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.

Two Leadership Lessons I Have Learned from Baseball

October is around the corner, and the MLB post-season is about to get started. The Red Sox and Braves already bought their post-season tickets. Teams like the Yankees and Orioles still trying to find a spot on their road to October. This is a good time of year to talk about how the game of baseball can be related to leadership.

Jeter connects for a hit against the Tampa Bay...

Jeter connects for a hit against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An example of a great leader is the New York Yankees captain, Derek Jeter. Throughout the years he has been demonstrating how baseball is a game of adaptability and resilience. He has played 18 seasons in the MLB, with 5 World Series championships, 5 Golden Gloves and thirteen All-Star selections. Recently, he suffered a calf injury. Such injury makes him work on some adjustments on his swing and hitting stance at the home plate.  The adjustments left Jeter frustrated, as he decreased his batting average in the first month of the 2011 season.  But, his resilience and love to the game has taken him to record his 3,000 career hits by the end of the 2011 season, helping the Yankees to get to playoff that year.

But, how these two things of the America’s pastime can also be related to leadership? Last night, on his first at bat, Elvis Andrus (Rangers shortstop) sent out a 95 mph fastball from Jeremy Hellickson (Rays starting pitcher) to the upper deck level of the Tropicana field. Second at bat, Hellickson only needed a change up, a slider away, and a high fastball to strike Andrus out. Great business leaders are also able to adapt to certain scenarios. When trying to manage and coach their team without obtaining the desired results, they change their coaching method to adapt themselves and get the expected results. When they are not getting along with a team member, they analyze and adjust their coaching methodology. As a matter of fact, great business leaders adapt themselves to different scenarios according to the team members and the company needs.

The game of baseball is also a game of resilience. Two nights ago, Hanley Ramirez (Dodgers shortstop) hit 0 for 4 with 3 strike outs and a grounded out. The next game, he had to forget about his poor performance the game before and try to do his best to help his team to win. That night, Hanley hit 2 home runs with 4 RBIs becoming the hero of his team on that game.  The same thing happens with business leaders. They can have a really bad day full of unresolved issues, unsatisfied customers, and budget cuts. But there is always tomorrow to forget about the bad things that happened yesterday and do the best you can to make things happen the way you expect.

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Do you have brand integrity?

Your actions are a reflection of the promises you make.  These may be promises to yourself, coworkers, family members, customers, or anyone else you come into contact with.  Promises can be in the form of personal ethics, deadlines, to-do’s, taglines, etc.. They may be things you say verbally, emails you write, contracts you sign, or advertisements you post.  The sum total of all the promises you make can be considered your brand.

∑promises = your brand

Every action you make is a response to a promise you have made.  With every action you are either keeping your promise or breaking your promise.  How many promises do you break each day?  Do you break more promises than you keep?  Do you have brand integrity?

I recommend a simple exercise: at the beginning of the week, take an index card and write on one side write “broken promises” and the other side “fulfilled promises”. Each time you do something that fulfills a promise – put a mark on the “fulfilled promises” side and if you break a promise the other side. If you hand a project in on time, “fulfilled”, if you are late for a meeting, “broken.” Do this for an entire week. All actions are the result of promises – you won’t capture all of them but hopefully enough to get the point. Count how many marks you have on each side. Which has more? Are you living your brand? Hopefully this exercise will show how critical behavior is to the integrity of your brand.

Consider the employees in your company?  Are they breaking more promises than they keep?  Remember, promises are all around you.  They can be as small as a project deadline or timeliness to a meeting and as large as the set of company values or work ethics you’ve committed to.  How much better (more efficient and profitable) would your company be if every employee kept more promises than they broke?  What about if they kept most promises they made?

Engaged employees keep more promises

Motivated and engaged employees who care about the results of their work and their actions will keep more promises.  Leaders who keep promises will set an example for employees to keep promises.  Engaged employees work for leaders who live the brand.  Customers will do business with companies who have brand integrity.

Don’t be a liar, keep the promises you make and encourage others to do the same.

The story of social recognition

Let Us Talk

Leaders often ask me “what makes for a sustainable employee recognition program with consistently high participation?” Of course what they really want to know is “How can a recognition program help me make my company be more profitable. I already pay employees – isn’t that enough?” Regardless of their motivations for asking the question or their opinion of recognition as a management discipline, the simple answer I always give them is… “conversation.”

Conversation creates an exchange of ideas that impact human perception and ultimately human behavior. Consider the last new restaurant you ate at – most likely you tried it because someone told you about it or you read about it in the local paper. Both of which I consider part of an overall public “conversation” about the restaurant.

Recognition programs are just like new restaurants. The initial “buzz” about the restaurant brings customers in the door, but the experience and the stories that people tell about their experience keep new and old customers coming back. Recognition programs need the right amount of upfront marketing and communications to build awareness and interest. But they also need an amazing user experience where recognition “stories” can be shared and talked about in an ongoing “conversation” within an organization. This means that it important to create conversation not just ABOUT the program but also sustained conversation WITHIN the program.

  • Good recognition programs create conversation between employee and manager.
  • Better recognition programs create conversation among employees within an organization.
  • The Best recognition programs create conversation with customers.

Imagine a recognition program at an organization of 1000 employees. Each month 100 recognitions or “stories” are written by employees – one employee recognizing another employee. Each story is strategically written, tied to a company value clearly indicating the impact on results. Each story is the start to a strategic conversation that positively influences employee behavior toward company goals. Imagine:

  • Recognized employees read their story as captured by a peer, feel appreciated, and discuss further with their manager or the employee who recognized them.
  • Managers collect stories for an employee and discuss them as part of his or her annual performance review.
  • A selection of stories are printed in a weekly news summary sent across the organization – creating a sense of cultural connectedness.
  • Stories prompt informal conversations in the hallway where co-workers congratulate the employee(s) being recognized that week.
  • Leaders choose stories that directly impact their department and share them with their in their weekly meeting.
  • Employees read stories and add comments to re-enforcing the story’s impact or elaborate on how the story has affected them.
  • Prospective or new employees read the stories and immediately feel part of the conversation and know how they can help make a difference.
  • Customers participate by submitting stories of great experiences they have had with an organization – they share with their friends.
  • Prospective customers read employee stories decide to do business with this type of organization.

The most successful recognition programs create thousands of sustained strategic conversations that influence employee behavior, customer perception, and impact your bottom line.

Talk is cheap…and very profitable. What are you waiting for.

Is your company too good for resolutions ?

 Happy New Year !

On behalf of everyone at Brand Integrity, Happy New Year !

So far we are a week into 2013, how does it feel ? How many times has someone asked you what your New Year resolution is ? For the next few weeks this question will be a permanent part of small talk among family, friends and co- workers. Most people will answer with “lose 10 pounds,” “volunteer more,” “find a higher paying job.” So these all sound like standard resolutions , right ? Sadly, they are, especially the last one.

In 2012, 84% of employees planned to look for a new job ! If you are reading this fact for the first time… Happy New Year ! Chances are that number is on the rise.  What can we do to fix this?

So let’s take a minute, imagine that you are a top company executive (or maybe you really are) with hundreds of employees. What if you learned that over half of your employees are going to make it a personal goal to look for a new job this year ? They are so disengaged and unhappy that their resolution this year is not to focus on performing better at their current job but it is in fact to focus on getting a NEW JOB!

What if this year you broke the awkward silence in between coffee refills in the break room and talked about the company’s New Year resolution for its employees? Crazy I know but it’s better than staring intently at the stream of coffee coming out of the Keurig.

This year challenge your company to make resolutions that focus on the employees. Start looking for ways to help employees understand what progress looks like and make it your responsibility to remove obstacles that get in the way. Consistent, daily progress by individual employees can fuel engaged and happy employees. Companies who can engage their employees create happy employees and happy employees make happy customers and happy customers  buy more !  See how easy that is !