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Brand Your Employees, Not Your Organization

Consider these trends: 92% of employees’ social connections don’t follow the brand they work for
Shares on social media by employees has an impact of 8 times than those done by companies
About 33% of employees post messages, videos and pictures on social media about their employer without any encouragement from the employer.
65% of people globally would prefer to work for an organization with a powerful social conscience
It is evident from the above that not just the workplace but employees’ expectations around the globe are experiencing widespread change. However, despite overwhelming evidence that indicates why organizations need to be focusing on making employees brand ambassadors a lot of time and effort unfortunately is spent elsewhere.

Over half of companies surveyed in a Linkedin study have increased their employer brand investment in 2012 and a further 40% have maintained their spending. It will probably help to understand what employee branding and employer branding mean to begin. While employer branding refers to the reputation of the organization, employee branding works from the inside out and empowers employees to be brand advocates. Both need a lot of effort. However, employee branding comes across as more authentic and sustainable. Companies that invest time in building brand ambassadors are more likely to be successful than those who don’t. They are known to experience on an average 19.2% increase in operating incomes.

Another point to consider is how employees now view the workplace. Unlike before, where loyalty featured high on their priority list today employees seek meaning from their immediate occupations and less from organizational ideologies. They prefer to work with organizations that are socially responsible, transparent and serve as a conduit to achieve the toughest challenges. Edelman’s study ‘2011: Trends in Organizational (Internal) Communications/Employee Engagement’ explains: “people are more inclined to self-identify as individuals rather than part of a discrete organization or brand. This is enhanced and encouraged by one’s ability to connect and link to one’s peers and to find self-defined communities.” Employees want to be engaged but on their own, especially in a way that suits their interests and ambitions.

According to the Future of Business Citizenship, a research study by the MSL Group employees, especially millennials expect organizations to be active citizens, communicate often about the efforts made, make an impact and involve customers. In ‘The Future Of Work: A Journey To 2022’, researchers indicate that people are seeking autonomy and meaning at work and therefore they will see themselves as ‘own brands’ and the traditional approach to employment will fade away. There is also a shift of employees’ commitment from the organization to occupation. Possibly why we now have world days celebrating engineers,scientists, doctors and all possible occupations!

With that backdrop, it is important to reason why focusing on employee branding will realize better dividends for any organization. While it may sound counter-intuitive organizations who invest time to brand their employees are more likely to get back commitment and loyalty in return.

A research study by Arthur W. Page Society shares how it views the role of employees and communicators in shaping corporate culture in this new world order. “Realize a company’s true character is expressed by its people. The strongest opinions – good or bad – about a company are shaped by the words and deeds of its employees. As a result, every employee – active or retired – is involved with public relations. It is the responsibility of corporate communications to support each employee’s capability and desire to be an honest, ambassador to customers, friends, shareowners and public officials.”

The results of this shift are already evident. Employees want to do more for organizations. According to recent Weber Shandwick & KRC Research study close to 60% of employees have either defended their employer to family and friends or in a more public venue — such as on a website, blog, or in a newspaper. However, only 30% feel deeply committed to their employers since they feel undervalued for their effort.

In another fascinating study on newcomer socialization in organizations called ‘Breaking Them in Or Eliciting Their Best? Reframing Socialization Around Newcomers’ Authentic Self-Expression’ researchers discovered that helping employees focus on their self-identify led to greater customer satisfaction and employee retention after 6 months than socialization that focused on organizational identity or the traditional approach focused on skills training. This insight turns the formula for employee engagement on its head since most organizations invest heavily on molding newcomers’ mindset from the start. It seems that this approach needs a revisit.

So what must leaders and communicators do differently in this new world order?

To begin, accept the new reality and prepare for the future. According to the 2013 Wolff Olins’ Game Changers Report people are looking at ways to play an active part in brand building and they don’t expect a finished product. The report states “Give people ingredients, rather than the finished article. Consider also building a ‘minimum viable brand’ that people can adopt, adapt and improve. Engage DIYers and give them a platform so that they can become brands themselves”. This will mean that leaders and communicators must learn to let go – not an easy task considering how close they are to the business and feel responsible to control the brand and message.
Build brand ambassadors of employees. Invest time to support employees build their own personal brands. While it sounds counter intuitive, the organization benefits from committed employees in the long run.
Help employees absorb and appreciate the brand. In a Gallup study only about 46% managers and 37% employees were confident what their company did and what their brand stood for. If your external and internal communications are in sync your brand will be stronger. Interbrand’s Unlocking the Power of Employees to Drive Success study highlights that “customers experience indirectly the sum total of what’s transpiring inside an organization. If there’s no clarity of purpose around what your brand stands for that seeps into the customer experience. On the other hand, if your people are pulling together, competing constructively and in harmony with an identity well developed and defined, then your customers will experience that positive coherence every time they interact with you.”
Involve employees big and small opportunities within the organization. The 2008 Engage and youGov study offers insights that employees are most engaged when they have are involved in both large and minor decisions.
Let go and co-create content. Understand your employees and tap their talent in ways that are mutually beneficial. Allow employees to DIY the brand and the chances of their commitment increasing are higher.
Learn new skills. With the evolving workplace and increased expectations of the workforce communicators and leaders need to demonstrate courage, curiosity and acceptance far greater than before. To involve everyone in public relations means having the maturity and confidence in your employees’ abilities to do the best for your brand.
To summarize:

Stay relevant as communicators. The workforce and workplace of the future will be geared to building personal brands. The organization will become an amalgamation of brands
Be at the forefront of change by branding your employees. Communicators need newer skills for the future, ability to leverage talent, learn to let go, step up our ownership
Lead the future of communication. Tap the power of our employees to build the organization’s brand from within. Investing in branding your employees will have a significantly higher value for the business than focusing on the employer brand.
This week (February 10 and 11) I had the opportunity to share a keynote address and conduct a workshop at the ARK Group’s 2015 Strategic Internal Communication Summit at Melbourne, Australia. You can look up the presentation on my Slideshare account.

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