Your brand’s internal detractors

May 2011

I’ve long held the strong view that employee attitudes, both at senior and the most junior level, are a central component in a brand’s success. Which in many ways is entirely obvious, though clearly isn’t to everyone – or, if it is, then some who could take action against the militant and negative few who damage their brand on a daily basis fail to do so, or perhaps just fail to see the true significance of accepting the status quo or indeed where the problem is initiating from.

The business world is full of high profile examples (BA being at the peak of it – accepting that simply ditching the over-paid waiters and waitresses isn’t an option), though I encounter examples even in SMEs.

In the world of branding, I often hear terms specifically aimed at summing up employee attitudes and behaviour which have a bearing on a brand’s success – e.g. ‘living the brand’. But what are we really talking about here? For me it is largely about employees, at absolutely whatever level, behaving in a way and performing at a level which is aligned with the values of the brand they work for. Or better still exceeding those values to a point which creates true differentiation for the brand (now think Virgin versus BA).

My October 2008 comment (worth a read if you haven’t already) highlighted the immense damage unaligned management behaviour had on the Argos brand. Even to this day, some 10 years on, I still find it utterly amazing that almost an entire division (operations) at a middle and senior level were hell-bent on almost total anarchy. The reasons that such a culture evolved in the business, and was allowed to evolve and indeed flourish, are touched on in the same article, but for now can essentially be summarised as ‘power crazed leadership without the intelligence to get the concept of a brand beyond a logo’.

But actually I was prompted to focus on the subject for this month’s comment by recent experiences in relatively small businesses I’ve been working with. And the difference with smaller businesses compared to the global or retail giants, is, in simple terms, that a.) those that aren’t on board with the brand really do stand out like the proverbial sore thumb, and b.) doing something about them should be a whole lot easier. On the former, this might manifest itself in a whole number of ways, one of which, as I’ve observed recently, is an open reluctance to learn new skills (and skills which are needed in a changing commercial world). On the latter, ‘doing something about them’ typically needs an imaginative solution and the first option shouldn’t be, unless in extreme cases, to get the individual out of the business – much better to coach, develop, encourage, educate and carefully lead.

Which nicely brings me to a key point here: A reason why so many individuals fail to deliver what the brand has defined in its glossy PowerPoint presentation on brand values, is not necessarily their fault. No, it’s a consequence of leadership which could be lacking in the more subtle ways needed to positively influence those below them.

So before singling out those in your business who don’t walk through the door in the morning with a spring in their step and ready to take on whatever your customers throw at them, stand back and ask yourself just whose problem that is. Which, potentially, somewhat expands the scope of a brand’s internal detractors…

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