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Brand delusion

April 26, 2010

It’s been a while since my last post. A new role, new city and new challenges have taken priority. However, they’ve also intensified my passion for brands and the belief that they have to sit at the heart of an organisation, which means the connection with employees is essential.

Bad habits are often hard to break and reverse. They can happen quickly with long-term effects.  When it comes to employees and the culture of your organisation those effects require significant transformation in order to be reversed.

A powerful brand idea placed at the heart of your organisation can give everyone a sense of purpose and cohesion. People will take a drop in salary, move cities or countries, just for the chance to work for you. But, when that idea is absent or a business becomes too focused on the bottom line, people, culture and brand come bottom of the list of priorities and an afterthought only focused on by the marketing department.

Brands end up making promises that can’t be delivered. Nothing new is launched and all we see are some new shades of lipstick being applied to an older, unattractive face.

The business strategy of course comes first, but how an organisation executes and achieves that strategy is greatly enhanced by strong, powerful brandhabits. To feel like you’re working for a brand with these elements aligned can be very empowering. To feel like you’re working for a brand that’s successful is of course incredibly satisfying. However, to be ‘led’ to think you’re working for a brand that is successful might cause longer-term issues. Claim that you’re outperforming the industry or a global trend, when really that trend just hasn’t hit you yet is just delusion.

I’ve seen a number of organisations that use delusion to motivate employees. The feeling that everything’s great and the future’s bright is used to mask the businesses real situation in the face of serious long-term challenges.  It’s a strategy that can work for survival but that will struggle to deliver long-term sustainable growth.

Brands nowadays are operating in a digital world whether they like it or not. There are some things that the success of Google, eBay and Amazon have done that have changed the expectations of the general public and workers all over the world.

We expect to be listened to, rewarded, promoted, involved and appreciated.

Transparency is one of these expectations.  To know your place, your role and how what you’re doing contributes to your company’s goal is now expected, not a nice to have. That’s why I believe it’s much more important for a brand to recognise its challenges now and set out a powerful galvanising strategy to overcome them, than to continue to delude employees that everything is ok.  Success for the company from one year to the next isn’t necessarily going to result in a satisfying experience for employees if they’re not sure how they got there.  It can lead to misplaced rewards and internal resentment.

Who hasn’t worked their guts out all year only to be ‘rewarded’ with a 3% payrise while a lower performing  nine to five colleague with relatively easy sales targets takes home a 10% bonus?

Not recognising the different competencies of individuals is an issue that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discusses in his book, Good Business. He says that an organisation that only measures success evaluates all employees as one. This approach doesn’t recognise the incompetent employees that get lucky and the passionate competent individuals that can fail due to a variety of uncontrollable reasons.  In essence, it’s unfair, and with a younger generation entering the marketplace with new expectations it won’t be very attractive.

If employees were also measured on contribution to the brand idea, through attitude, competency, passion and enthusiasm they inevitably would have a better indirect and direct impact on the company’s financial performance.

Brands that do this well include Google (although Steve Ballmer doesn’t agree), Zappo’s, Apple, Innocent Drinks, and FedEx. There’s a strong identifiable culture at all of these companies and at the same time they have also performed well over a sustained period of time (longer than 5 years in these cases). Speak to any employee from any of these brands. From Innocent Drinks who offer a sense of purpose and well-being, to Google who empowers their staff to spend time coming up with new ideas fostering a culture of innovation. Great examples of brandhabits.

Delusion is a short-term motivation. Realism and unification in the face of adversity is much more likely to deliver longer-term success.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 26, 2010 8:41 pm

    Great post Andy. I’m reminded of something I once heard about John Wooden, one of the greatest sports coaches of all time.

    His ratio of giving praise to highlighting shortcomings was 50 percent. Each time he praised someone for something done well, he would also point out what needed improvement.

    Delusion is harmful to both the organization and the individual. We need more determined, honest and caring leaders.

    • April 28, 2010 8:40 am

      Thanks for the comment Tom, and for taking the time to read the post. You’re spot on about leadership. This only works if there’s a strong leader, with a clear vision for the organisation that can put everything in context.

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