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The haters are having a field day on social media.  The over 3,000 followers of the I hate United Airlines Facebook page have every reason to be cheesed off.

There really is a disconnect between the airline’s renown brand messages – “Fly the friendly skies” and “We are United” – and everything the public has witnessed since April 9, when a passenger was removed from UAL flight 3411.

The video of the bloodied, screaming passenger being dragged off the aircraft and the reports that followed, have left the impression of an airline that is anything but friendly – that customers’ needs don’t count,  employees have no empathy and that the airline will solve problems in its own way.

According to the company’s website, United Airlines’ brand is “more than words on paper.  It is shaped by every aspect of (the) customer and co-worker experience.”  If this is true, should we assume that what happened on April 9 was an isolated incident?  Should we believe United Airlines’ CEO Oscar Munoz’s statement three days later that the incident does not reflect “who our family at United is”?

Although we would like to consider that this was an isolated incident which does not define United Airlines, the behaviour of the CEO has led the public to believe otherwise.  The delayed response and initial statements of the CEO have reinforced his employees’ lack of empathy for clients in favour of operating procedures and demonstrates that there is a glaring gap between the customer experience and the United Airlines brand.    Here’s why:


The aftermath: United Airlines’ brand equity is depleted
In a television interview on April 12, Mr. Munoz said that he felt shame after seeing the viral video and stated that every passenger on the flight would be fully refunded.  Even though he also said that it’s never too late to do the right thing, it will take more than compensation to fix the damage.

It will be a long shot for United Airlines to restore confidence in its promise “to make to make every flight a positive experience for our customers.”  This is because its brand equity has been depleted.  Recent poll results indicate that the incident has adversely impacted the perception and preference for the United Airlines brand, potentially resulting in financial losses.

  • According to aMorning Consult poll that surveyed a national sample of 1,976 American adults, 79 percent of respondents who had heard about United’s recent news said they would choose a different airline if that airline — the poll specifically used American Airlines as a stand-in — offered an identical flight for the same price.
  • Among those respondents who hadn’theard of United’s troubles, only 51 percent would choose an American Airlines flight over an identical United flight, with 49 percent choosing United. The near-exact 50-50 split among respondents who haven’t been following the news about United indicates that the recent incidents have had a massive, polarizing effect on public perception of the airline among anyone who’s been paying attention to the news.

Those who are in charge of United Airlines’ marketing and public relations are best placed to explain if the incident and the subsequent statements are the result of misinformed or uninformed employees and CEO who don’t understand the true meaning of the company’s brand and how it ought to flow through to operations, customer service and communications.  These poll results are a reminder that brand equity losses have the potential to cancel out the fortune spent by Marketing departments and agencies on the careful crafting of brand definitions and deployment of brand strategies.

All areas of the organization play a role in brand credibility and equity

In many organizations Marketing is regarded as “the lipstick on the pig” – the stuff that makes for well-crafted, feel-good advertisements that mask the ugliness of complicated back-office operations and procedures that contribute to unfortunate customer experiences.

Very often the brand and brand promise are defined by Marketing, without connecting the dots to all areas of the business.  When this happens, the back-office is not configured to support the customer experience; customer-facing teams are ill-equipped to serve customers; budgets don’t get approved for investments in training, IT development and operational processes that ultimately impact the customer experience. This is how brands lose credibility and consequently, brand equity.

Brands build credibility and equity when all customer and public touch-points reflect an accurate understanding of customer needs and expectations.

With organizations having access to large amounts of data, customers are increasingly demanding more personalized service with the expectation that communications will be transparent and that customer convenience and needs will be prioritized in operating processes. The language used by corporate representatives at every level or the organization, whether to inform, communicate or react, has to be consistent with all that the company says that its brand stands for.

Invest in marketing programmes and in people

It is not enough for the C-suite to sign off on brand strategies and to be impressed by the number of ‘likes’ on social media and business leads generated by modern marketing technology.  Time and money must also be continually invested to train the C-Suite and all employees, to reinforce the connection between the organization’s brand, corporate values, client service and communication protocols.

Only time will tell if the United Airlines brand will recover from this disaster.  Real work has to start on the creation of a clearly defined brand, ensuring that everything the brand stands for prevails in every aspect of the airline’s operations and in the public’s perception of all its employees, including its most senior officers.

There is much to be learned and corrected by United Airlines.  This is also true for many other organizations.

See the BIG picture. Focus on what’s important.

www.camilleisaacsmorell.com 

@Camille21162

 

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BRAND

Although it was a cold day in winter, I had a warm and fuzzy feeling.  The CEO of the company where I worked pulled me aside during his annual Christmas meet and greet employee meeting, looked me straight in the face and said, “Thank you so much for all the great work you do for us, Camille.  We really value and appreciate your contribution.”  And for a few seconds after he said this, I felt as if I could have given the company back the bonus cheque I received a week earlier.  Personal recognition from the CEO was priceless.

So several years later, with most of them spent leading cross-functional teams and direct reports, I finally nailed down the real reasons why I entertained the absurd thought of refunding a hard-earned bonus cheque.

  • Essential alignment of personal values and corporate values

After a particularly unpleasant experience with a previous employer, I vowed never to work anywhere where management did not walk the talk of their corporate values.  More importantly, there should be no conflict between my core values of truth, integrity and respect and those of my employer.

Respect was listed among the company’s values.

Pulling me aside to say how much my contribution was valued was in my view, a genuine act of respect coming from the CEO, not just for my work, but for my personal and professional commitment to the success of the company.   I didn’t feel that he was being politically correct or doing his duty to be polite.

In later years when I did have to manage a department, I learned a very hard lesson.  If the personal values of a highly competent employee are not aligned with corporate values, the best designed bonus compensation plan is ineffective.

  • Personal recognition of a job well done is more impactful than a formal recognition program

The company had a formal recognition program, governed by a process of nomination and specific selection criteria.  Exceptional actions and contributions to special projects were recognized in the formal program.  The consistent delivery of good work was not.

Very often, the employee doing the most critical work is several steps away from the front line.  In my case, I was the one preparing the quotation and response to the request for proposal, and the data required for the finalist presentation.  This was my job.  My work was reviewed and approved through a long chain of command.  I felt honoured that the CEO had taken the time to find out who were the behind the scenes contributors.  His personal statement of appreciation meant more to me than seeing my name among the crowded list on the Recognition Program roster in the quarterly employee bulletin.

  • Fitting in & contributing to something larger than oneself

People need to feel that they are contributing to something larger than themselves, and that their contribution really makes a difference.  The CEO clearly made me feel that the company needed and valued my contribution.

Employee recognition and the employer brand

And this last point leads me, as a marketer, to make the connection between employee recognition and the employer brand.  The employer brand defines for employees, why the organization is a great place to work and sets expectations for employees’ experience throughout their career there.

Employee buy-in to the employer brand creates engagement, encourages discretionary effort and results in committed and outstanding performance, which is the basis for employee recognition programmes.  To be meaningful, the employer brand has to be brought to life, and if not, it remains an empty set of words.   

Bringing the employer brand to life is all about equipping employees to do their jobs with enthusiasm and building commitment to the company’s values.  To do this, I have three suggestions:

  1. Human Resources and Marketing should work together in the on-going management of the employer brand. When there are changes to business strategies, the employer brand must also be adjusted and communicated to employees.
  2. Business leaders and managers should commit to an on-going programme of internal, bi-directional communication activities so that employees understand the importance of the role they play in the success of the company.
  3. A mix of formal recognition programs and opportunities for leaders to give employees personal recognition goes a long way to motivate employees.

 

See the BIG picture.  Focus on what’s important

www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

@Camille21162

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Winning

Think win-win is one of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

I remember reading Covey’s book several years ago and feeling challenged and overwhelmed as I thought of how I could possibly practice this habit in the ego-centric competitive corporate culture of the company where I worked at that time.

But a strange thing happened yesterday at work. Even though I set out to fight for my right to be right, I won, and so did everybody else!

I was working against a fairly tight timeline to launch a multi-media communications plan for one of my internal clients. As it turned out, I provided a hurriedly prepared brief for an external designer who then prepared advertisements that did not quite meet the expectations of the guardians of the company’s brand.  I must admit that the designer informed me that some of my design requests were not ‘on-brand.’ The ads were acceptable, I thought, but time and money were at stake so I hurriedly approved the ads.  Bad decision.

Then yesterday, I received a meeting invitation from the brand guardian to discuss the project. I remember clicking on the accept button with some amount of fear and trepidation.  Fear of getting my wrist slapped for being ‘off-brand’ – not respecting the brand guidelines – and filled with trepidation of having to tell my internal client that I would have to spend more money from his budget to get the ads re-done ‘on-brand.’

So, off I went to the meeting yesterday, with my mental boxing gloves in tow, preparing to fight for my right to be right. Crusading for the cause of time and money was my platform as I set out to win the battle of the ads!  Stepping into the meeting, I was greeted with a copy of the ‘off-brand’ ad that I approved and a few ‘on-brand’ versions created by an external design company, who had recently been briefed on the latest version of our brand guidelines.  I smiled nervously.  But it was a genuine smile.  I really did see the difference between the ‘on-‘ and the ‘off-brand’ versions of the ad.

My colleague explained that the ads I approved should really not be used as they depicted the company’s brand and image of yesteryear, a time when I wasn’t even working at the company. The sooner we stop using ‘off-brand’ ads and making exceptions because of time and cost constraints, the better it would be for the company’s image.  I had to agree.

I nevertheless launched a somewhat defensive spiel on the time and cost constraints that had led me to give a less than perfect briefing to my designer and that these constraints would make it virtually impossible for me to withdraw the ‘off-brand’ ads. “I can’t just withdraw the ads, as the work has already been done.  I have to pay the designer.  I have no extra budget to re-do the ads,” I declared. “And by the way, how much will it cost me for the work done by your external designer to create these on-brand versions?”  I thought to myself, “There is no easy way out; I’m not going to win this time!”

A quick flashback to Covey’s habits of empathetic listening and of trying to understand rather than to be understood, made me pause calmly and pay attention to what was happening in the moment. My colleague gently said that the work done by the external design company was on spec, at no cost.  The ‘on-brand’ ads were developed by the designer as a template to demonstrate how to properly apply the guidelines, and my project was being used as an example.  “Are there any other ad formats you have in this campaign that you would like to submit so that the designer may prepare some other templates?” she asked.  “It will cost you nothing.  The texts in the templates can be modified for this and future campaigns.  Your department and other departments of the company will have access to the templates and your designer can modify the templates as long as the brand guidelines are respected.”

An important turning point in the conversation was when I realized that I could get the ads re-done and at no cost. By accepting the brand guardian’s offer, I wasn’t giving up anything.  I had the opportunity to create a win-win situation for several stakeholders.

  • By agreeing to have the external design company re-do my ads, the brand guardian would be in a position to determine if the external designer was capable of delivering projects on-brand and on time.
  • My project would give the external designer an opportunity to expand business by adding our company to their roster of clients.
  • What’s more, when all the templates are finalized, the entire company will benefit from having access to a bank of advertising templates for reuse with modifications that will cost much less than having to create completely new advertisements for every project.
  • As for the cost of the work done by my designer, I consider it to be an investment in the design process.  The ads served as the point of reference for the external design company to develop the ‘on-brand’ ads.
  • As for my designer, I definitely will share the ‘on-brand’ versions of the ads and the updated brand guidelines for easy reference for my future projects.

Win-win

See the BIG picture. Focus on what’s important.

Win-win situations are all about seeing the BIG picture – the common good of all – while focusing on what’s important – building healthy, functional relationships through listening and addressing the needs and concerns of others.

Visit my website:  www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

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In an earlier post, I highlighted the need for departments to work together to make organizational change effective.  No one would object to this.  But the notion that there could be synergies when Marketing and HR work together seems counter intuitive.

Marketing involves identifying and meeting wants and needs of people.  To do this, marketers need to be up on the latest trends, creative, adaptive and strategic.  They’re seen as always having fun, standing in the spotlight and having the ear of senior executives.  On the other hand, HR involves the development of strategies, policies and programmes to manage people and promote a healthy corporate culture.  HR practitioners aren’t often seated at the senior executives’ table.  The perception is that HR is always on the receiving end of instructions from upper management to hire, fire, manage performance and deliver those training programmes which are the first on the chopping block when budgets are cut.  If you really believe this, you would say that HR and Marketing are polar opposites!

Before the objections start to pour in, let me point out that although their mandates are different, Marketing and HR Departments do share similar and very important roles – that is, getting people to do what is best for the company – whether they are clients, prospects, the general public or employees.  More specifically, Marketing and HR departments

  • are involved in incentivizing people,
  • reinforce consistent messages,
  • measure engagement,
  • provide proof of a value proposition, and
  • undertake activities that impact the delivery of the corporation’s strategy.

So, why is it important for both Marketing and HR to work together?  The answer is simple.  Employees are the key to business success.

Marketing develops and manages the business brand to create awareness of products and services, build on-going customer loyalty and contribute to business success. It’s the employees who represent the company and its products and services to customers and as such, they influence customer loyalty and business success. To ensure that employees understand what the business brand stands for and enthusiastically promote it, Marketing and HR must work together to ensure that employees are equipped to deliver the business brand promise to customers.

Some specific areas of Marketing and HR collaboration can be:

  • Recruitment and on-boarding activities – should reinforce consistent messages and provide proof of the corporation’s value proposition to employees and clients

 

Meaningful connections between the values of the corporation and the values of target recruits ought to be consistently communicated in recruitment advertising and bring these values to life in on-boarding and on-going organizational development activities.  Marketing should to be in a position to provide insights and research on the values of demographic groups the organization hopes to attract as potential employees and the reasons why they are likely to be a good fit.   As well, Marketing should be able to provide HR with guidance to select the right media, position employee and recruitment messages, adopt the appropriate style of communication and select the call to action channels that are appropriate for the target audiences.

  • Performance management, training, recognition and reward programmes – incentivize employees and impact the delivery of the corporate strategy

It is important for Marketing and HR to ensure agreement on the resources, skills and behaviours that support the delivery of the business brand and corporate strategy.  Real inputs that Marketing can provide HR include customer research and feedback on specific areas of interaction such as service, communication, in-store experience, loyalty programmes etc.  HR and Marketing can jointly identify what matters most to clients and determine the required skills and content of training programmes to support employees in the fulfilment of client needs in ways that reflect the business brand promise and achieve the corporate strategy objectives.

  • Cross-referencing employee metrics and marketing metrics – measuring engagement of employees and customers/target customers

Both HR and Marketing use surveys to measure engagement albeit of different groups – employees, in the case of HR and customers /target customers in the case of Marketing.  It has been proven that employee engagement directly impacts customer satisfaction and financial performance.  High levels of employee engagement correspond to increases in customer engagement levels – even when there is no direct customer contact.  More specifically, the quality of product development and the creation of the corporate reputation are the outcomes of employee engagement and ultimately influence customer satisfaction.  By cross-referencing results of customer and employee engagement surveys, HR and Marketing can identify areas in the company and/or customer segments for improvement and potential solutions to address the challenges.

Make it happen!

Aligning the efforts of Marketing and HR in the areas cited above begins corporate senior leadership recognizing that business success is wholly dependent on their employees’ capacity to deliver on the company’s brand promise.

When identifying areas of cooperation, it is essential for Marketing and HR to look beyond departmental objectives and focus on aligning their roles and efforts in relation to corporate business strategies and objectives.

Once the areas of cooperation and alignment of roles have been identified, both departments need to create forums for collaboration and communication comprised of persons with the expertise required to do the work.

 

This blog was written for Your Workplace and published on 11 March, 2013.

 

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According to research by McKinsey & Company, about 70% of all organizational changes fail. Often, such failures are blamed on staff or on external constraints, such as cost, workload and legislation. Some say that it’s the fault of executives and middle managers who resist change to protect their areas of influence. Others cite the lack of clarity and misalignment of goals, objectives and commitment to change objectives.

One thing is for sure; it’s not the employees on the floor who cause change to fail. Front-line employees and those without management functions are not the ones who have a responsibility to manage change. That job rests squarely on the shoulders of the leadership team.

The underlying reasons for failed organizational change all relate to the lack of clarity and consensus particularly around fundamental corporate definitions. When you ask the questions, “What’s the corporate strategy? What does our brand stand for? What’s our mission?” you undoubtedly will get different answers from what is written on paper with the explanation from employees that what’s on paper is not what is experienced on a daily basis.

What can we do about this?

The lack of clarity and consensus is often the result of corporate silos—teams of people working on different priorities and having differing understandings of the corporate mission, vision, strategy and brand. They work separately, siloed in their areas of expertise, which doesn’t lend itself to a unified push in the same direction towards the desired organizational change and transformation. Consider the following:

A company wants to introduce new products that target an expanded clientele including customer segments that differ from its current customer base. To deliver the new products and serve the new customer segment, the company needs to recruit new employees skills that differ from the current employee base.

This scenario will impact the corporate culture, the corporate brand and the employer brand, and effort will need to be expended to ensure that current employees navigate the organizational changes, remain engaged and are retained.

The responsibilities and accountabilities for the development and management of the corporate culture, employer brand and corporate brand reside in different departments. HR is responsible for recruitment. Brand and company reputation are key factors in attracting and retaining talent, but HR does not control company reputation, external perceptions and image or the value of the corporate brand. People are the key factor in delivering the brand’s promise to customers, but marketing doesn’t control employees’ understanding of the brand, living brand values and delivering on the brand promise. Line managers are responsible for managing employees and steering them through change, and also for making recommendations for budgets and other resource requirements to effect change. But it’s the CFO who approves the budget and is responsible for assessing the impact of costs on the bottom line.

What’s the solution?

What really ought to happen is that HR, marketing and all other departments—sales, customer service, finance—should be working together to develop a fully integrated and aligned employee and customer experience that reflects the change that the organization is trying to implement. This can be achieved in the following ways:

  • Build consensus and executive buy-in. Agree on the objectives of the desired change and related impacts on the definitions of the corporate mission, vision, strategy and brand. This requires a cross-functional, multi-disciplinary approach. All executives must be involved.
  • Involve people in the change process. A good example is Meals on Wheels in the USA. Budget was approved for the purchase of special software to manage an expanded volunteer base, meal distribution and accounting. It was staff that helped bring each other up to speed on the new software that made the change effective.
  • Sponsorship in the form of an executive leader who will champion change and send a clear message that management is serious and supportive of change.
  • Transparent communication first – Make a compelling case for change at all levels of the organization. Clearly define what change and success will look like and the benefits to all stakeholders.
  • A well-planned and organized approach – Organization and planning always contribute to success. The plan should include actions to anticipate and address resistance to change.

This blog was written for YourWorkplace and published on 30 January 2013.

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Recruiting and retaining top talent continue to be  major, costly challenges for organizations that jeopardize business success. It’s been estimated that it costs up to 18 months’ salary to replace a manager and up to six months’ salary to replace an hourly-paid worker.  It can cost up to 3 times the salary if the employee departs in the first year of employment.

  • 22%  turnover occurs in first 45 days of employment.  This statistic is taken from a 2007 study.  The statistic may have changed since then.  In spite of  adverse economic conditions, a survey conducted in 2011 revealed that 59% of HR professionals in North America say turnover rates will get worse in the next 5 years!

If we put cost implications aside, low employee engagement is often cited as a major reason motivating employees to leave, regardless of tenure.

Employee engagement

Loosely defined, positive employee engagement may be considered as the personal (intellectual and emotional) commitment of the employee to work towards achieving the goals of the organization.  Determinants of positive employee engagement generally include alignment of personal goals and values with those of the organization, opportunities for personal and professional development, the nature of the job assigned and a sense of belonging and pride from being associated with the organization.  Low engagement results in dysfunctional work relationships, lower productivity, no discretionary effort.

The BIG picture

In my view, corporations need to see that employee engagement and loyalty are only two, albeit important, components of a much bigger issue – the need to engage employees to create and sustain business success. To reduce turnover rates and increase employee engagement, organizations must see the big picture:  the inspiration, motivation and effort of all employees, who understand the vision, mission and objectives of the organization, the relevance of their role and the benefits they derive from contributing to business success.  The development and on-going management of a well-defined employer brand is the key to creating a work environment where employees are engaged, loyal and working towards the common good of all stakeholders in the business.

Well-defined business brands give expression to “what’s in it for me, the customer” and offer value propositions to attract and retain customers. So too must the employer brand clearly express to potential and existing employees, why the organization is a great place to work, and bring its values to life in the experience of employees throughout their career.  A well-defined employer brand should consist of three components – the why, how and what’s being offered by the employer and what the employee can expect in return for performance and effort:

  1. Relevance: provides answers to Why? Why is the company doing what it’s doing?  What is the company’s business brand, mission, vision and values…  THEN why do you need me, the employee?? Why are you using my skills ? What’s the connection between my role and the business brand promise? Why am I here? How will my skills be used to bring value to the company – make its vision, mission and brand promises come alive, so that I contribute to the creation of conditions for sustainable business success? Why should I be loyal to the company?
  2. Relationships / Resources:  How?  How will you make me feel connected to the ‘why’? What’s the corporate culture like?  How do people work together? How can I access resources to make me contribute to the success of the company? How will I be supported to be the best I can be ?   Will my opinions be heard?  How will I be treated if I make a mistake?
  3. What’s in it for me the employee? What rewards / recognition do I get? What behaviours are rewarded?  In what ways will good performance and discretionary effort be recognized?  What can I expect in terms of promotions and opportunities for personal development and advancement?  In what ways am I being recognized as a parent, a human being, someone who has needs beyond a paycheck?

Walking the talk – putting the employer brand into action

Equipping employees to deliver on the business brand is at the core of employer brand management.    Beyond recruitment, on-boarding activities, compensation and employee benefits, organizations must demonstrate that that they are delivering on their employer brand promises through on-going career development programmes, mentorship, improvement of the work environment, staff-conferences and forums, team building and other activities that reinforce the organization’s values, culture and desired behaviours.

When these programmes equip employees to deliver the business brand promise, the conditions are created for alignment of employee behaviours with the organization’s vision, strategy, goals and objectives.  When these programmes are viewed by employees as convincing proof that the employer has delivered on the employer brand promise, the conditions are created for employee loyalty and engagement.

Capital One – a good case in point

In a recent presentation at Your Workplace Conference, Jenny Winter, Chief People Officer at Capital One highlighted how the company’s business and employer brands are aligned.  Captial One identifies its business brand values as ‘excellence’ and ‘do the right thing.’   They promise that they will meet customers’ needs and will challenge themselves to find better ways of serving customers.  These are the hallmarks of their business brand.  The employer brand promise is aligned to the business brand promise to employees as follows:

  • Why? Employees get to contribute to high-performing teams and create products that are relevant to customers – clearly in line with the business brand promise to meet customers’ needs and find better ways of serving them;
  • How does the company equip employees to do this?  Capital One provides them with opportunities to learn and grow in a fun work environment
  • What can employees expect to get in return for their efforts, beyond the paycheck?  Work-life balance and various rewards and recognition.

Check out what employees have to say about Capital One. 

A final word…

After all is said and done, the credibility of an organization’s business brand is proven when customers experience the brand promise in their interaction with the organization and its employees.  Employees who experience the employer brand promise in the workplace are motivated, engaged and loyal to the organization and its goals.  Engaged, loyal employees, regardless of their role, are the key to success in every organization.

See the BIG picture. Focus on what’s important.

Visit my website www.camilleisaacsmorell.com

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