the behaviors of your employees as they interact with each other and with customers,
the decisions they make as they conduct their work,
the way they collaborate and solve problems,
the way they rise to new challenges and obstacles to achieve your goals,
the way they express their purpose and loyalty to a common purpose or mission,
and the value and meaning they derive from the work they do.
If the basic behaviors and tendencies of your employee population are aligned with your mission, or brand promise, then they will produce consistent results and customer experiences. Empowered people must believe in their leaders, in their team members, in their purpose and mission, and in their ability to deliver results to delight the customer. If they cannot feel any cultural affinity with their leaders or their team members, they will narrowly act in ways that conform to the business goals you have laid out for them. They will make decisions that fit those goals within the strict confines of their own specific work domains and personal spheres of influence. They will not risk a confrontation (i.e., collaboration) with other people who may choose a different approach to addressing the same decision. If you have an environment where your workers are managing demanding processes and working heads-down for hours on end, you may be successful in spite of the lack of cultural affinity across your population. However, even then a predominant culture of fear is likely to emerge as employees focus on meeting the letter of their performance requirements and not acting in the best interests of your customer or your company.
Your first step should be to assess your existing culture across every employee group or segment in your company, and from top to bottom. Using modern internet based survey and analysis techniques, in conjunction with experts on such matters as employee culture, organization development, and employee satisfaction can produce rapid and affordable insights. Consider experts who can provide a benchmark for your company to understand how your culture compares to others in your category, and the correlation between culture gaps and business performance. Once you have this research and reporting in hand, your next step will be to develop a roadmap for planning and implementing the changes to your employee culture. Be prepared for a long term process that can easily take up to two years to realize the full benefits of the changes.
In addition to the experience in delivering effective surveys and analyses, a consultant offers a very important factor: the independent objective observer. If your company has a disjointed, unbalanced, or even a toxic culture, then a report on employee behaviors and attitudes may be best delivered and received by everyone - perhaps executives in particular - from a neutral independent party that has no stake in the outcome, no internal agenda, and no historical political "baggage". If your employees see that the executive team are taking the proposals seriously, agreeing to make the changes personally, and acting as champions for the new culture, then the chances for a successful transition are far greater. Three other important tools can be very useful in affecting change in employee culture and their understanding of their role in accomplishing and delivering on the brand promise of the company. They are: learning and development, reward and recognition, and performance management processes.
When new employees join your company, or when they are promoted or transferred internally to new positions, do you offer any training to orient them with the company and their new role? Such training can be immensely useful in clarifying your purpose, objectives, culture, values, and tools that are available to the employee to help them become productive quickly. The messages and personality of your culture can be embedded from the start of the employee's engagement, assuring they start off in the right direction. Perhaps you offer skills based and technical training programs to customer support and sales staff. Do you use that training to make sure that the brand promise and culture of your company is communicated clearly and boldly to those audiences? Do you routinely have senior executives participate in those training sessions to welcome new employees and to provide their own perspectives on the company and its purpose and culture? If your training courses are computerized and self-paced, appropriate messages can be integrated from top management to provide the executive endorsement and personal connection with the employees involved. People generally come to training courses with an open mind, expecting to learn something new - take advantage of that open minded attitude and fill them with positive reinforcement of your brand promise.
Do you recognize employees for outstanding contributions? Are those contributions the ones you'd like to be recognized? How do you stimulate more positive behaviors that are consistent with your brand? I recently worked with a company that had a multi-tiered recognition system. It started with a quarterly award for which individuals could be nominated by other employees for an action or support they have provided to others that was considered to be outstanding, - perhaps even above and beyond the call of duty. The winners were selected at their senior manager's discretion. Those who earned the most nominations in a year were eligible to participate in the annual President's Club trip - which included only the top five percent of the employee population. This program was very popular with some departments and the company literally spent thousands of dollars each quarter on cash and desktop mementos for this program.
Unfortunately, they missed a significant opportunity to align this recognition system with their brand promise. Some departments even selected President's Club winners by a raffle-style lottery. An executive drew numbers out of a hat! Regardless of their performance or behaviors some employees got to enjoy the special recognition with the other "top" performers in the company. What a terrible waste of money and a serious loss of opportunity to reinforce the value of high performance and dedication to their brand promise.
If this company had simply applied a set of criteria as a filter on their nomination forms and in the senior management selection process, the company could have easily made a huge impact on their employee culture. Imagine if their employees were constantly recognizing each other for actual performance against standards that define the desired behaviors and outcomes to exemplify the brand promise. Then add to that management's routine selection of award winners against the same factors. Successful award winners would be a remarkable positive reinforcement to communicate the desired aspects of change far more effectively than could the individual managers. Does your company recognize employees through awards and exclusive trips? Have you clearly assessed how employees are selected and what messages are being delivered to employees through that process?
Another important form of reward and recognition comes from salary and bonus payments made to employees - this is the "putting your money where your mouth is" statement to your employees. Many companies successfully tie salary planning and bonus allocations to the employee's performance, in addition to the company's performance. If, for example, your company emphasizes teamwork and collaboration as a core value and aspect of your culture, then you should reward those employees who have demonstrated high performance by exemplifying that team and collaborative spirit.
To make this a truly effective tool in influencing employee behavior and aligning performance with your brand promise, you need to ensure that performance objectives, expected outcomes, measurement criteria, appraisal reviews, and the recognized behaviors that are all part of an employee performance management process are all aligned with your brand promise, purpose, mission, and desired employee culture. Getting your employees aligned with your brand will empower them to make continuous improvements that will benefit your company as it strives to deliver that unique and best-in-class customer experience.
Patrick Smyth is a management consultant focused on improving productivity in a sustained and repeatable way through effective business, product management, and product marketing processes. Patrick has over 25 years experience in information technology & services, business-to-business product management and marketing leadership. His talents include aligning companies and their strategies with product strategy, management & positioning, and building highly effective marketing processes & teams. His focus on customer experience management optimizes sales & marketing productivity long term customer relationships. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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