When building a (consumer) brand a lot of time and effort is spent on understanding a company’s positioning towards their clients and their competition. Little time is spent trying to understand the positioning in regards to the company: What is our identity? What do we stand for? How does the brand work for current employees and future employees? How do the overall values play out in day to day working life? How do we implement the brand internally?
A lot of time is spent pouring over words, images, product ideas. The same concentration, determination and creativity is missing when planning for another important stakeholder: the internal audience. Marketing is focused on the consumer/ client and the competition (and is remunerated accordingly). The internal focus is often an afterthought. A big internal launch event maybe, but subsequently management is delegated to a junior person and more often than not falls off the radar.
HR & Talent management are missing from the brand creation process
HR and Talent management are are often missing from the brand creation process. This represents a lost opportunity to take what has been built and extend it towards the internal audience thus creating a consistent company culture based on shared values and shared experiences. To make the most of this opportunity requires changes to the status quo and for HR and Talent to depart from their comfort zone so that the company culture doesn’t just develop by accident.
Here is an example of how we rolled out a successful and attractive external brand at Jobsite with little attention to the internal brand: Jobsite’s brand essence was “We help you plan your work life, so your whole life works better” and whilst Jobsite was a great place to work, we weren’t rigorous enough in adjusting internal behaviour, policies and programs to help the Jobsite employees to plan their work life, so their whole life would work better.
We talked about the brand essence, what it meant and how to communicate it, but it wasn’t consistently and convincingly applied in the internal communication and interactions. We brainstormed ideas and developed products to help candidates but we didn’t innovate internally so people could really live our brand. Using spiral dynamics we built a questionnaire for candidates to identify their personal profile, how they relate to others’ profiles, and we supplied questions to use in interviews so candidates could identify if the culture of a company was aligned to their own. We never used this internally, either as a recruitment or a performance management tool. Over time, separate internal and external brands developed. The external one continued to be managed, the internal one just happened.
Inconsistency between internal and external brand
At the beginning the inconsistency between the internal and external brand doesn’t really matter, but over time it shows. Over time the internal credibility drops and once the internal belief is gone, it seeps through every client interaction. A company loses its soul and slowly a brand ends where it started: undefined, undervalued and unloved. This inconsistency between internal and external brand can also be felt from the consumer and client side: The external brand builds up a significant expectation. But when the brand isn’t lived by every single employee, it isn’t delivered through every interaction. In the end the brand experience becomes significantly different than the brand expectation. This can be positive if you start with a low expectation or it can be negative when starting with a high expectation. When brand values and corporate culture are not aligned, rather than positioning the company for success, management are leaving it up to chance and the professional pride of the individual. This misalignment can also occur purely internally, if two or more sets of brand values exist. Balmer’s AC²D test (see below) nicely explains these discrepancies.
A tool to overcome inconsistencies
In “From the Pentagon: a new identity framework” Balmer describes the AC2D as “a tool that can detect conflicts between stakeholder perceptions and inconsistencies in official communications strategy, and encompasses the notion of evolving image and strategy”. In other words, it helps to point out discrepancies and at the same time helps to manage culture and corporate identity in a changing environment. As long as the mismatch is desired and managed, it can actually be a positive. If you build a brand only on actual values (what you have always done and do now), you are in danger of stifling growth and not adjusting to a changing external environment. Ideally, the actual identity and the communicated one are completely aligned – no mismatch between internal and external brand. At the same time the ideal and desired identity are built with the future in mind. Where do we want to be? How do we have to behave and evolve to achieve this?
A planned and managed mismatch of values
The next step is for the leadership to communicate the vision and live the new reality. Working with HR and Marketing, a roadmap needs to be designed to transition between where we are now to where we want to be. Communications, behaviours and competency frameworks should be adjusted and used to assess and manage achieving the new reality. If some employees can’t or won’t come along on this journey, then this needs addressing rather than allowing it to slow the process down. The desired identity, as Trueman said in his paper “Can a city communicate? Bradford as a corporate brand” in 2004, “lives in the hearts and minds of corporate leaders. It is their vision for the organization. Whereas the ideal identity normally emerges after a period of research and analysis, the desired identity may have more to do with a vision informed by a CEO’s personality and ego than with a rational assessment.” Morphing the two and adequate execution underpins success. This planned and managed mismatch is important for the growth of a company and to attract investment, customers and employees. A learning and developing company does well to engage in this mismatch. Most of us will have experienced these discrepancies in their unmanaged state. It happens in all types of companies, even start ups where you’d think there would be a clean slate. But whenever there are people involved, there is no such thing as a clear slate.
Often the misalignment becomes apparent when values and associated behaviours have been defined. The leadership realizes that they themselves don’t live the values that they proclaimed. The value definition is quickly dismissed as unimportant or slowed down without real reasons. A mismatch between word and actions will occur unless behaviours are adjusted or the real values unearthed. That can make for uncomfortable conversations, especially when it has to be pointed out to the leadership that they are not living the values that they actually want the company to adopt or when the company adopts them easily but the leadership doesn’t. If a company is flying, the general success is enough to keep morale up and paper over the cracks, but it will minimise the ability to scale rapidly in a coherent fashion and across borders and will lead to decisions – both hiring and commercial – that are against the brand values.
Setting brand values always starts with the leadership
Setting brand values always starts with the leadership. It is then extended to the people within the brand. The process needs to be linked to the business strategy and objectives, hence taking the external environment into consideration and creating a brand that is attractive for all three stakeholders – company, clients, and competitors. The leadership needs to buy in and live the brand essence and the values. The leadership needs to be honest, if the brand essence actually is “make the owner richer” then it is better to be honest about it rather than trying to hide it behind some aspirational veil of ultimate nothingness and permanent post-rationalisation of decisions. It will be found out anyway as values ultimately become part of day to day conversations and behaviours. Actions speak louder than words. Values are observable everyday in employee behaviour values become the glue for social cohesion, the DNA of your corporate nation.
A threat to control and comfort
Living behaviours are key items and here the HR and Talent function can add real value through their expertise of competency frameworks and performance management. It is important that the company clearly states the behaviour that corresponds to each value, how this differs for the different levels within the company and how this is linked to performance management.
This is often another point when consistent brand development breaks down: I have seen several companies, who built their brand, rolled it into the competency framework and then didn’t apply it rigorously. There are many reasons for this: as mentioned above, the leadership suddenly realises that they don’t live up to these values and behaviours, or they don’t want to rock the boat and don’t want to go through the pain of aligning internal and external brand. So in short, it either threatens a control position or makes life too uncomfortable.
Rewarding performance not only results
A competency framework that has been aligned and is being used as a management tool allows us to separate performance from results. You can measure both independently and therefore reward a great performance, not only great results. That in itself is already an improvement to the way many companies and teams are currently run. It is also a great tool to assess the people with the “right” attitude and mindset and help those people grow even if they don’t have the skills that others possess whose attitude and mindset is not “on brand.” HR is required to identify and nurture the former and address the mismatch with the latter pro-actively, instead of hoping that the new reality will slowly take care of it for them.
The values also become a key component in the recruitment process – what are the questions we ask to establish if a possible recruit possesses these values? What are the answers that will most likely lead to a successful and productive hire? Obviously, now I am teaching Talent and HR professionals how to suck eggs, but these are the tools that have been missing in Marketing to implement a consistent brand.
Marketers can be a stumbling block
Marketers can also be a stumbling block when defining values: In our world view, we want ideally 3 or 5 values, mainly for simplicity and impact reasons. However, when learning from the best, and for me Amazon is one of the best, we are more likely to be looking at 11 to truly assess a person’s potential performance and learning agility as outlined below. That might make the values initially unwieldy but in the longer term will deliver better outcomes and, most importantly, values that are useful for the entire company, not only for marketing and their branding purposes.
Furthermore, I would use the same behaviours used to assess existing and potential employees in supplier and investor selection. The entire company network needs to run as seamlessly and frictionless as possible. If your company sends consultants or contractors into businesses, they are an extension of your brand. Any candidate a recruitment company sends for an interview represents the recruitment agency and is therefore an extension of their brand. After all a brand’s strength is defined as “the number of active participants in a brand’s network”, so this network is generally pretty wide and includes everybody, because remember, you can set your brand values and your brand essence, but your brand will be defined by the market, by the experiences the consumers/ candidates have on all their touch points. You can influence your brand, but you can’t really control it.
The employment brand is a facet of the overall brand
Let’s talk employment or employer brand: The employment brand is a facet of the overall brand. It is based on the brand essence and brand values of the company brand but is tailored towards the specific B2E audience so it is relevant for both inbound and outbound marketing activities.
Talent people, work with your marketing teams. Take advantage of their knowledge and their expertise. Marketers, include your Talent function in brand development, because they are the ones to ensure that it is consistently applied through performance management and hiring.
In the report “People are the brand – the unity of HR and Marketing” you’ll find more info about how to occupy a distinct position in the job seeker’s mind and how to choose the appropriate talent attraction channels: http://www.slideshare.net/FelixWetzel1/people-are-the-brand-the-unity-of-marketing-and-hr