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Internal/External Brand Perception

New research shows that only 19% of employees globally think their employee experience and image of their company matches up with the external brand image.

According to a report by Weber Shandwick, the global public relations firm, less than a fifth of employees feels there is strong alignment between their employer’s external image and the actual reality and personal experience is working at the company. Alarmingly, only 7% strongly disagree that there is strong alignment between their employer and external reputations.

Do these findings surprise you? Not me!

All too often we read about companies with disastrous public images yet they still promote themselves as if they were pristine and reputable companies in their external marketing and advertising. Employees are smart and often do not get the credit they deserve for understanding and knowing how things really work within their companies. They can see right through inconsistencies, lack of transparency, lies, deception and poor communication.

Five examples come to mind.  Recently, United Continental Holdings forcibly removing passengers from planes and forced a passenger to put their pet in overhead storage which died in flight.  Uber’s sexist bias and practices, passenger molestation and the recent driverless accident fatality.  In the past, BP and their Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.  Wells Fargo and their bogus account scandal in September 2016.  Volkswagen and their “dieselgates” EPA deception in 2015. Based on the decisions and actions of these companies is it any wonder that the employees may have doubts about their company’s reputations?

The Weber Shandwick report goes on to suggest that companies that have strong alignment between their employees and their external brand tend to have leaders who act in accordance with the organization’s vision and values and convey trust in employees. More than half of the employees who felt their employer’s image lived up to their reality knew their organization’s goals for the future. We, at Inward would agree and have seen other studies that confirm this fact.

The report goes on to say that 74% of companies fall into a category it describes as “marginally aligned”, meaning their workforce is either not sure whether their employer lives up to their promise or does not feel strongly. Basically, their reputation and image does not matter to them. In my opinion, these are the companies that require leadership attention. There is still time for these organizations to be positively influenced by the brand.

Dr. Michael Hammer, the founder of the reengineering movement, used to say that companies would spend an inexplicable amount of time trying to convince powerful internal constituencies that had little likelihood of adopting fresh ideas or change; in fact, this group would work adversely against the change during reengineering engagements. He called them corporate terrorists. This would happen while management virtually ignored groups of people who were on the fence; that had the capacity and ability for acceptance of change. The same applies to the reputation of the brand.

Stop coddling the people who are exhibiting poor behavior and values that impact the reputation of the brand. They are the ones who contribute to poor reputations becoming a reality – fire them – don’t waste your time trying to convince them! Start talking to the people who are marginally engaged that can improve performance, the reputation of the company by assigning them to roles where they effectively promote transparency, honesty, and integrity.

Continue to encourage those individuals who are supportive of the brand and are brand advocates/champions by giving them resources and communication channels to express themselves, formally and informally. Recognize their efforts. Reward them. Make them rock stars and heroes in the eyes of your employees.

The bigger question is how do you get senior leaders and CEOs to take notice, to find the time and the budget to devote energy to improving and aligning internal and external brand reputations. Start by sharing the facts.

According to the Weber Shandwick study, employees in aligned organizations are more likely, on average, to recommend their employer (76% versus 54%); more likely to encourage others to buy their company’s products and services (59% versus 49%); and more likely to share online praise about their employer (41% versus 23%). Aligned employees are also more likely to remain at their employer for more than a year (77%), or go the extra mile in their job by putting more effort than is required (54%). All this leads to higher levels of engagement and we have seen on countless occasions based on research from Gallup and others that companies that are NOT engaged (71%) contribute to over $450 billion in lost revenue productivity. Take that to your CFO!

So, what can a company do to heighten and elevate its internal brand engagement so that it is matched externally?

Remember you can’t have an internal image that is not aligned with the external image and vice versa. Here are Inward’s recommendations of 10 easy things companies can consider doing right away.

  1. Authentic and Sincere – Avoid platitudes and posturing, be personal and human
  2. Honest and Factual – Truthful without any added sugar-coating
  3. Simple and Frequent – Clear, concise, and delivered with expected regularity – work hard to make message simple to comprehend and easy to implement
  4. Real and Believable – Tangible and meaningful messages so that people can relate to and experience firsthand
  5. Be forward-looking – Clearly see their shared interests – Envision the future together
  6. Empathetic and Reflect Concern – Connect with their feelings of pain and insecurity
  7. Show Leadership and Confidence – Demonstrate you know what you are doing
  8. Deliver Cascading Communications – Utilize multiple levels of people who are well-known and respected among your targeted audiences
  9. Encourage diversity and inclusion – Research shows that when an organization has a diverse population of employees and different views there is greater acceptance and alignment and employee engagement.
  10. Onboarding and training – when companies take the time to motivate educate and train their people about the company and how it works-how it makes money they are more inclined to change the behavior in accordance to achieve the company sales goals.

Internal and external brand alignment and reputation management start with your people; your employees. Don’t take them for granted. Your people that make decisions, change their behaviors and represent the company’s beliefs. Your people make the difference in providing the customer experience that has a direct impact on your reputation. As a leader, you cannot leave employee brand alignment to chance. Manage it like any other critical business process in the company.

[Original post written by Allan Steinmetz on How We Think.]

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