What’s your company’s most important brand asset?
I sure hope your reply was your people. I hear people categorized with buzzwords like human capital, personnel, and even FTEs (full-time employees) all the time, but none of those give warm fuzzies. In fact, they are meant to do the opposite. They create distance between you and the people that work for you.
I think it's crucial to remember that above all else; employees are people first. They have feelings, families, dreams, and goals. In today's business world, this line of thinking often gets lost, but that's not the only thing missing when your people are just titles in an organization chart. Whether you are a massive global conglomerate or the smallest family business, you can't build a timeless brand without a culture that celebrates and elevates your people.
Shape Your Brand By Listening to Your People
Too many companies focus only on external branding, but companies that are serious about building a timeless brand start with the people who do the heavy lifting every day. The executives at these companies talk to the people who make the company run. They conduct surveys, they have roundtable discussions, and most importantly they have candid one-on-one conversations. That's the only way to learn what matters to people.
If a company hasn't had a culture where this kind of sharing is accepted, it can take time to get there. Authenticity is the key. People trust what they see you do, not what they hear you say. Once you've demonstrated that honesty doesn't have repercussions, you've created an environment where everyone can have a voice and where accountability matters.
Once the conversation is going, how do you use this information to improve the health of your brand? The brand begins within your walls. If your employees are not happy with their work environment, then your brand is not going to get the reinforcement that you would like. Start with how you would like to be treated in the workplace. Your employees likely want the same things you do.
Write down what you learn and create a path toward a better future. After all, nothing happens without a plan. Keep asking questions. Ask your people their vision for a perfect company. Of course, you can't do all the things that employees might ask, but you can begin to make a difference in how everyone thinks about the work environment by understanding the real challenges they face every day. Think of talking with employees as taking the pulse of the brand and the company. By digging in and having genuine conversations you are getting to the heart of the brand's health.
Write Down What You Learn and Put It In Practice
I heard the other day that Core Values are outdated, but I beg to differ with that opinion. You have to start somewhere defining who your company is and how you want it to be seen, heard, and felt. That begins with the words that describe who you want to be. Maybe you are not there yet, but write down what you and your people envision your company to be. Find fun ways to put those ideas into action. Create fun imagery to reinforce your values. Find engaging games or supportive activities that emphasize the culture you desire. Companies don't have to be brick and mortar for these tactics to work. In fact, online chat rooms, games between team members, newsletters, and other tools can all be ways to bring together virtual teams. Don't simply assume if ideas are discussed that they will happen naturally on their own. Create accountability by assigning cultural ambassadors to see that team building activities don't fall by the wayside.
No great company was built overnight. Step one is to start the conversation. Then see where it takes you. Your employees want to succeed, and they want that for you too. Jeff Bezos, Founder, and CEO of Amazon understood the power of listening to others to achieve more than he could on his own.
“Just to show you how stupid I can be, we were packing on our hands and knees on a hard concrete floor, and I had this brainstorm. I said to the person next to me, ‘This packing is killing me. My back hurts. This is killing my knees on this hard cement floor.’ The person said, ‘Yeah, I know what you mean.’ I said, ‘You know what we need?’ This is my brilliant insight. ‘We need knee pads.’ I was very serious. This person looked at me like I was the stupidest person he’d ever seen and like, I’m working for this person, this is great, and he said, ‘What we need is packing tables.’ I looked at this person, and I thought that was the smartest idea I’d ever heard. The next day we got packing tables, and I think we doubled our productivity.” ~ Jeff Bezos
Create A Company—and a Brand—You Can Believe In
Ask the questions. Sort through the answers. In the end, you can get a boost in moral if you talk to your people about what their ideal workplace feels like and what you can do to help that dream come true. After all, this is where you both come to work each day. You'll be surprised what you learn. Unexpected answers can carry you to new heights. The insights of your people can set you on the journey to creating a unique and cool place that other talented people will want to join. What are you waiting for? Get to talking!