I have a bit of an obsession on the subject of how employees, the corporate brand, and “engagement” all fit together–or not.
First, a definition is in order: Employee brand engagement is the positive emotional connection between employees and their company through the brand, and the extension of the brand experience to customers.
This can be confusing, because in any given company there are so many different initiatives–employee engagement, employer branding, corporate values, marketing taglines, brand attributes and positioning, and so on. It’s a welter of unconnected concepts. In the US, in particular, these different initiatives are “owned” by different silos. HR, Marketing, Corporate Communications, Internal Communications. What I am talking about is the emerging need to connect the dots between employee engagement programs (which tend to be inward-looking) with the delivery of an on-brand experience to customers (the outside view).
In my experience, there are five keys to success in Employee Brand Engagement:
1. Make sure your CEO is on board, and ensure cross-functional commitment If senior management considers employee engagement something that belongs to HR or Internal Communications, the program will have limited success at best. Employees look to leadership to reinforce messages and behaviors that are introduced in the engagement initiative. And engagement doesn’t happen overnight, so leadership must show commitment strategically and financially. These programs require a close working relationship among HR, Organizational Design, Training, Marketing, Internal Communications. Unless your company has a designated Employee Engagement unit, no one group can “own” the program.
2. Use employee AND customer data to create program metrics Traditional engagement focuses on recruiting and retention. Traditional marketing focuses on sales and customer satisfaction. But there are some exciting new ways to link improvements in employee attitudes and behavior with improved business results. The Sears service-profit model has been around for a long time, but it’s only now that statistical models can bring it to life. And while you’re doing that, uncover other useful metrics. Like an internal communications audit that measures the value and impact of different types of communications. And a deeper dive into employee attitudes by region, line of business, job band, etc. It’s a noisy world out there in employee-land.
3. Fewer rules, more brand ownership I’m talking to you, marketers! Brand strategy and brand management is often closely held. Just as today’s customers feel a sense of ownership of your brand, so do employees. Employee’s front line experiences are valid and revealing. Rigid rules, impenetrable “dashboards”, complex messaging matrices are often built in an ivory tower. Let employees challenge your assumptions. Let them tell you about the real world. That is, however, only after you have let them see and hear what real customers and prospects actually say about your company and products. It’s eye-opening on all sides.
4. Market to employees like customers Just as strong advertising programs are cross-platform, a successful brand engagement program must consider each employee touchpoint. Don’t rely on posters and employee publications to do the work. Think viral. Think interactive content. Think hands-on experience. But I have to offer one major caution: often, employees react poorly to “expensive” looking material, particularly in an environment when resources are tight. Be sensitive to your corporate culture.
5. Give your program time We live in a world of instant gratification, but behavioral change doesn’t happen overnight. All too often, my clients dive into a program without realizing that they are committing to a multi-year effort. You don’t just set up a network of brand advocates, and dust off your hands. If you have a network, they will require regular care and feeding. Brand training is the beginning, not the end. If you set up your metrics appropriately, you will have specific check-points along the way.
There is much more to say on this subject, but not today.