It is my pleasure to host this interview with Ian Buckingham . Ian wrote Brand Engagement – How Employees Make or Break Brands and currently runs The Bring Yourself 2 Work Fellowship. I love the cover of Ian’s book and his ideas can help you understand employee engagement from both a brand and grand perspective.
Can you briefly tell us about the title of your book, Brand Engagement and also the name of your organization by2w?
I’m a former director of Interbrand, owned by the giant Omnicom and arguably the world’s leading brand consultancy. Interbrand authors the annual report into the world’s Top Brands (Best Global Brands http://www.interbrand.com/best_brands_2007.asp) .
I understand the power that mastery of the physical manifestations of brand can deliver to the balance sheet – especially in this age of consumerism where appearance is so important. Many marketing gurus describe brands as promises. However, my passionate belief that brands are simply promises made unless employees are motivated to make or break them is less well understood and often poorly articulated.
As we live in what Tom Peters has called “the age of brand”, brand management is extremely important to all organizations, regardless of sector. The brand is the manifestation of promises made minus those delivered and, as such, responsibility for brand management is much more than a marketers thing. Employees simply have to be engaged with the vision, goals and, most importantly, values of the business if the integrity of the brand is going to be maintained. And this is much more than “tree hugging” HR-speak. It makes very sound business sense and is tied into customer satisfaction and employee retention alike.
Engagement is an elusive and slippery thing, however, as it can’t be forced or conscripted and relies upon individuals exercising free will. Brand Engagement, therefore, is a call to arms for all leaders to start forming partnerships between the external facing and internal facing arms of their organization. It provides a host of best practices and illuminating case studies from a range of organizations who have had success by taking this holistic approach. It’s also a challenge to leaders to form partnerships within their organizations to capitalize on their brands. Until those partnerships are achieved between the people responsible for making promises and those accountable for delivering them, until we can address preconceptions about who is responsible for employee engagement versus brand management the sad fact remains that comparatively few brands are going to live up to their billing!
Outline what you mean by having a CEO – chief engagement officer.
The literature about leadership and internal communication is obsessed with what I call Hero Leaders. The Chief Executives I know and work with, struggle constantly with the notion that they are expected to be the primary communicators within their business when they actually get very little time to act out this role internally and struggle to engage in authentic conversations when they do. For a host of different reasons, the pivotal communicators are line managers. They are the everyday brand superheroes – not CEOs but ceos or chief engagement officers. During times of crisis who do employees turn to? On a day-to-day basis who is responsible for informing and motivating people? Who has to be the communications “jack of all trades” able to facilitate team briefings, interpret and relay vast amounts of context-setting communication and be the role model for the desired culture, the guardian of brand values? Yes, the line manager, even the much maligned middle manager. The sequel to Brand Engagement – Brand Champions, is dedicated to this community and in Brand Engagement I provide hints, tips and techniques for maximizing the impact of this community.
Humor and playfulness are my number 1 signature strengths. One person said the mark of sanity is to blur the lines between work and play. What is the role of play in engaging employees?
It’s a lifelong obsession of mine that we’re expected to deliver our potential at work but to do so with our personalities hidden, to leave our “home” selves at the door when we walk over the corporate threshold. Why? Because it’s somehow deemed unprofessional to be yourself at work. I passionately believe that it is this very neurosis that lies at the core of deep seated morale and performance problems in many organizations. This subject is intrinsically part of the authenticity debate. Being an authentic business is quite simply about promising and being what you promise. It involves clarity about brand positioning, values and communication to customers, prospects, employees, recruits and stakeholders. Being clear about what you stand for (or won’t stand for), makes it a lot easier to do business with you. If you reflect on the leading customer service organizations (and you will have your own examples), the employees aren’t afraid to have fun, they exude confidence and enthusiasm because they enjoy working for the organization and believe in the service or product. Organisations that are clear about their values and communicate them through their people processes (recruitment, performance management, communication etc), will attract and retain like minds. This type of synergy doesn’t require too many rules and enforcement, it encourages self-managing teams, peer pressure and ultimately innovation and experimentation. When these conditions exist for adults, it feels like play and when people feel confident enough to be themselves at work there’s a chance they’re going to be a great deal more engaged and, therefore, effective. Brand Engagement supports this with case studies and data from my consultancy bring yourself 2 work www.by2w.co.uk.
How do we weave bringing ourselves to work and stories into creating more powerful or richer levels of engagement?
I’m a big fan of the work of mythologist and anthropologist Joseph Campbell who dedicated his life to the search for the mono myth or, put simplistically, the central story which underpins all cultures and creeds and forms an invisible part of our collective psyche. As a former student of literature, both English and African, I’ve been intrigued by the seemingly relentless attempts made by businesses to strip the arts from business, to raise barriers between sanitized “business think” and the natural rhythms and patterns of communication. As we all know, storytelling and the oral tradition pre-dates the written word and yet we’ve somehow forgotten the core paths our communication roots have taken as we’ve developed organizations and structures.
The greatest value of storytellers like Campbell is that they remind us of the universality of change, that despite the fact that we may feel victimized by the particular path our organizations may have taken, the fact remains that we’re part of a process as ancient as time itself. If we stop to look around us, to observe the lore that comes from our literature, our art and our stories (both from the home and corporate worlds), we can develop an understanding of the stages of change, learn to look out for archetypes along the way and, most importantly, learn from the mistakes and lessons from the heroes of the stories who have gone before us.
I believe there are a whole host of reasons why there’s such a chasm between the corporate and non-corporate worlds which apply to storytelling along with many of the other, powerful, engagement drivers. The first step towards bringing these worlds back together again in pursuit of greater balance and, I believe, more effective performance, is to recognize that just as we embrace both the commercial and artistic in our home lives, the two can be brought much closer together in pursuit of engagement for mutual commercial gain.
Your chapters end with 5 things to do today. What 5 things would you recommend readers of this interview do today?
- If you can influence matters, try and chart the story of the business. It’s a powerful way of connecting people with the change journey and is the most powerful engagement device, an antidote to “short-termism”
- If you’re trying to build a business case for engagement, consider the cost of recruitment and retention versus spend on internal communication and engagement. We measured this at a financial services firm recently and the results were a real eye-opener.
- Ensure that your internal communications function is at least as professional as your marketing team.
- Pause for a moment and consider your personal legacy. As you chart the way through the personal and corporate journey, how do you want to be remembered when you leave and how are your values going to guide you?
- Measure, measure, measure…………………
Ian Buckingham is the author of Brand Engagement – How Employees Make or Break Brands http://www.palgrave.com/products/title.aspx?PID=281268 and he is currently working on the sequel Brand Champions. Ian has almost twenty years consultancy experience in the communication, engagement, change management and organisation development fields. Formerly a partner at the Omnicom owned SDL, Ian was the founder of Interbrand Inside and currently runs The Bring Yourself 2 Work Fellowship at www.by2w.co.uk.