Leaders – managing the brand starts with you

As I’m sure you would agree, anyone in a leadership position has a tough job. They have expectations to meet, metrics to measure, goals to achieve, deadlines to hit, and maybe the most difficult but most important, a team of individuals to engage in a common goal.

Think about the people in your work environment. I’m doubtful anyone would say they are all robots who think and act exactly the same. So you can imagine the challenge a manager faces in creating and maintaining a culture where their team of employees are all aligned and engaged.

I was just shy of twenty eight when I was promoted to a management position with a corporation I had been working with for three years. It was a huge step for my career but I also knew it would be the biggest challenge I had ever taken on. It was that and then some. I was teamed with a very diverse group of salespeople who thankfully embraced me and the leadership transition with positive attitudes and open minds. But when more changes in the organization were made, one member of my team was not on board.

Furthermore, she started engaging her teammates in gossip and rumors about the adjustments our department was facing. As a result, her teammates started to feel uncertain and disengaged. When I became aware of the issue, I quickly realized two things:

  1. The sales rep did not have all of the facts and that was on me – I needed to be clear and upfront with my team about the changes going on in the company and how they might be effected. It was my job to lead them through the transition rather than just expecting them to “get it” and be on board.
  2. In addition to the facts, I needed to make sure this person understood how her behavior and negativity were effecting her teammates.

Here is how I recovered – first, I pulled my team together to clear the air and allow them to ask their questions in our small group setting, getting answers and feedback from me rather than from the cafeteria gossip. This enabled them to be aligned on the facts, objectives and goals and created buy-in for the changes they could now prepare for.

Secondly, I pulled the gossiper aside and asked her why she didn’t come to me first before spreading rumors. Her answer may not have been what I wanted to hear but it was the reality check I needed. She said, “I didn’t think you wanted to tell us but I heard it from someone else and thought everyone should know.” Ouch. While I don’t agree with her approach, I learned the first of many, many valuable lessons in leadership: visibility and honesty are keys to building trust and alignment with your team. If employees don’t understand the facts and goals or have the answers, they’ll make them up on their own.

Change in any organization, good or bad, is often difficult to communicate but your team will look to you to lead them through it. Managing the experience they are delivering both internally and externally is how you manage your brand and it starts at the top. Even if difficult conversations with your team may not be the easiest task on your very long to do list, it will be the most meaningful one when it builds trust and accountability in you as a leader.

Having Necessary Conversations with Peers

I recently read a post in talent management about dealing with a slacking co-worker. Employee to employee accountability–the ability to have the necessary conversations–is a common concern when it comes to managing the experience or culture. If employees can address anissue, it will get addressed more quickly and it can prevent ongoing negative interactions. But how can employees feel comfortable that their actions will help rather than escalate the problem? Here is what we share with our clients…

While it is important for leaders to own the desired culture of an organization–to celebrate when an employee lives it everyday and to hold employees accountable when they fall short–there is power in providing employees with the structure and means to personally address behaviors that impact them. This can be tricky and requires courage, but when done well, it can address small misalignment with the culture before the behavior needs to be escalated to a “sit down” with a manager. It can feel like mentoring rather than wrist-slapping. When the tools are in place to allow this to happen, it can also increase the consistency of the culture dramatically – there really will be nowhere for negative behaviors to “hide” if everyone is empowered to address them.

When setting up an environment of peer-to-peer accountability, we recommend companies share the following guidelines with their teams:

  1. Make it about the Experience: Look for opportunities to mention the aspect of the culture that this behavior impacts so it’s about the company, and not just you personally. “We are all committed to teamwork, and I want to address this so we can be the best team possible.”
  2. Examine your motives: Will addressing the issue benefit the experience of the team and customers? Great. Is having the conversation just an opportunity to point out another person’s shortcomings? Then you may need to take a deep breath and be more accepting.
  3. Give others the benefit of the doubt: Assume the person is working with the best of intentions and just doesn’t realize the impact of their actions. Even if this ISN’T the case it will help you keep your emotions in check and provide a better outcome.

Here is an example of a simple statement that can work to start a conversation about a previous interaction, “Do you have a minute for me to ask you about something that has been bothering me? I want to get it out in the open to ensure we can keep a positive and productive working relationship.”

Here is an example of a simple statement that can work to remove emotion when a situation is starting to escalate: “From your tone, it sounds to me like you may be frustrated. Is there something I am doing to frustrate you?

If you want employees to start managing their own culture, providing them these recommendations and conversation starters will help. Additionally, we recommend formally giving permission for these interactions so they will have the backing of leaders. For example, “If you see a behavior that impacts your employee experience or the experience we deliver to customers, we’d love it if you shared those impressions with your fellow employees. Please be respectful, but I’m sure most employees would rather hear about concerns from a peer than to have it escalated to a manager conversation. If you need help or advice on starting the conversation, please feel free to see someone in HR for recommendations.”

Of course, a great way to ensure employees can deal with interpersonal issues quickly and directly is for managers to be well versed in having these necessary conversations in a professional and respectful manner themselves.

While these conversations will require courage, the benefits of a stress-free, collaborative environment are huge – both for the productivity of the business and the employee experience.

If your company proposed, would you say yes?

Think about it, your job is a lot like a marriage – it is a commitment that requires engagement, trust, loyalty, communication, dedication and hard work. And let’s not forget time! The average full time employee easily spends more time at work then they do with their spouse. So if your job is essentially your second marriage, don’t you think it’s important for you to love that too?
With such a commitment, you can see why it is crucial for employees to get engaged (to their companies that is!) and for companies to identify and create a culture for employees who are motivated to do so. According to Gregg Lederman’s newest book, ENGAGED! Outbehave Your Competition to Create Customers for Life, 65% of workers are either somewhat or totally unsatisfied. Not only is that upsetting, it is expensive! I’m sure it won’t surprise you to hear that disengaged employees are less productive and deliver a less efficient customer experience than those that are in love with their company.
Case in point, a friend of mine recently told me that she planned to “break up” with her salon because her stylist was always late and rushed through her appointments. The term “break up” might sound silly but it’s the truth behind what happens when companies do not deliver a positive experience.
Consider the experience you are creating for your customers with your actions and behaviors. They should reflect the commitment you made to your organization and hopefully, the love you have for your company.
Marriages are meant to last for a lifetime and so should customers! Consistently delivering a positive experience shows your dedication to your company, outbehaves your competition and creates a culture filled with customers for life. Think of it as your vow to live the brand, every day, and you’ll be amazed at what it will do for your “work marriage”!

The Little Company That Could

Allow me to tell you a story. A story about people like you. A story about a company that might sound just a bit like yours.

Once upon a time there was a little widget company called XYZ Widget. The public loved their widgets. All the workers at XYZ Widget were happy because they understood why people loved their widgets; they felt like they were part of a team, making something important and good. They believed in their head widget-maker, the leader who inspired them to make the best widgets on Earth. They worked together to make not only the best widgets, but a great company. Customers loved XYZ’s widgets so much that they bought more and more of them. And the little widget company grew very fast.

Every day, XYZ Widget buzzed with activity as they made more widgets than the day before. They began to hire more people to keep up with the increasing demand. The workers liked working there so much that they told all their friends to apply for jobs. “Come and work for XYZ Widget,” they said. “It’s great here!” So their friends came and got hired. The new workers needed to be trained, so the original workers became the managers of the new workers. The trouble was . . . the original workers were not trained to be managers, nor did they know how to keep the small-company spirit as it became a big company. They only knew how to make excellent widgets.

One day, one of the widget-making machines broke down, and production was brought to a halt. By this time, the company had grown so big that it was churning out a million widgets a day. The workers were getting burned out by the pressure to keep up the pace. Workers started looking around, pointing fingers, and blaming each other for breaking the crucial machine. Arguments ensued, some people quit, customers got upset because the stores had run out of widgets, and the managers didn’t know what to do. They scratched their heads and asked, “What happened to the little company that we all loved working for?” Pretty soon, XYZ Widget started losing money.

As a result, the head widget-maker, who had been traveling the world winning awards for founding the greatest widget company ever, came back to the plant to see for himself what was going on. He looked around at the unhappy workers and substandard quality widgets, sighed, and said, “This isn’t the kind of company I wanted. No wonder we’re losing money. We’ve lost the spirit of what made XYZ Widget great. Let’s take a step back and figure out who we want to be.”

So they did. The managers, leaders, and employees at XYZ Widget gathered and defined the five values that had been most important to them from the start. They proudly announced to everyone, “This is who we strive to be.” But they didn’t stop there. You see, the head widget-maker knew that the company values wouldn’t stick unless everyone, even the new hires, knew how to live out those values, and until managers knew how to manage to those values.

So the XYZ Widget leaders and workers made a list of 15 basic behaviors that everyone at XYZ Widget could and should do every day to produce superior widgets and be the best place to work. The behaviors were simple things like, “Smile and say hello,” “Offer to help others,”  “Take initiative to solve problems,” and “Say thank you.” Thus, the XYZ Widget Experience was born. When the naysayers complained, “That’s just common sense! Why do we even have to talk about such basic things?” the head widget-maker responded, “These behaviors may be common sense, but they are not common practice. If they were, we wouldn’t have some of the problems we have.”

The head widget-maker knew he had to “walk the talk” for his people to take this effort seriously, so he led the charge to reinforce the XYZ Widget Experience by practicing the basic behaviors himself every day and making the XYZ Widget values part of his daily conversations. To help the whole company stay on track, the head widget-maker provided training and some simple tools to help his managers “Manage the XYZ Widget Experience” with their teams. He also invested in an online system to remind everyone of the basic behaviors through real-life stories and positive reinforcement. His people were able to publicly recognize each other for doing the XYZ behaviors—submitting their stories in the online system for everyone to read. Managers kept up the reminding by sharing a story from the system at each team meeting. Each week, the workers looked forward to finding out which story would be featured and to hear an example of their peers delivering the XYZ Widget Experience.

Because of that, the workers began to copy the behaviors they heard others being recognized for. They began to see each other doing the XYZ Widget basic behaviors more and more. The workers began to feel happy about coming to work again. They got engaged with the XYZ Widget Experience, they understood how they contributed to XYZ Widget’s vision, they worked harder, and they felt proud of working together for the good of customers, the company, and each other.

Until finally, XYZ Widget got back to making the best widgets on Earth, being the great places to work, selling more widgets than ever.

Oh, and yes, being wildly profitable.

This could be the story of almost any one of Brand Integrity’s clients. Will it be your company’s story?

Social Media: Ban or Leverage?

Using social media while at work: raise this topic in a work conversation and you will likely see people quietly scatter, not wanting to be associated with this taboo activity. I’m pretty sure there are employee handbooks the world over that have had to be dusted off and appended to include new policies banning its use during work hours.

I, too, will skirt the topic of the at-work personal use of Twitter, Facebook, etc.! But I would like to raise an important distinction about “social media” at work that is worth considering.

Social Recognition

Most companies look to use social mainly as a marketing tool to promote a product or a brand. But what about taking the best aspects of social and using them as a way to recognize the people who are behind the brand and products? A “micro-social platform,” if you will.

This type of organizational platform takes advantage of the positive aspects of social media that fulfill basic, universal human motivators, and some of the reasons social media is so popular:

  • Giving and receiving encouragement and recognition for good work.
  • Building rapport between colleagues.
  • Awareness of shared challenges across diverse areas of the company.
  • Ideas for how to work smarter – handling difficult situations, going above and beyond for customers, supporting teammates, etc.
  • Feeling like the work you do, even the “little” things, makes a difference to others and the bigger strategic picture.

Our Potential Point™ Experience Management Platform provides this “social engine” centered around communicating the impactful employee and customer experiences that happen every day in an organization that might otherwise go unnoticed or at least only seen by a few. This platform allows instant access to these “Living the Brand” actions and allows people to comment on, spotlight, and share nominations of other employees doing it right.

Imagine that! Rather than fighting against this compelling force, you can leverage “social media” at work to be a brand, engagement, and productivity booster. Read more about how the platform works in Gregg Lederman’s new book, ENGAGED: Outbehave Your Competition to Create Customers for Life. Ready for a revolution?

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