Why your employees need to believe in you

If you are a company looking to engage the best talent in your industry, here is one thing you need to know: Your best performers and all those talented people you would like knocking on your door are watching you. What you say, what you do and the difference you make in the lives of others all matters now much more than it used to. If you can’t hang on to your best people, you can blame your competitors or social media or disenchanted employees or, you can take action by telling your most powerful stories inside.

This option becomes even more compelling when your industry is in turmoil. The driving force could be the regulatory environment, disruptive technology or a non-traditional competitor gaining traction with your core customer base. Complex change may sound like opportunity in the c-suite, but to employees it often sounds like trouble. This is where effective employee engagement becomes so essential.

Many of today’s most seasoned business leaders came of age when energetic employee rallies were the tool of choice for firing up the workforce.

Many of today’s most seasoned business leaders came of age when energetic employee rallies were the tool of choice for firing up the workforce. When everyone worked in the same building, such events may have been effective at generating some excitement about a new set of corporate goals or the company’s new mission.

Fast forward to today: Your workforce is not only much less homogenous and geographically concentrated, it is also much more empowered. Engaging this population requires finding the intersection between what your employees care about and what you as a company care about.

Engaging this population requires finding the intersection between what your employees care about and what you as a company care about.

Baby Boomers want many of the same things. However, as a generation, we have been less likely to leave a company as soon as it becomes clear its corporate goals and our personal goals are not aligned. The sentiment has shifted, however. According to Gallup research, more than half of the American workforce is on the hunt for a new job; meanwhile, Gallup reports that only one-third of employees are engaged in their work and workplace.

Engagement begins with the appeal of the job itself, but it doesn’t end there. Beyond the critical steps of giving employees clear and rewarding roles to perform, regular and insightful feedback, and support for new ideas and risk-taking, employers need to give employees a reason to believe in their brand.

Brand ambassadors versus brand believers

Companies have long embraced the idea of turning their employees into advocates for their products and services. The hope is that when someone you know and trust speaks favorably about the company they work for, you will be more inclined to feel the same way. Even better, if you are that company’s kind of customer, you will buy their products.

The original employee-as-brand ambassador formula is very compelling: If they care, they will share. However, as part of the reputation economy an entire industry has grown up around paid brand ambassadors, people who are compensated to promote your brand. Social media has fueled this trend — Facebook and Twitter are the brand ambassador’s superhighway. Naturally, skepticism is the biggest threat to the implied authenticity of brand advocacy.

This is where brand believers can help.

You can’t force your employees to believe in your brand. However, you can expose them to what makes you compelling to your customers. Think of it as presenting your company’s external value proposition to your employees. Your customers demand transparency (about what you offer) and relevancy (to their needs) in exchange for their decision to buy from you. The only difference is your employees are making a purchasing decision about your purpose.

In other words, your existing and potential customers and your existing and potential employees can be influenced positively or negatively according to the alignment of:

  • What you do
  • What you say
  • What you are

Research from the Reputation Institute demonstrates just how powerful the connection is between purpose and brand strength. In a 2016 Reputation Insight report, researchers noted that “organizations that fully activate their purpose – and leverage it as a rudder and rallying cry for decision-making based on what they ‘Do-Say-Are,’ are more likely to garner higher levels of brand strength, and subsequently, earn a much better reputation.”

For a tangible example, consider who in your industry is most effective at fostering loyal customers. Chances are quite good that their “Do-Say-Are” attributes line up. Now look at your own company. Hopefully you, too, have strong alignment between what you do, what you say and what you are to your customers. If so, this is an excellent place to start the work to build brand believers inside your organization.

The power of storytelling

Every organization has a story to tell, but not every story is worth telling. Advertising agencies at the top of their game excel at making this distinction. With so much competition for attention, your story has to be relevant and compelling. How do you make sure your employees feel some kind of connection to the big story? Include them. Being part of the story is far more interesting.

Everyone loves a story, particularly when they are part of it.

Over the past few years I was part of a Corporate Communications team that built an external website dedicated to telling the company’s stories through articles featuring our own employees as experts in their field (health care). Our team of former journalists interviewed our experts and used external research, along with credible third parties, to educate and inform the public about key issues, new regulations and managing their own health care costs. In the first year, the site had surpassed a million visitors and earned two awards for public relations.

Equally important, though, was the value of using the content we created to educate and inspire the company’s own workforce. We regularly posted the external stories to the company’s intranet site to expose employees to new innovation, thought leadership and key issues our people were talking about externally.

On average, our own employees made up 20 to 25 percent of monthly visitors to the external site. This approach served several purposes. First, employees were treated like an audience that might be interested in what our best thinkers had to say. Our own experts received internal recognition outside their own departments and on occasion, made connections with other thought leaders they would not have crossed paths with otherwise. The stories also provided a steady diet of what the company was doing, saying and taking a stand on in the outside world. Frequently employees would comment on these stories with interest and pride.

Like many companies, we said we wanted to put the customer at the center of everything we did. By bringing the customer stories inside, we made the customer the center of what we said, as well.

Since we first launched that corporate newsroom in 2014, more companies are adopting the journalistic storytelling approach to reach their external audiences. Not as many are taking the approach inside, but you don’t need a full scale publishing platform to apply the concept.

If you don’t already work closely with your colleagues in Communications or Marketing, try reaching out to them with this idea. These professionals live and breathe storytelling, particularly because the public has little tolerance for empty claims. And since external messages tend to have to clear more hoops than internal communications, most stories that are suitable for customers should be an easy adaptation for an internal audience.

Though the answers may be different, your customers and employees want to know what they can expect from you. Customers want to know what value you will give them. When they see that value, they are more likely to buy. Employees want to know what value you are giving the world. When they see that value, they are more likely to believe.

By Tracy McKee. This article was originally published in Workforce Solutions Review, April-June 2017 issue.

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