On Linkedin recently, a connection asked a very important question:
Q. WHAT ARE SOME FACTORS THAT WOULD MAKE ONE WANT TO ADVOCATE FOR THEIR EMPLOYER ON SOCIAL MEDIA OR IN GENERAL?
It seemed like an important question because a business’s ability to act on the answers can mean life or death to that business. That sounds very dramatic, but eventually, a business will run out of people they can hire and no amount of “culture” will bring them back. Look at Amazon right now and their 150% attrition rate in warehouses. They are literally running out of people they can hire for these jobs.
“AMAZON IS SO GOOD WITH PACKAGES. WHEN’S THE LAST TIME YOU GOT A MISTAKEN ITEM IN AN AMAZON PACKAGE? THESE PEOPLE ARE LOGISTICAL GENIUSES. SO IF THEY ARE SO GOOD WITH PACKAGES, HOW CAN THEY TREAT PEOPLE SO DIFFERENTLY?”
-JODI KANTOR, NEW YORK TIMES (SPEAKING ON NPR’S MARKETPLACE)
This disconnect is an extreme example when there is a massive gulf between a company’s brand and its ability to serve employees with that same sense of purpose.
If employees aren’t willing to, at the very least, advocate for their company on social media, there are much larger issues at play that are symptomatic of the overall disconnect between the brand and the people. And if your workforce is customer-facing, this disconnect can undermine everything and be fatal to the business.
A note before we continue. The things I discuss in this post apply not just to an enterprise overall, but also to branded teams within the business or the products they produce. This is particularly pertinent to tech and software companies where teams can sometimes be like small businesses inside of the larger enterprise.
Connection to Purpose
The first thing that needs to be in place to build a brand everyone wants to talk about is a purpose that connects to the human condition. At the center of every product or service is a bleeding, human pain point. How is the business solving for this? And how are employees invited to advance that mission?
For us, that bleeding human pain point is that bad things can happen because of bad software. Bad things like the Kunduz Hospital airstrike, which we talk about in detail in our Origin Story blog post. While many things went wrong that day, software issues were one of them and when it comes to technology stacks in the military, the price of having the wrong tools for the job can be nothing short of catastrophic. This truth is at the very heart of our brand proposition, which is:
A full-stack digital transformation firm believing in a tomorrow where fewer bad things happen because of bad software.
We have many beliefs in this business, but that one big purpose underlines them all and is our beacon -our Bat-Signal- to say “if you want to be part of making a better tomorrow, join us”.
The second part of this connection to purpose is not only having a purpose clearly communicated; your business has to solve that problem without creating new ones. If your products or services don’t actually solve the problem, then the brand is dishonest and employees will be reluctant to spread the gospel.
Your brand purpose can’t be PR spin. It has to be real. Employees see how the sausage gets made and if the business solves 1 problem but creates 2, they will disconnect from the brand.
B2B vs B2C
If you work in a space where employees might also be customers (like retail), it’s easier because when you give them deep discounts and free products, it’s easier to turn them into brand reps. It’s also easier to rep a brand when you can hold their product in your hand.
Simply put, If you’re The Gap and you give people free clothes, they will wear them. It’s a physical connection. That said, whether they’ll wear it when they’re off the clock is the difference we’re talking about here.
If you operate in a B2B space as we do, you have to make an emotional connection between employees and the brand before they will advocate for the brand beyond the role you’re paying them for.
This is where the purpose mentioned above comes into play and there are other things you need in order to connect employees with this purpose:
A curated culture
Employee Brand / Good brand costs a lot. Bad brand costs a lot more.
To me, employee brand (sometimes referred to as internal brand) is the powerful connector between the purpose and the people. Employees don’t automatically experience a connection to the brand just because it exists and they work there.
Everywhere I go, I’m thinking about these things. I recently went to buy a pair of shoes at Coach and there were black-tie-wearing security guards. I often think about this theater that exists in luxury brands and that day, I was thinking “I wonder if these employees could afford to be a customer of this brand?” Then, that made me think “I wonder if they feel exploited and actually hate the customers?” Then, I thought “I wonder how luxury brands make employees (who can’t afford to be a customer) feel like they’re contributing to some greater good?”
Unfortunately for many brands, the answer is: they don’t. Not all businesses foster this connection between their purpose and their people. But the ones that do get to experience the power of a workforce who truly loves the brand they support.
What does an employee brand look like? Lots of things! But mostly, it means not just taking the brand that customers see and turning it inward. Brands with the best internal piece think about their employees as a very special category of customers.
Employees choose to buy a brand when they accept the job offer and they pay for it with the most valuable years of their lives.
We compensate them for this time with money. But don’t be mistaken: they ARE buying something. They’re customers, too.
Examples of opportunities for employee brand messaging are:
Recruiting / What is your bat-signal? How do you show off your values from that very first glance? How do you handle letting people know they didn’t get the job? Even when you’re not hiring them, this is a valuable touchpoint.
Hiring / Do you give them gifts on day one? As important: do you make them feel special on their last day?
Onboarding / is this enjoyable and understandable or does it feel like unavoidable drudgery?
Naming / Do you call your people “employees” or something else? At Rise8, we’re called Risers and this connects our people with our purpose and helps us to not feel like a number.
Day to day life / how do you make people feel valued each and every day?
Software / do you offer your people software that makes their job harder or more enjoyable? At Rise8, we get to engage with beautiful interfaces via software that works exactly as it should and this makes a huge difference if you know what it’s like to work with software that works against you. It also means a lot when you know how expensive good software is and the fact that your employer chose to give you this rather than the cheap stuff.
Merch / Do you create items employees want to use in their everyday life and do you give them some for free?
Office messaging / what’s taking up space in the places where they work? Can you find opportunities to re-connect them with the purpose? With desktop backgrounds, zoom backgrounds, and branded office trappings, this is entirely possible to do for remote workers.
Digital assets / Do you arm them with the things they need to look outstanding in their digital spaces? We give Risers the photoshoots and graphics they need to look like a part of the team no matter where they’re based. Here’s how my Linkedin looks right now thanks to Rise8.
Culture is a real buzzword right now. It’s thrown around by some businesses that have no business doing so. I often say of brands that “The brand exists. It’s whether you curate it or not that’s the question.” In the same way, I will say:
The culture exists. Whether you curate it or not is the question.
Every family, every person, every religion, every TV show, every fandom, every brand, and every workplace all have a culture. And it needs to be curated daily or it will grow weeds that will choke it and it will die.
We have a culture manifesto that Risers access during hiring and onboarding. In it, we discuss purpose, values, and beliefs. It’s a great read. And it’s a useless read if we don’t embody those values each and every day. In fact, if we don’t embody those values every day, it’s not just useless, it’s harmful.
Don’t nail your beliefs to the door if you’re not ready to live by them. If you’re not prepared to live a life devoted to giving employees psychological safety, don’t put that in your culture document. It looks really pretty in writing and really ugly if not practiced.
Today’s workplace cultures are widely not places of safety, so if this is a value you want to practice, be prepared to kick against habits formed in unsafe places. It can take time before people discover that you mean what you say and that they are safe to believe in the values you’re projecting.
You not only have to foster connection, but you also need to notice opportunities for disconnection and address them accordingly. These opportunities are things like leadership not embodying the culture of the business at every given opportunity. When this happens, employees can begin to disconnect and they won’t want to align themselves with the brand.
Leadership needs a support system to be able to express when they are having a bad day because they cannot let that bad day out on employees. And on the rare occasion this happens, recognizing mistakes and apologizing well can be a great opportunity to display those company values. Everyone has a bad day sometimes and what you do after that matters. A lot.
At Rise8, we have many opportunities to give and receive feedback and it’s been my personal experience that I’m safe here. That means I’m not only excited to spread the gospel of this brand, I feel safe to invite others to work here, too.
The last piece of this puzzle is hiring the right people. In the thread on Linkedin that started me writing this post, our CEO, Bryon Kroger replied that the difference between employees who advocate for the brand and ones who don’t is about hiring for culture fit.
“I BELIEVE IT COMES DOWN TO HIRING FOR CULTURE FIT, AUTHENTICITY (REAL CULTURE VS. BRAND), AND BELIEVING IN THE WHY. OF COURSE THERE ARE ALSO FINANCIAL INCENTIVES, WHICH IS WHY MOST OF THE ADVOCATES ON SOCIAL MEDIA ARE THE SALES PEOPLE. WHEN I SEE THAT, IT TELLS ME SOMETHING ABOUT THE COMPANY. I WANT TO SEE NON-SALES PEOPLE SELLING THE BRAND MORE THAN THE SALES PEOPLE.”
If you hire people who already exemplify the culture and values of your organization, it’s not a big jump between advocating for those values and advocating for the business. All you have to do is give them the content, tools, and platform to be able to connect the dots.
When employees advocate for the brand, amplify them in return and you have a mutually beneficial situation everyone can get on board with.
Case in point: this very blog post. Whether I’m writing this for the Rise8 blog or not, these are the things I was already advocating for and preaching about for years. Now, I get to do it with the support of my business and that, in turn, supports the business.
Many businesses will tell you: “this is a family”. I would much rather think of my relationship with Rise8 as a friendship. And good friends gas each other up every chance they get!