Your Employees are Your Brand

Have you ever sat in the reception area of a company and let yourself absorb the culture of that company? Have you ever watched how the members of the company behave and checked to see whether this behavior is living evidence of the company’s brand? It was a chilly Monday morning and I arrived 15 minutes early for my meeting with the CEO so I decided to use the time to see if what the company said about its brand was brought to life by the way the employees behaved. After all, employees are the custodians of a company's brand.

You would be amazed what you can learn about an organization simply by sitting in the reception area, watching the receptionist and employees as they pass through. You can begin to see elements of the company culture and values coming through by the way people speak to each other and by their body language, tone of voice, the way they express themselves, the connectivity between people, the noise level, the level of interpersonal warmth or coolness. Sitting in the reception area you will soon be able to sense the level of energy and passion that permeates the company, the degree of corporate pride; you will soon know something about the level of professionalism and caring, about how people relate to each other, how they feel about themselves and the company.

I looked around. Plastered around the walls of the reception were several banners and beautifully framed vision and mission statements. A huge framed graphic, with many leadership and employee signatures on it, boldly pronounced the corporate values to be: building relationships, exceeding expectations; taking personal accountability and resourcefulness.

So I began to look for living evidence of these great statements, hoping that they would not turn out to be corporate value cliches of the kind that appear in Annual Reports. To my utterdelight, I soon began to see that the brand was alive and well in the way the employees behaved!

To begin with, the receptionist come out from behind the imposing reception desk and walked towards me. She said that since I was early for my meeting perhaps I would like a cup of freshly brewed coffee. I gladly accepted, upon which she disappeared and promptly returned with a cup of steaming coffee on an elegant tray bearing an elegant napkin and a small plate with 2 cookies.

She then went back to her desk to greet someone who had arrived. Just as I began to sip the coffee, the CEO’s assistant appeared through the side door, approached me and said, "Oh I see that you have already been taken care of. I am Sylvia, the CEO’s assistant. I knew you were waiting so I came to see if you would like something warm to drink." She then checked with me that the flip chart and the laptop and LCD projector were all the equipment I needed (she had sent me an email the day before requesting to know what I required for my meeting with the CEO). This certainly exceeded my expectations!

"I love your accent," she said. "Where are you from?" I asked her to guess, because I have an accent that most people do not easily identify. This led to a fun conversation about how British I sounded and yet I heralded from South Africa ….about what brought me to the United States… about whether there were elephants walking in the streets where I came from…This is relationship building!

She then went off saying that she would return for me in a short while. As she walked away, she turned back and suggested that she was going to prepare a copy of the organizational chart because she had a feeling that the CEO may want this for our meeting. (I was certainly going to ask the CEO if I could see an org chart!)

Being on the receiving end of branding come alive in this way, had a great impact on me. I felt energized; I felt recognized; I found myself smiling. It was a good feeling. I couldn’t help thinking how different this experience was from the meeting I had several days ago. From the moment I entered the reception area, the staff were stiff and impersonal. The employees did not communicate easily or spontaneously with each other; there was a sense of discomfort hanging in the air and evident in the body language of everyone I saw. It was as though every person I met made all the right gestures and facial expressions… but their tone of voice was flat. I had the distinct feeling that they did not really see me. I remember how de-energized I felt when I left.

Soon Sylvia was back. I followed her to the CEO’s office and as he greeted me, I knew exactly why this company’s brand was so evident in everyone’s behavior – he was a dynamic role model of all the company’s values! Everything about the CEO epitomized the corporate brand – how he was dressed, the way he treated his assistant, the way he greeted me, and his warm, engaging style of communication. Guess why he had called for this meeting - "Sandy," he said, "Our values have created shareholder value! We have achieved our strategic goals for the year, even though it was a huge stretch! I would like to explore what we need to do to take this company to the next level!"

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  • John Agno

    The continuous question every CEO asks is: How can our company continue to differentiate itself from our competition?

    One answer proposed by Dave Ulrich, co-author of "Leadership Brand" and professor at the University of Michigan, is to create a leadership brand of how your company wants to be known by its customers. Translating your firm's product or service brand into a strong leadership brand can increase the market value of your corporation as reflected in the P/E (price/earnings) ratio of your company's stock.

    Having a clearly expressed leadership brand increases your marketing presence and focuses management on improving its individual and corporate leadership capabilities by:

    Focusing on value from the outside/in by the impact of leadership (more than the activity of individual leaders)

    Puts leadership into the business language of employees, shareholders and customers

    Applies across all levels of leaders now and in the future---by identifing important and sustainable internal employee actions

    Combines leadership code (those leadership attributes/competencies that are important across all organizations) and the leadership differentiators (specific to your company)

  • Shakiara Kitchen

    Certainly, if the employees don’t drink the Kool-aid your company is off to a bad start. The first sign, gossip at the reception desk. The second sign, how many people stare at you versus making eye contact and smiling as you walk through the office.

    If you manage to miss the first two signs and you are now an employee, wait. The first time someone says ‘this is not my responsibility or job’ be warned the watershed on turnover within the company is about to be revealed.

    When companies pursue their employees’ satisfaction with the same vigor as being in the black, not only do the employees drink the Kool-aid, they toast with Hermosa’s in the morning and Martini’s in the evening.

  • Clive Harris

    I 'do' believe that your staff reflect your company certainly. I dont really think that is a new concept of course but one that many do tend to lose sight of sometimes.

    It isnt always about branding tho, it is often just down to basic decencies, customer service and communication, along of course with actually providing the required service.

    Branding can be harmful as well as it can be beneficial, it all depends on the perception of the brand and these employees. You can brand a company with the biggest advertising campaign going but if you have bad staff and poor service then of course you are going to be branded negatively.

    Give the client quality personal service and that word of mouth will do ten times the amount of good work than any branding campaign. Many people in this day and age are not put away by fancy advertising, trendy offices and pretty faces.

  • Jay Tatum

    I think it would be interesting to quantify your findings in a more academic sense. The article seems to confirm your conclusions anecdotally based on two experiences recently while your background suggests you've been a keen observer of this phenomenon for a very long time. It also helps to be a person of interest with an appointment rather than a stranger off the street without an appointment. I would be interested in applying your conclusions to other institutions to discern how insightful you really are when it comes to branding. Some brands, however, may require further scrutiny to discover just how much the culture stains the employees and how much the employees stain the culture (think discount stores verses department stores, Fortune 500 companies verses Failure 500 companies, etc).

    I like to think of myself as a good company man, I wear the company logo all over my person and you can hear my company accent when I speak. I believe in what I do, what I stand for, and who I am. My concern over branding is that it is often times the new corporate buzz word to differentiate the wheat from the chaff. Some folks talk a good story and wear the right colors, and blend in well and are quite good at branding themselves as the company poster-child. And I suspect that my cynicism is that on any given day, one of these corporate brandees could have a bad day for a year or so and the corporate-speak turns to silence, the colors fade, and there is no longer a spring in their step. If we only have one chance to make a good first impression, then factors like the human condition may exhibit, inhibit, or prohibit that chance.
    It would be interesting to duplicate your experience with you looking and dressing desheveled with no appointment to see how well you are received as Jane Doe. If you are welcomed and offered a freshly brewed cup of hot coffee and get to see the big boss while having light conversation with the same staff, then their brand being embodied by the employees is worth its weight in gold. And quite frankly, I'd love to see it happen just that way to discern whether their hospitality is geniune or not.
    I think you raise a really good point in your post and I just wonder how far you can count on employee branding to sell the company. That may be the real test as to whether they can make it at the next level. If the CEO is looking for some ways to stretch, I have a few more suggestions I'd be happy to share.

  • Syamant

    All too often branding is considered to be the task of marketing with focus on ads, collateral etc. Making employees and customers believe that the brand is not just a simple ad but instead the brand reflects the essence of the culture and values of the organisation.

    One can express this in forums internally and externally but actually implementing this has been found to be a challenge. Short term decisions, in adequate processes have tended to spoil the picture for both employees and customers.

    You might also want to have a look at this link , that I came across