

It can also be helpful to organizations who want to build a brandful workforce – a workforce that promotes the brand of the organization – because the more employees can directly connect their work to the products or services being delivered, the more likely they are to be brandful.

 

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.

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!

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.

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!