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Keep Employees Engaged With Your Changing Brand

Regular Brandtalk readers know I come back again and again to a few important themes. One of them is “Change is the enemy of the brand.” Because when circumstances change, the relationship between the product (or service, whatever) and its market also changes. Since that relationship is the brand, the owner or manager of the brand would be wise to pay attention. There are three kinds of change – planned change, incremental change and disruptive change. Ordinarily, disruptive change comes as a result of some technological breakthrough and, generally speaking, it only affects one market sector or another, the way Uber devastated the taxi business. But today we are experiencing a world-wide disruption, caused by a disease, that is changing every single business on the planet. Smart businesses are mapping out probable scenarios for the next normal, and the normal after that, and so on. They’re making calculated guesses as to how they’ll be positioned vis-a-vis their competition in each outcome. And they’re either adjusting, fine tuning or completely redefining their brands accordingly. If you’re making changes to your brand, don’t forget to seek the input of one important constituency – your employees, sitting at home on furlough.

No, I don’t necessarily mean inviting them all onto the brand strategy committee. You don’t want too many cooks in the kitchen. Involving too many voices in a brand strategy exploration will only cause confusion.

(By the way, when forming a brand strategy committee to decide the future of your brand, there really is only One Rule. You can organize and run your committee any way you want. You can have a tight eight-person committee comprised only of department heads. Or you can make it a free-for-all. I’ve worked with one committee that was loosely “organized” and open to the whole company. People strolled in, had a cup of coffee, listened to the moment’s discussion, gave their opinion and strolled out, never to be seen again. Some came on a fairly regular basis. From one meeting to the next, I never knew who was going to be in the room. It was chaotic but that’s OK because in the end they followed the One Rule every committee should follow. And that rule is: Either one person or three people get to vote. There are no other options. Either the boss man listens to everything being discussed and then makes a decision, or there is a three-person committee that votes on it. Two-person committees get stalemated all the time. More than three people quickly become unmanageable. I’ll write more on this next week.)

But back to today’s topic. There are a couple useful methods for soliciting accurate input from employees. And their perspective is important because, after all, they usually have the most direct contact with the customer.

Ask Boardwalk to engage your
workforce with your brand strategy.

If you are a small company, less than a dozen employees, you might consider organizing them into a focus group and then follow up with some one-on-one interviews. The benefit from the focus group is you might get some idea of whether there’s any consensus around various issues facing your business. In fact, the group might come to a consensus on a subject before your very eyes! Those insights will be invaluable to your branding considerations. If you are a somewhat larger firm, say 25 to 150 employees, you might want to do several such focus groups. Note who in the groups are feeling strongly about one issue or another. Follow up with them over the next week to learn more detail.

Larger firms present more of a challenge. Let’s say you have more than 150 employees. Let’s say you have a couple thousand. How do you get accurate information from them? At 150, you might be able to consider a poll. Of course, the greater the number of participants, the quicker you approach statistical relevance. You can’t really trust the polls results if only four people take it. So a large company can’t get away from also doing one-on-one interviews. You don’t have to interview everyone, just a representational sampling. Each company will have to decide for itself what that is.

My favorite way to get employee input to the brand strategy committee is to put an employee representative on it. Find one employee to represent the viewpoints of all. You want an employee who has been with the business for a long time. You want an employee who is respected and trusted by the others. Ideally, you want someone who has all three characteristics, longevity, respect and trust. This person’s attendance should be mandatory at every meeting. Their role is to channel information from the committee to the workforce and back again. This serves a couple of important functions.

First, the committee gets the unvarnished truth. In a one-on-one interview, employees can’t be totally candid. They’ll always moderate their opinions in order to protect their employment status. But they will be brutally honest with a fellow employee who they trust not to betray their identity. So the employee representative can be completely frank with the committee without naming names and putting anyone’s career in jeopardy.

Second, employees get a window into the work of the committee. Without that, a brand strategy committee can sound and appear like a mysterious witches’ coven. A black box within which who knows what happens? But in this model, over the months of the committee’s work, the employee rep can keep fellow workers informed about what’s going on and how the branding work is progressing.

Management wants employee participation in their brand strategy deliberations because it wants accurate information about what happens on the front lines. What is the customer experience really like? Talking to the employees is one way of finding out. But management wants something more. It wants employees that feel engaged and who have a stake in the business. It wants a workforce that feels its opinions are listened to and valued. It wants its people to help build the brand and be proud to take ownership of it moving forward. So if your business is taking this work stoppage to address its changing brand, remember to solicit the viewpoints of all those invaluable assets, sitting at home with nothing to do.


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