For many companies, the main focus when communicating a new, or ‘refreshed’ strategy, or brand positioning is their external audiences.
Because - quite correctly - customers, suppliers and partners are seen as being critical to the future success of the business.
But what about internal audiences? The people who actually have to deliver the strategy? Or demonstrate and ‘live’ the new brand, or service proposition?
In our experience, one of the great dangers is that they can be largely left to find out about things for themselves... or via corporate social media. At best, to have the strategy introduced via ‘Town Halls’, or ‘cascade communications’.
Management’s assumption often seems to be that people will either automatically ‘Get it’, or ‘Will do it, once we’ve told them’.
Either way the sentiment is that staff will commit to the new ‘vision’ through some form of cultural, or communications’ osmosis. (If such a thing exists!).
The truth is that ‘top down’ communications will only ever highlight what’s supposed to happen. It will never actually influence behaviours, which is precisely what a business needs if it’s going to deliver tangible, meaningful change.
It’s only through a ‘bottom-up’, or ‘embedding’ approach that this can be achieved. As such, two things need to happen:
- engagement around the reasons why the company is undertaking such a course of action: its objectives and business / market imperatives and rationale;
- commitment to why this is important from amongst all members of staff (whatever their role): what they need to do now that’s different and how they should try and reflect (‘live’) change as part of their working life.
‘Embedding’ enables individuals to learn about the new strategy, as well as understand its significance. It helps engender a sense of ownership that enables them to appreciate its value and the effect it should have on their day-to-day roles.
More than just a series of one-off initiatives, ‘embedding’ is an integrated programme for ‘winning hearts and minds’.
Typically, it starts with some form of interactive training experience: this can vary from a short workshop with a small number of individuals selected from across functions, departments and levels of seniority; to a larger-scale exercise that brings together upwards of 100+ people at any one time.
Importantly, this isn’t an end in itself. One of the main outputs is to be able to explore what else needs to happen to ensure success: e.g. further training; workshops; Q&A sessions; internal marketing communications support, or promotion; and social media engagement.
Whatever the scale, the training experience is usually built around a number of corporate, or brand-related exercises. These build upon each other and take the attendees on a learning journey that reviews the opportunities and likely challenges to emerge from the change programme... and addresses them.
Through their own discussions (with moderator support) they arrive at answers that directly relate to themselves. The exercises can start with the their present role within the company (history; business objectives; growth targets); then how they can help the business be more competitive (market / service differentiation); what the brand means to them (proposition and values); and how they can help better deliver the ‘brand promise’ (make the strategy work).
Ideally, all employees would have the opportunity to go through such an event, although in reality this is rarely practical, either in terms of time, or budget.
The alternative is to select a group from a cross-section of the organisation and of a size sufficient to create enough impetus and energy to initiate change. From these, it should be possible to appoint ‘Brand Ambassadors’ who can be tasked, within their divisions and business units, to maintain support for the project, while driving forward with agreed local programmes.
Measuring the initial impact and building on the momentum and ideas generated is key. This should be the responsibility of the Brand Engagement Director, who can provide centralised control and communications’ focus.
Typically appointed from within the corporate communications function, her or his role naturally lends itself to using the company social media platforms to register ideas, while encouraging discussion and feedback around the status of the project and sub-projects.
Centralisation addresses the potential issue of fragmentation, where best intentioned, but un-coordinated initiatives can dilute the programme. It’s not about limiting ideas, but rather providing a structure that ensures that best practice can be easily identified and transferred across the business.
In addition, individual ‘Brand Ambassadors’ within departments can meet monthly to share their experiences and initiatives, as well as feedback progress. The Brand Engagement Director will usually be responsible for collating these and managing upward communication to the leadership team.
Ultimately, overall direction must come from the top - ideally from the CEO him / herself - as the success of any programme is generally in direct proportion to the degree of commitment shown by the senior team.
It will need investment, both financial and in time. And patience... because, while any programme must deliver results in the short-term, it will almost certainly need to continue to run for anywhere between six to twelve months.
That said, when managed correctly such a process will deliver a more motivated set of employees, with a greater understanding of the business and brand, and an ability for people ‘to live and deliver the brand promise and experience’.
Most of all, it will help generate real, tangible change... from the bottom to the top.
‘Embedding’: is an integrated programme for ‘winning hearts and minds’