Inside Out: How To Build A Thriving Workplace Brand
Inside Out: How To Build A Thriving Workplace Brand
Love All Serve All. This has been the corporate mantra at Hard Rock since 1971. While it was created as a customer-focused corporate purpose, it is one that shines out, and shines in. This company was ahead of its time in creating a culture where employees are encouraged to be themselves, from the hotel store clerk who could be a ringer for a member of ZZ Top to a waitress who dazzles you with music factoids while taking your order to a bellman with full-sleeve tattoos. And this ethos has created a strong, positive culture where people are, literally, comfortable in their skin and feel loyal to the brand. As a result, this seems to create an atmosphere in Hard Rock franchise establishments—from restaurants to hotels—where employees seem to want to do their best. “We don’t mind the people who work here being different; they can be who they are as long as they do a damn good job,” one manager told me recently.
In a marketplace where even powerful corporate brands scramble to recruit top talent and then struggle to retain it, there are huge opportunities for companies that understand their brand message has to reach both ways: That message needs to be received loud and clear and genuinely believed both externally and internally, because employees aren’t just the individuals that fulfill a brand promise, they’re also the individuals that make up the brand.
Increasingly, successful brands will be those that embrace authenticity in the workforce—whatever that means for a given company. For Hard Rock, a former client, it is about letting employees be themselves while still pushing for excellent service. More important, successful brands must treat employees like customers—understanding their needs and wants and inspiring employees to make a conscious choice every day to be part of the team. This is critical for good business—and for good branding. How to build a brand from the inside out?
Create an Active Culture
More and more, companies ask: “How do we actually drive employee engagement and get people on board?” At the heart of it is the importance of having a clear sense of purpose wrapped in a compelling brand story that really galvanizes and organizes, and creates the sort of “can-do” spirit that pushes the organization forward so that people are engaged in both heart and mind in what they do.
Employees crave that kind of culture to feel committed to an organization. They want to be in an environment where they can better themselves; they want to be inspired. It can be the acquisition of new skills or the ability to have an impact. It might be the opportunity to work with people who are of a caliber of expertise that enables them to learn. It’s all of that.
Research has found when employees and employers are aligned with shared purpose and values, it impacts the business. Companies driven by purpose and values tend to outperform the market and the competition (Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last). Furthermore, companies with shared values with their employees tend to grow revenues four times faster than those that don’t (John Kotter and James Heskett, Corporate Culture and Performance).
With the right planning a company can create, or recreate, a dynamic corporate culture—the key is communicating and demonstrating it to employees. When we work on branding typically, we will develop a brand idea, which results in positioning, and we will develop corporate values because those are the behaviors that allow that promise to be fulfilled. And values, at a minimum start to impact and shape culture. If those values are modeled by a company’s leadership and become part of the performance review process and part of the interview process, it’s like owning the culture.
Be the Bait
We often hear company leaders say, “We can’t hire the best talent. Our company is not sexy enough so people don’t want to join us.” Increasingly, “sexy” means different things to different people. It could be working for a famous brand like Nike, or for a place that allows an employee to express herself, or to feel valued for her individual contribution. When you look at a lot of the research on millennials in particular, they want to work in purpose-driven organizations, to be a part of something that’s greater. That inspires and motivates them.
At the end of the day, most talent prospects who interview at a company have a tremendous amount of information available about it, even if the company isn’t a household name like Google or Apple or Nike. They are going to go to Glassdoor, the Vault, etc. to get a sense of what the company espouses. They’ll see what’s on a website, and note if a company practices what it preaches. In other words, a company has a “brand image” in the mind of prospective employees—it is already out there. It’s time for companies to consciously work to craft that image and make sure it matches or reflects the reputation it wants to have in the marketplace.
In some cases, crafting the right culture on the “inside” emanates outward to draw new talent. Burton, the snowboard maker, has built its brand around encouraging consumers and employees alike to enjoy winter fun. The company provides complimentary ski passes on “snow days”—encouraging employees to get outside and live the brand. Airbnb, which was named Glassdoor’s Best Place to Work in 2016, espouses a corporate purpose rooted in the universal human truth of belonging. The company cultivates a sense of belonging, celebrating human connection and using technology to bring people together rather than reinforce distance. Given their purpose, it is fitting that the company awards its employees an annual stipend of $2,000 to travel and stay in an Airbnb listing anywhere in the world—to travel, to discover, to connect.
Companies that are living the brand inside and outside of their corporate walls attract individuals that are seeking more than just a job role or title but want to be part of a culture that inspires, motivates, and rings true to the brand promise and corporate mission.
Rework the Contract
As important as it is to get top talent in the door, of course, it’s also crucial to keep that talent in place; the retention piece becomes critical. But too many companies devolve into a very basic contract with their employees: We pay you; you show up. The terms of the contract need to be updated today to reflect what each party is looking for, because I think what each party is seeking has shifted.
There needs to be a new emphasis on defining the brand in terms that are meaningful to an employee, and also new thinking about what sort of culture nourishes and motivates that individual. That may sound like something from an HR handbook, but at the end of the day companies need to understand the importance of making employees as passionate about the brand as its most devoted consumers or clients are. For a company’s sake, as much as for the individuals themselves, a company should not just be the place they work, it should be the place where they thrive, feel connected and are inspired.
And thinking beyond the paycheck and bonus is critical. While tech companies are well known for their employee perks, many companies outside of the tech sphere have gotten the memo too. For example, SC Johnson offers concierge service to help employees take care of chores; World Wildlife Fund offers “Panda Fridays” every other Friday, where employees have the day off so they can spend time with families and pursue personal passions; Deloitte offers three- to six-month “sabbaticals” to employees at 40% of their salary to pursue career development or volunteer work; and Mars allows pets in the office for employees in their pet divisions. Understanding what matters to an employee beyond remuneration allows for more meaningful engagement.
Sometimes it is as easy as providing a clear way to understand what the brand stands for—not by issuing a 100-page manual of corporate speak, but a simple code that employees can buy into and decide that this is a team they want to be a part of (or not). Starbucks’ Green Apron Book remakes the employee manual into a simple and inviting booklet for partners—their word for employees. Because at the heart of Starbucks’ success is the recognition that “creating the experience that keeps people coming back relies on the magical combination of three things: our products, our places, and our people.” The Green Apron Book helps partners appreciate the “The Five Ways of Being.” They are: be welcoming, be genuine, be knowledgeable, be considerate, and be involved—and these principles govern the store experience but extend into a partner’s community life. For example, partners are encouraged to be involved in the store, the company, and the community at large.
Even in the high-turnover world of coffeehouses and fast food, Starbucks has found a way to drive meaningful engagement with their employees who in turn share this with customers. And for reasons beyond just the coffee, customers keep coming back. When employees feel touched in both heart and mind by what the brand is about, they will readily share that brand magic with customers. And for any brand, that is a winning formula.
Written by: Enshalla Anderson