We don't know what's next for business - but what we do know is how to help you be ready. This blog is all about anticipating the future and positioning you for success.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Branding Isn't Just for Marketing

This morning while enjoying my three-mile walk, I passed a service truck with the advertisement "We Protect Your Brand" painted on the sides. Branding of course is a critical business element, so it caught my attention and I wondered how they did that – protect your brand?

As I considered the tagline, I couldn’t imagine how a vendor could provide this protection. Shouldn’t protection be provided by employees? Thinking about how employees understand and protect brand strategies, it occurred to me that unless the organization does a good job of communicating the brand strategy, it would be difficult for the employees to protect it. Those thoughts led to others focused on the best practices for ensuring employees "get" the brand and acknowledge their responsibility to promote it, as well as protect it - something I’m not sure we’re always paying attention to.

Why Branding is Important

I think when most people think about branding, they think about a logo. The American Marketing Association (AMA) goes a little further as they define a brand as a "name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers." Businesses focus a lot of time and money on the creation of the appropriate brand because it can give them an edge in an increasingly competitive market.

The brand is the organization’s promise to its customers. Not only does it help an organization differentiate itself from others, it also assures the organization’s customers of what they can expect from products and services. The foundation of a brand is understanding what the customer needs and is usually anchored through the company’s logo and then builds throughout the marketing and communication channels: website, marketing materials, packaging, and promotional products.

However, another key area where branding is critical is human resource engagement. It’s a very logical connection – recruiting and hiring processes are very similar to the processes used by marketing to attract and retain customers. We want talented individuals to understand what the company’s vision, mission, goals and values are so they can evaluate if the organization is a fit with the type of philosophy and culture they believe in, and can excel in.

Building the Brand through Employees

The objectives of a good brand which should consistently be applied to marketing and communication efforts, as well as human resource management activities, include the following:
  • Clearly deliver the message of what your company stands for
  • Confirm the credibility of your organization
  • Connect with customers, as well as employees on an emotional level
  • Motivate action – to buy – or to come to work
  • Solidify the loyalty of the customer or the employee
Integrating the importance of understanding and demonstrating brand into human resource processes can be accomplished through the following eight practices:
  1. Ensure sourcing and recruiting materials are consistent with the brand messaging
  2. Provide training and certification for internal and external recruiters so they understand and can clearly communicate the brand before they begin talking with potential candidates
  3. Include values, goals and mission statement information on the career opportunity section of your website
  4. Incorporate the company’s mission and values into the interviewing process by asking open-ended questions to identify if the candidate’s personal values align with the firm’s
  5. Integrate brand messages into the on-boarding process and help the new employee understand the responsibilities for demonstrating and protecting the brand
  6. Periodically offer employee training on business ethics including case studies challenging brand protection and re-enforcing how to appropriately handle business and ethical situations 
  7. Include a focus on brand in development goals and executive coaching engagements
  8. Align the strategic business, marketing and human resource plans with the brand messaging
It takes more than just a talented individual to help your organization be the best that it can be. That individual of course must do a great job, but they also have to do that great job with the passion and commitment to deliver on the promises you’ve made to your customers. Your brand is derived from who the organization is, who the organization wants to be, and who your customers perceive the organization to be. Your employees are on the front lines. Help them understand how their personal actions reflect brand. For example, if the brand is focused on quality services, it’s imperative that employees do what they say they are going to do. There’s a complete mismatch when the organization says they deliver quality, and then employees consistently do not return phone calls or respond to emails.

I have an excellent example of such a mismatch of brand values from a shopping trip the other day at my favorite grocery store, where I am a loyal customer. Usually this store employs staff who go out of their way to ensure that you find everything you need. The cashiers, especially, engage with shoppers to produce a personalized and "we’re so glad you shopped with us" experience. This gentleman unfortunately didn’t engage with anything or anyone, other than his poor attitude. There was nothing about my experience working with him that matched the brand. On my way out I commented to the manager and she knew exactly who I was speaking about without me even mentioning his name. Her comment was, "We’ve been trying to work with him to see if he’s going to be a fit."

Even in an organization where the recruiting and hiring processes are focused on aligning with the brand, some mistakes are made. Once it’s obvious the values of the employee do not align with the organization’s brand, it’s best to reassign the employee to a job away from customers, develop a performance improvement plan, or terminate the employee. Misalignment of personal and organizational brands results in lost customers! I’ll go back to that store because I know that wasn’t the usual experience, but if I was a first time shopper there, I would definitely find a different store!

So What’s Next?

The recession has complicated the marketplace. There are many organizations redefining their brands as customer needs and expectations have changed. If your organization is reexamining your brand, make sure the process and final results are communicated not only to customers, but existing employees as well. Help job candidates and employees understand how to communicate and demonstrate the new brand through successful performance interactions. The success of the organization rests on their performance. Take immediate actions to review your Human Resource processes to ensure you are sharing the most appropriate information about your expectations for how the brand looks and sounds in the everyday workplace.

It turns out the truck I saw belongs to an organization that calibrates scales used in the distribution of food products. After I researched the company and understood the service they were providing, the tag line makes complete sense. They help ensure that the public can rely on the quality, consistency and trust of the products their clients sell.

There are many voices out there competing for business in my profession and yours. Defining our brands is a journey of business self-discovery. I’m curious, what practices are you employing to ensure that human resource strategies align with company branding? Post comments, questions, ideas below.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Does Your Leadership Style Help or Hinder Your Strategic Planning?

Once school starts, businesses usually turn their thoughts to next year’s planning.  We do this because by the time we get to the middle of November, for all practical purposes, the year is over.  For many members of the planning team the balance of the year is focused on using up vacation before it is lost, planning for and attending holiday parties, traveling to family get-togethers, and getting shopping and other holiday activities completed.  

So with a little more than two months of solid planning time remaining, I found myself considering the impact leadership style has on the way we plan.  Does one style vs another create a better outcome?  What would your team say about the impact your style has on the annual planning process?

HBDI Quadrants

Just to give full disclosure, I want you to know that I am certified to administer a number of assessments that help individuals and teams explore leadership and work style preferences.  I enjoy exploring possibilities with clients through the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI).  The HBDI Strategic Issues Model is depicted below.

I love the HBDI for the journey of personal discovery it allows each participant to explore.  The HBDI profile provides in-depth information about an individual’s preferred way of thinking and acting, as well as how to effectively and productively integrate the preferred style with the styles of others, in order to achieve the greatest positive impact.  

I’m thinking about style because we cannot overlook the fact that the leader’s preferred work and thinking styles influence the strategic planning process, just as much as they do all our other business activities.  Ned Herrmann, creator of the HBDI, wrote in his book, The Creative Brain "In the corporation of the future, new leaders will not be masters, but maestros.  The leadership task will be to anticipate the signs of coming change, to inspire creativity, and to get the best ideas from everybody."  Isn’t this so true for today?  Based on this quote, perhaps my question should be:  “Does your style have you acting as a master or a maestro?”

Leaders planning for 2012 need to tap into the creative energies of all of their employees.  As the model illustrates, there are four basic quadrants that summarize how their preferences, and the preferences of their planning team, could influence the planning process.  Writing in very general terms, the Quadrant A leader most likely will approach strategic planning from an analytical, logical, fact-based manner.  The Quadrant B leader has many similarities to the A leader, but B has a strong desire to understand how things worked in the past and how the organization got to where it is, in order for action to be planned and executed.  A B leader may have little patience for the intellectual information Leader A is interested in.

On the other hand, a Quadrant C leader will probably view the process through a lens of  sensitivity and desire to involve as many stakeholders as possible.  This leader is very aware of moods, attitudes and energy levels.  The C leader is very tuned in to the human side of business.  And as much as the C leader is excited by the human dynamics of growth and change, the D leader is excited by new ideas, possibilities, variety, and questions.  In fact, the D leader needs to be mindful of a tendency to speak in metaphors that may be difficult for other quadrant styles to understand.

Utilizing the HBDI process to imagine how each leader might influence the strategic plan and the process for developing it, you can begin to see that the most creative and innovative plans will be realized by those organizations engaging a variety of thinking styles:  A, B, C, and D preferences. 

So to answer the question, “Is there a preferred style of leadership for planning?”  I would respond – “Yes!  The leadership style should be focused on broad participation from a diverse group of individuals interested in the future.”  The benefit to this approach will be not missing the three other styles that offer different perspectives, ideas, questions, and opportunities to make the process richer and more robust.  An additional benefit of a collaborative process is the buy-in developed during the process. 

So What’s Next?

Economists report that 2012 will continue to reflect the types of challenges we have experienced over the past few years.  The more creative and innovative an organization can be dealing with uncertainty, risk and changing times, the better.  Along with the diverse thinking of a Strategic Planning Team, an excellent model for strategic planning involves the following steps:

  1. Get Real – Collect and analyze appropriate data about the past 12 months.  Where is your organization or business today?  It might be helpful to utilize tools such as a SWOT, or conduct an analysis of your competition.
  2. Envision the Future – Use creative meeting exercises to help the team get out of the box of “getting real” to a more playful, open and future-oriented vision of what could be.  If there were no constraints, what should the organization be doing?
  3. Conduct an Environmental Scan – In the profession of Organization Development (OD) an environmental scan refers to content analysis of market, industry, clients, competitors, etc.  This step usually involves reviewing appropriate briefings, presentations, reports, research etc. to identify and highlight key, repeated words, phrases, and ideas.  These elements are then used to identify themes that illustrate the possibilities for the business in the future.
  4. Play with Scenarios – Utilizing the data, themes, opportunities, risks, etc. identified in the first three steps, play out the “What If” scenarios of each, answering the questions, “So What?”  “Now What?”  “Then What?” 
  5. Develop Feasible Options – Based on the data, activities and imaginations, hone in on the strategic options the organization should focus on, and then verify the reasonableness of those options by inviting a population of stakeholders to participate in focus meetings.
  6. Articulate the Strategies, Goals and Metrics – Write, communicate and reference the Plan in a way that makes sense to everyone.  Everyone should know how their job tasks contribute to the Plan, and where the organization stands relative to the goals and metrics on a continuous basis.
  7. Be Attentive, Flexible and Willing to Change – Everyday business is time consuming;  I guess that’s why they call it work.  Don’t get so caught up in the “work” that you forget to keep your eye on the horizon.  You need to stand ready to lead a remapping session as the realities of the journey to your destination become clearer.
I started thinking about this topic last week when a colleague mentioned that she would be doing the bulk of her planning ahead of getting together with her team.  Her thought was to not pull them away from their jobs for a few days of planning.  She would do the bulk of it; just utilizing them for one day. 

I understand the investment of associates being pulled away from productivity.  And if that’s your style or operational dilemma, then perhaps it’s best not to label the team coming together as strategic planning, but instead for providing feedback on your plan.  Don’t set the expectation that you want input and ideas about how to make next year better, when all you may want is a blessing on your vision.

I see something as important as strategic planning for my business, as well as my clients, as too important to be attempted in a vacuum.  Find some creative way to gather your  stakeholders that are knowledgeable, creative, logical, curious, passionate, and compassionate.  Be sure as you encourage exploration, analysis and innovation that you are keeping a watchful eye on your style as you orchestrate the symphony of synergy.  Leaders with strong styles that have a tendency to quiet the voices of different thinking styles may consider engaging an outside facilitator tasked to keep the process open, moving, reasonable and fun.

So what are your thoughts on the idea of Strategic Planning as a Master or a Maestro? 
Please share your comments below.

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