Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The 10 Commandments of Change Communications

It was 14 years ago that we first started building our own brand identity. At the time, many companies faced large-scale process redesign and reengineering programs. Reportedly, close to 50% of those programs were failing, and 80% of the credit was given to reasons related to company culture clashes. Our thinking? What could we do to help organizations deal with enterprise change and internal branding?

What we came up with was remarkable. Instead of focusing on external audiences, we applied traditional advertising and communications planning methods to campaigns created for associates and employees. We offered organizations new, exciting and relevant ways to involve, inspire and empower their internal constituencies. By giving their employees a prominent voice, we showed them how to make the desired changes in their companies happen. Employee engagement not only accelerated internal acceptance but also saved a lot of money and angst. Being able to get the job done in a quarter of the time for half the amount of money charged by a traditional ad agency? Amazing!

Interestingly, there’s not much difference between a company’s employees and their target customer audience, especially in consumer segmentation. The same people who make Campbell’s® Soup are also buying it. The key insight here? Many of the approaches used to motivate external audiences have the same affect on a company’s own people internally. When you look in the mirror do you see your company’s biggest advocate and customer? Or do you see someone with doubts who doesn’t have a voice? If you’re missing the spark necessary to move your company forward, it’s probably time to make some changes.

Let me offer you the 10 Commandments of Change Communications, guidelines I believe are essential for a company’s internal branding success:
1). Engage Your People

Employees and associates want to know they’re being heard. It’s important for them to feel their input and efforts are valued by your organization, regardless of how big or small contributions may be, and they want to be a part of the success, too.

2). Appreciate Effort

Show recognition to and for the people contributing to the success of your company. Whether the appreciation comes in the form of cash, promotions, awards or a simple certificate, showing gratitude by acknowledging such efforts goes a long way.

3). Message with Meaning

Keep it relevant and meaningful at all levels. It’s critical for core messaging to be aligned, but a one-message-fits-all approach just doesn’t work. Speak to all your constituencies – corporate, business units, field, etc. – in ways that are appropriate and effective in order to achieve your overall goals. Messaging is critical. Take time to make it brilliant. Once a messaging architecture is in place, train management on expressing it in simple and convincing ways – stay on point, repeat it frequently and build continuity. Make them believers, and they become your best brand advocates.

4). Open Communication

If you can hear a pin drop in a room packed with people, you’ve got a big problem. Creating a collaborative environment where people can tell stories, share ideas and be themselves is important. Be open to their humor, laughter and light-hearted conversations. You’ll be amazed by what your fellow employees have to offer.

5). Train. Coach. Repeat.

Like learning, internal branding should be viewed as a life-long process. Designed much like curriculums used in formal education, you’re not done with internal branding after just one exposure. Training and coaching your people until they get it right is critical. Instead of being made up along the way, it should be repeatable and built with content and process that incorporates learning foundations and principles that are well thought out. It needs to be formal so it can be enhanced year after year, allowing your people to train others so they can train even more people.

6). Align Communications

It’s difficult to keep core messaging aligned when multiple departments within your organization distribute communications. Avoid the release of conflicting messaging by making sure everyone, including public relations, advertising, human resources, sales, recruitment and talent branding, is aligned and shares the same goals. Just like competing messages can create confusion, so can communications with different looks and personalities. Be sure communications are consistent with a common look/feel, tone and personality as well.

7). Internal Branding Non-Reinvention

If done correctly, the internal branding wheel won’t have to be reinvented each time the evaluation process rolls around. It should be designed to be repeatable, trainable and coachable. Tactics and messages can change with your overall goal, but the methods and processes used to design and manage your programs should be constant and able to withstand continuous enhancements.

8). Champion Your Brand Advocates

Use your best brand advocates to change the way you spread the news and facilitate informal communications within your organization. Allowing these ambassadors to make decisions within a framework of freedom gives them the platform to champion your cause and help convince others to embrace change. Train them. Nurture them. Support them. And, most importantly, acknowledge them publicly for doing a great job.

9). Lead the Way

When it’s time to change your company’s pace, find a face employees can relate to. Choose an internal brand sponsor, an executive company leader, who should be up to date on the initiative at all times. In addition to being able to publicly endorse the plan, defend it when necessary and explain it to colleagues, he/she should also be willing and available to provide support for internal launches, presentations and social media efforts.

10). Embrace Social Media

An effective social media strategy doesn’t cost a fortune, and it’s very efficient for engaging your staff in communication. Don’t be afraid. You can set community standards and still provide a framework for freedom of expression without going overboard with rules or legal supervision. When positioned properly, the communities you establish will develop all of the content and bring communications to life in a whole new way.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Internal Branding? What Is That Exactly?

Everyone knows what a brand is, and everyone knows what advertising is. Some of us may be confused about promotion and merchandising but most have a basic idea, at least, of what they are.

Lately, a lot of people have been asking me about internal branding. What exactly is internal branding? It's definitely a hot topic, on which seminars and workshops are offered all around the country. By my count, seven major internal branding conferences were held over the past year and a half, and we participated in four of them, and even chaired the American Strategic Management Institute's Internal Branding Summit last year, where we heard some outstanding presenters address the topic.

It's hot, but what is it? Very little is written that defines internal branding; so as one of the pioneers of this new branding phenomenon, I decided to pound a stake into the ground with my definition. We have earned the right to do this, because, for six years and more, since we started our firm, we have been promoting the power of internal branding with our Inward Marketing Methodology: we really are the internal branding company.

Before I explain what internal branding is, let me clear up some misconceptions. It is NOT letting your employees know about your new advertising campaign. It does not consist of handing out t-shirts and baseball caps to announce a new strategic initiative, name change or company vision statement. Really, it is not anything remotely like these things.

So what it IS internal branding? Why is it important? When should I do it?

Here is Inward's definition: Internal branding is a cultural shift within an organization, where the employees become more customer focused and more business focused. You achieve this by an organized, communications and behavior driven process, which leads to a desired end state. Meanwhile, at all levels in the company, one big question is answered - "What's in it for me?" After they hear and learn about the internal brand initiative, every single employee should understand what job behavior you expect from them, and how they contribute to the company's success. You need to reinforce the behavior you want, and bring it into line with HR policies, internal communications and corporate marketing efforts and strategy.

Effective internal branding brings huge benefits. Companies whose workforces understand how they operate and make money perform better. Committed employees provide stronger performance and higher customer satisfaction.

Important data that supports this connection between understanding and internal change was released recently. This study (produced, much as I hate to admit it, by our competitor, McKinsey) concludes that change-management programs succeed only when employees at all levels-senior managers, middle managers, and the front line-share the will and the skills to change. McKinsey studied change programs at forty organizations, and found a strong correlation between good skills for managing change and the value an organization carries away from these programs. These skills, I would add, are the product of effective change communications and internal branding programming. The more knowledgeable, convinced and supportive the workforce is, the faster you can implement change. Strongly accepted change is sustainable, and that saves both time and money.

When all is said and done, successful internal branding lifts brand equity, customer focus and ultimately shareholder value. One of our high tech presenters at the April conference shared startling numbers that demonstrated a powerful correlation between internal branding efforts, external branding efforts and shareholder equity. It's all about the facts, the data, the metrics and accountabilities.

So the question becomes, "How should a company do internal branding or Inward Marketing?" Here are some of key elements/best practices we've gathered from studying this topic for the past seven years.

* A brand is a process driven, long-term proposition. Not a deliverable! And so is internal branding.
* Internal branding follows a sequential process; through which employees achieve internal brand success. There is a difference between communicating a message, getting it understood, and changing behavior.
* You must have senior leadership participation and involvement throughout the process of internal branding. You can't delegate this or let the managers drive it.
* Start with a clear company vision and purpose. If you don't have one, work with the senior team to establish one and communicate throughout the company by both words and action.
* Set clear objectives and well-defined roles at the outset, and revisit them throughout the process.
* Consider assigning dedicated people to internal change communication and internal branding. Let them create a sense of such urgency that staff see no alternative to change.
* Conduct an audit of the enterprise understanding of the business objectives and strategy so you can address areas where people don't "get it".
* Internal branding, done well, allows employees to transition from being "Informed," to "Understanding" the information, to becoming "Committed", so that they "Change Their Behavior' in support of the company goals. As a result they should "Receive Recognition & Rewards" and positive reinforcement for changing their behavior.
* Recognize the importance of the customer and all their points of contact with your company: call and service centers, sales associates, statements/invoices, advertising and more.
* Align your brand externally & internally. Let your inside be like your outside: what you say externally should be the same thing you say/do internally.
* Go for participation, consensus and employee dialogue. These work better than edicts and policies that travel down the hierarchy.
* Having "Employee Brand Ambassadors" is critical--involve a cross section of employees from all levels, who will promote the brand internally through experiential communication.
* Obtain metrics and measures before, during and after program implementation. Research your employees regularly and track their progress over time.
* Hard, Simple, Easy - Work hard to make complex concepts and ideas simple, so they are understood and communicated easily.
* Seek outside help from experts and consultants in the field - this is hard work, but with help in methodology and process, it can be done effectively.

If you are thinking about an internal branding program, or need help to create internal support to initiate a program, let us assist you. We have proven methodologies, delivery teams and the thought leadership to lead your company to a much better place. We will also be very appreciative if you share our ideas with others who may be thinking about internal branding, or send them to our website.