Monday, January 28, 2013

Engagement is an Art at Mercedes-Benz Financial Services

There are more ways for companies to make employees feel valued than offering on-site massages, pet-day-care subsidies and an on-premises single-cup coffee maker.

Take Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, for example. The company has chosen to display fantastic modern art -- "colorful, bold and not so simple to interpret" -- at its Farmington Hills, Mich., headquarters, according to the online publication

Produced by students of the famed Cranbrook Academy of Art in nearby Bloomfield Hills, the paintings, sculptures, metalsmithing, photography and other pieces adorn hallways, cafeterias, elevator lobbies and conference rooms under a 12-year partnership between the German luxury-car brand and the school.

But Mercedes-Benz goes way beyond static displays: The company uses art to inspire and engage its employees in a variety of other ways, ranging from staff mentorship of art students in local elementary schools to an annual employee art show in the cafeteria where temporary gallery walls are installed.

All of the employees in the building are invited to submit art, the publication said, and last year 15 of them -- none of whom function as full-time artists in their daily jobs -- did exactly that.

"It brings to light the creative interests, talents and skills of people that we work with on a day-to-day basis that oftentimes people don't know about," said Leila Matta, manager of brand identity, design and the art program for Mercedes-Benz Financial Services.

"It's about developing inner skills, listening to each other, and understanding where different people are coming from."

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

For Effective Brand Ambassadors, How About Employees?

Companies invest heavily in creating "brand ambassadors" out of a handful of loyal customers who can generate buzz and sales because of their singular devotion to a brand.

But brands could be even more effective if they would cultivate their own employees as brand ambassadors to spread positive word of mouth about their products and services. And yet relatively few enterprises are executing a strategy for doing this.

"A company's brand reputation, whether employer or corporate, is a direct reflection of the culture and values of a company," notes Mike Schroeder, CEO of TNS Employee Insights, which recently conducted a joint study with LinkedIn of nearly 11,000 employees about such topics. "The best way to increase awareness is through your employees."

We couldn't agree more. More companies are understanding the need for employee engagement in general, and reaping the benefits of engendering the enthusiasm, loyalty and resulting greater effectiveness of their staffs -- at least internally.

But leaders have been relatively slow to tap into the potential of proactively turning employee enthusiasm outward. Sometimes, this neglect can be as basic as helping employees to understand their brand and the importance of it.

Asked about their previous employment in a TNS-Linked In study, fewer than half of employees understood the behaviors that were required of them by the promise of the brand they represented.

TNS recommends five top drivers of employee brand ambassadorship:

  • The company brand experience sets us apart.
  • I trust senior leadership.
  • Work gives me a feeling of accomplishment.
  • The company is environmentally responsible.
  • I feel valued as an employee.
We might add a few more drivers to this list, such as an active employee-engagement program.

But you get the idea: Engaged, enthusiastic employees can be the best way for brands to create more engaged, enthusiastic customers.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Chevrolet, New Tagline Embrace Employee Engagement

The drive for greater employee engagement is sweeping the U.S. auto industry, and just today Chevrolet became the latest brand to embrace this imperative.

GM's largest division has announced that it is aligning its engineering, design and retail operations behind a single vision and communications platform for internal as well as external purposes around the globe.

In fact, "Find New Roads" already has become an internal rallying cry even before it is rolled out for external communications purposes -- replacing the brand's "Chevy Runs Deep" tagline -- during the first quarter.

"What we need to do is bring this to life, and it needs to become the thrust of the brand," Alan Batey, GM's interim CMO and its vice president of U.S. sales, service and global marketing, told "That's why internal alignment is the starting point."

Mary Barra, senior vice president of global product development for GM, said in a press release that "as we develop new products our designers and engineers will be empowered to find smarter solutions to address customer needs and make their lives better." Chevrolet already had launched a program to train dealership personnel to approach every aspect of their business differently to improve the retail experience.

The new positioning was under consideration for six months. "We needed to make sure we could make it truly global and well thought out and that it delivers the message we need to deliver and that it can be something that inspires our people," Batey said. "And I'm confident that it does all of those things."

While Batey told that Chevy wasn't inspired by competitors in its effort to ignite internal engagement, the brand's initiative does resemble at least in its sense of mission Ford's new "Go Further" branding campaign, which began with internal engagement before going external.

Meanwhile, Chrysler and Audi of America are among other U.S. auto brands that have been proactively introducing initiatives to foster employee engagement.

In one of the world's most competitive industries and perhaps its most competitive single geographic market, more players are understanding that the way to win is employees' will to win.

Friday, January 4, 2013

New Year's Resolutions, Courtesy of Inward

It's the first week of January, but there's still time to make New Year's resolutions: Most people are only now shaking from their holiday slumber.

And as you do, maybe you can resolve to do some things new and better at work, as well as in your personal lives.

Our dedicated and talented staff sat together this week and knocked around the question of what they would like to do  better in 2013, and what they would like to see Inward Strategic Consulting do.

Here's what they came up with. Most of it isn't exactly original, but it has the impact of authenticity and consensus. And it's a list whose fulfillment would make us all better people -- and companies -- in the year ahead:

Healthy activity: Everyone resolves to work out more and be more physically active this time of year. What's sometimes missing is the other half of the equation. We decided to eat healthier this year as well.

Balance work and non-work: Buckling down at the office to start the year is a common goal as people determine to improve all aspects of their lives in the new year. What is even more important is to properly balance our work lives and our non-work lives. Let's enjoy more activities outside of our jobs.

Bask in others: Both in and out of the office, a simple and positive practice is to appreciate others more. We can't  become so caught up in self-improvement that we don't recognize the better nature in others.

Spend time with family: The old saw about who's going to be around your death bed isn't any less true just because it's a fresh new year. Family -- however you define them, or a community of friends -- should reign as a priority in our lives. Whether that means teaching your daughter to swim, taking a grandson to church, cooking dinner for the whole gang, or just purposely being at home more, this resolution can make the biggest difference of all.

Give back: Charities are under more stress than ever because the long duress of the U.S. economy has stretched their resources in a number of ways. Threats to the charitable deduction on federal income taxes also loom large. All the more reason, then, for us to include charitable giving and service in our priorities for the new year.

Shed "weight" as a company: Employers can lose "pounds," too, in this season. Use new-year thinking to come up with ways to cut waste, trim costs, find efficiencies and reduce redundancies. Once you've brainstormed all the ways you can reduce expenses, give 10 percent of the savings back to the staff as a reward for thinking outside the box.

Start with a clean sheet: The beginning of a new year is a great time to run a corporate exercise we call "Stop, Start and Continue." All too often, companies get bogged down in doing things the way they always have been done, even after the reasons for doing so have faded into the corporate archives -- and the old ways provide no real value. This exercise requires you to justify every procedure as a team, or you eliminate it. Those that survive are sure to be worthy.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Your Employees, Too, Are 'Flying in the Face of Ordinary'

You don't have to launch a multi-million-dollar advertising campaign to let your employees know that they're appreciated. Just employ the spirit of the new TV spot by Virgin Atlantic airlines in some way appropriate to your company.

In the two-minute commercial timed to coincide with the airline's expansion in its home U.K. market, titled "Flying in the Face of Ordinary," Virgin Atlantic pays homage to the skills, talents and dedication of its staff -- and, by implication, reminds fliers what a special place the airline is.

"They were born different," the ad says about Virgin Atlantic employees, "with very special gifts and extraordinary talents. Born to challenge the status quo, to evolve thinking, and change the lives of millions."

The ad depicts youngsters with these "extraordinary" characteristics growing into Virgin Atlantic employees who utilize their flying acumen, their technological wizardry and their sense of service to make flying better for passengers.

Or, as the ad puts it, "They are a welcome splash of red in a weary world of gray. "

Even if you can't run an expensive marketing campaign paying ode to your employees, there are other ways to start the new year by letting them know how much they count -- and how the success of your enterprise, and of them as individuals, are happily intertwined.

So, get on with it! How do your own employees "fly in the face of ordinary"? Tell them.