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.

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?