Even with the priceless brand-building glow enjoyed by a few celebrity CEOs like Richard Branson and Tony Hsieh isn't it strange that so few CEOs attempt the same success? Odder still, few companies tap the scalable, brand-building power of their employees. Yet it may be their biggest missed opportunity in our increasingly connected yet complex era.
Four More Reasons Employees are Key to Reputation and Sales
1. Forty-one percent of us believe employees are the most credible source of information regarding their business. "Employees rank higher in public trust than a firm's PR department, CEO, or Founder," according to Edelman's 2013 Trust Barometer.
2. "Customer engagement must start with employee engagement," notes Steve Farnsworth. The more responsibility, recognition and training that companies provide employees for engaging smartly with stakeholders the more connected and adaptive the company becomes. And the flip side can cause much more brand damage in our digital world.
3. "Corporate learning and capability is now the #1 challenge in businesses around the world," according to Josh Bersin. What better way to create relevant, efficient, collective and iterative learning than by establishing a customer-centric employees-as-brand ambassadors program?
4. We know that people increasingly compare and share product experiences, giving them game-changing power over your brand reputation. Turn this growing threat into a great opportunity by using your best asset: your employees. IBM, Ritz Carlton, Zappos, Harley Davidson, GORE-TEX, L'Oreal, LEGO, Virgin and a few other companies discovered years ago.
No Reputation Is Neutral
Whatever your employees are telling friends, family and others who ask is as credible as what customers are saying. If even a few are bad-mouthing you or simply exhibit a meh attitude your brand is getting tarnished. We are three times more likely to share bad news than good, according to HR expert, John Sullivan.
Act now to get candid, company-wide feedback and make the changes that prove top management listens to workers. Paul Maxin, Global Resourcing Director of Unilever says, "Ensure brand authenticity: don't promise externally what you can't deliver internally." As Dell Director of Customer Loyalty Mary Arendes can attest, "satisfied employees become your brand champions."
Then launch a program to support employees in becoming authentic, adept and articulate brand champions, online and face-to-face. As Marketo Programs Manager, Jason Miller observes, "Encouraging your employees to openly discuss your brand online can have a "humanizing" effect, ultimately increasing positive consumer perception."
More Benefits of Supporting Employees as Brand Ambassadors
• Declare Great News About My Company to Deepen My Belief in it
"Publically declaring your support and affiliation motivates you to back it up with real loyalty and engagement. It's loosely like telling yourself, 'I can really do this,' before trying to shoot a free throw," wrote InformationWeek editor David F. Carr: "Pepsi discovered that over 50 percent of its employees already wanted to share news about Pepsi with their networks." That's a priceless opportunity since emotions and behavior are contagious to the third degree, according to Connected co-authors James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis. That means your employees not only influence the views and behaviors of those with whom they interact but others as far as two more interactions away from them. That's a huge multiplier of a negative or positive brand reputation.
• Speed Company Growth
Find and resolve customer problems faster and discover and seize opportunities faster and better: more uses for product uses, new markets, better way to sell or serve, profitable partnerships and more.
• Make Work More Engaging to Make Happier, Higher-Performing Workers
Provide another way for employees to cooperate and collaborate across functions, thus accelerating shared learning, coaching, and performance. Employees can experience small wins more often together, thus gaining increased satisfaction and meaning out of work, rather than "killing meaning," something Teresa Amabile advocates.
• Highlight the "Halo Effect" as a Motivator
As employees speaking credibly and vividly about "my company" they can only boost the company brand but their own. That's a huge boost to self-esteem and thus intrinsic motivation as Ted Rubin knows, firsthand. Taking this "all hands on deck" approach where every employee can be a brand ambassador, demonstrates that your company leadership is willing to treat workers as grown-ups, knowing they will be more productive, as Tony Schwartz advocates.
• Become a More Connective Company.
Build company-wide trust, camaraderie and esprit de corps, turning your firm into what Dan Pontefract dubs a "Flat Army." Taking this approach your leaders can and must hone their ability to be "multipliers" who "access and channel the intelligence, talent, and creativity of the people around them" making "everyone smarter" according to Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown.
• Retain Top Talent
From big data analytics to deep knowledge of your market, some employees have sought-after assets, thus spurring a talent war. Enabling them to learn, connect and shine is an enticing reason for them to stay rather than get stolen away by your hottest competition.
Four Vital Skills for Becoming Valued, Visible Brand Ambassadors
1. Step into their shoes and be helpful in ways they find helpful. Be a productive and successful giver, gleaning ideas from Give and Take. Recognize the value of building real relationships, not just "hooking up" as Whitney Johnson dubs the one-way entitlement some feel in asking for help. Johnson cites Judith E. Glaser, author of Conversational Intelligence, "As we reciprocate, we build trust and relationships, flooding our brain with oxytocin that is essential not only to collaboration, but to innovation." For employees and thus for the company, that approach can create a virtuous circle of well-being and high performance.
2. Be a deeply responsive listener who demonstrates you heard what they said, and does not immediately revert the conversation back to yourself. Instead seek to serve them their way, based on what they said, exhibiting The Golden Rule, doing unto others as they would have done unto them. Offer a relevant, concrete scenario that explicitly shows how they will benefit by doing what you suggest. Craft what Peter Guber calls a purposeful narrative where they can see a role they want in the story you tell, reshaping it to make it their own to share with others.
3. Be so vivid that others tend to remember and repeat what you say, using the A.I.R. method and other communicated cues. See more connective behavior tips from my talk (bottom of page) at BusinessNext.
4. Provide actionable ways that others can act to gain bragging when they take the action you advocate. For example, what visibility or value will a customer enjoy if she tells an employee about a way to improve the product or correct a service problem?