The magnificent seven: 7 characteristics of a successful employee brand

BY Julian Gorham

Successful organisations are really clear about who they are and where they are heading and they understand that while you can’t predict the future, you can create it. They succeed in aligning their activities to their brand by having what we at Gather call fierce clarity at the centre. Fierce clarity is all about how the brand is articulated by an organisation – the words they use, the story they tell, the logic for the business and the relevance to the employees: After all, they are the people whose behaviours define and support the customer experience. Successful organisations align their activity to their brand by actively engaging their employees – who then engage all their stakeholders. Simple? Certainly not.

Successful brand engagement programmes share the following characteristics:

1. They use brand language that is smart and succinct.

Most celebrated brands find their articulation through simple phrases: GE has “Imagination at work”; Sony has “Make. Believe.” Google’s mission statement is simply “to organise the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful’’. There may be more detailed versions of the brand internally, but these simple phrases sum up the spirit of the brand and bring it to life.

2. They are built on the truths of the organisation – reflecting both the realities and the ambition.

You can’t just invent this stuff out of nothing. Organisations have to work with the culture they’ve got and develop it so that it is most useful to where the business is heading. Imposing a culture that doesn’t credibly fit what exists doesn’t work.

3. They are developed collaboratively with the organisation whose employees then feel they contributed right from the start.

Top down development doesn’t generally work, even in top-down organisations. The culture described by brand values is more likely to be embraced if it is developed in an inclusive way and can be seen to be practical and useful. Values have to work for everyone at all levels. The people in the organisation need to feel ownership.

4. They are championed at Board level or personally by the CEO.

In many successful organisations the brand is not just ‘brand-ing’ or a logo, but it’s the chief concern of the CEO because it guides the culture – and culture drives performance. Successful organisations see brand as long-term business strategy. Attempts to raise engagement levels are likely to flounder unless there is a willingness and energy at a senior level to take an holistic and long term approach to building commitment in the organisation.

5. They guide communications and behaviours.

Use the right kind of words and they can inform the style and content of communications as well as guide behaviours. Again fierce clarity is key. Forget words like ‘Innovative’ and ‘Professional’ – Expert, for example suggests a tone of voice, but also sets up an expectation in terms of behaviours. And since brands must do what they say, especially in today’s world of super-scrutiny and opinion online, why not have a shared basis for doing and saying?

6. They are supported by a well-managed and professionally produced communications programme – digital is key, but not everything.

Culture change is very, very hard and takes time – years rather than months, before activities are aligned to the brand. Getting to the point where everyone in an organisation has a shared understanding takes commitment. It starts with a well-managed and properly produced communications programme and only stands a chance if it’s delivered properly, online and in print. Online invites a much more interactive approach to culture development. But many employees may not have easy access to it so you need print too. There are phases of explanation and the celebration of behaviours that are on brand become the story internally and reinforce the values. Thousands of engagement programmes fizzle out after just a few weeks or months because of the sheer effort it all takes. Someone once said that 80% of them fail.

7. They are designed to last and are capable of development and refreshment.

It’s what people used to call a big idea. The brand idea has got to be articulated in such a way that it is smart enough and inclusive enough to have the broadest impact. And there should be lots of room within that idea for creative development and expression.

So, how do you align your activity to your brand? The answer is, with fierce clarity, with a huge amount of effort – and, probably, with a great deal of difficulty along the way. But, ultimately, your activity is your brand. Those who get there win.