In my hometown there’s a grocery chain whose moto has been: “We’re the friendliest store in town”. However, most people who shop there know the truth: their employees turn the moto to be “the surliest store in town.” If you’re gonna say you’re the friendliest, doesn’t it follow that you should actually hire people who are friendly and create a culture that radiates friendliness?
We all know that your employees should be the face of your organization but, more importantly, your employees should be seen as the ambassadors of your brand. They should project your desired brand image through their behaviors every day during every interaction. And being an ambassador means they should do this with every external and internal interaction. They should be doing it when they’re at work but also when they’re away from the office interacting in the community.
A well-known company that may be the posterchild for turning employees into brand ambassadors is Southwest Airlines. Take a flight on Southwest and then get on a United flight – notice anything different? Chances are that difference is attributable to the fact that Southwest dedicates so much to optimizing the brand awareness of every single employee. They don’t hope their employees live their brand; they invest in it, every day, to make sure they do, every time.
There are two main ingredients to this brand ambassador recipe: 1) how strongly and definitively your company positions and substantiates your brand with employees (especially, new hires), and 2) to what extent those employees live and consistently represent your company’s brand.
“Too many companies and organizations think their brand it something that is only visual. The way they appear outwardly, their logo, tagline, colors etc.” says Bill McKenna, VP Client Strategy and Growth, Colorworks, Inc. “Although these items do contribute to brand recognition, a deep rooted, well-defined brand starts in the hearts of every employee. They must all be on the same page and understand the important role they play in living your brand. They must also believe in the company they represent and the impact it has in the lives of members.”
An organization’s brand is a direct derivative of its mission and values. When was the last time you updated your mission and values statements? When was the last team meeting that you discussed your mission and value statements? In a recent employee engagement we conducted, 20% of employees said they could not live the company’s mission and vision. If they can’t live it, they can’t be brand ambassadors.
Employees should be motivated by your brand and your culture should allow that motivation to shine through. Employees need to be totally onboard with who you are, what you do, and why you do what you do. More often than not, investing in your culture will produce significantly higher levels of engagement with lower levels of turnover and performance that consistently substantiates your brand.
Here’s a six-pack for creating an outstanding employee brand culture at your credit union:
- Teach employees about your brand
Initially, your brand must convey a positive and attractive image. Don’t be shy about telling the back story – how did you develop your brand? Why is it important to employees, members, and the future success of the credit union? And what does it really mean to everyone (next bullet)? If the answers aren’t clear, it’s probably time for a revision or update.
- Conduct brand training (and re-training)
Even if someone is motivated by your brand, they may not know how to live it and they may not know how to live it the way you want them to. That’s where training comes in: what are the specific behaviors you expect day-in and day-out to live your brand? Deliver this as a kickoff training session but also in frequent follow-on refreshers and, of course, in coaching interactions.
- Hire the right people to support your brand
Not everyone is going to be cut out to execute on your desired brand image. Some people can’t or won’t live it in the manner you’ll expect. Proactively recruit and select employees who actively model your brand. They don’t quite have the level of experience you desire? You don’t really have a current opening for them? Weigh their ability to be an outstanding brand ambassador and you might suddenly find a place for them and get them the experience they lack.
- Hold everyone accountable
Steps 1, 2, and 3 should send a crystal-clear message that branding is of paramount importance to the future viability, relevance, and success of your credit union. If it’s that important then you’d better hold people accountable to delivering on it as best as they can. Those behaviors trained in Step 2 better be included in observation forms and, ultimately, in performance reviews. If a new hire doesn’t sufficiently support the brand, they don’t graduate past their probationary period. Harsh? Maybe – but that’s how critical this is!
- Consistently gather feedback from employees and members
The old saying is, “What gets measured, gets attention.” If you want employees to pay attention to being a brand ambassador, you’ll need to adequately and appropriately measure it. That means conducting annual engagement studies with employees and numerous feedback studies with members through various avenues. Don’t skimp on this; don’t do it the way you did it ten years ago; and definitely don’t mercilessly sacrifice it in budget cutting. Again, it’s critical!
- Invest (heavily) in your engagement culture
This one is a little nebulous and it varies based on the dynamics of your culture but, generally, focus on doing whatever is necessary to create an environment where all employees feel like they have everything they need to live your brand image. For some, it may mean focusing on making it “fun”. For others, it may be focusing on education and development. For others, it may require more focus on feedback and recognition. Figure out what it means at your credit union and strategize to invest the resources to make it happen soon.
Make note of how many people need to collaborate for this culture to be deployed and fully successful. Everyone is involved in these six steps – HR, Retail, Training, Finance, and, of course, the C-suite … it can’t just be a Marketing effort!
“Quite often when credit unions talk about their brand and more specifically where the brand may need improvement, all heads turn to the marketing team for the answer,” says Jennifer Burns, Senior Consultant at FI Strategies, LLC. “Your brand is more than your logo, your web site or coordinating staff shirts. It’s the feeling that members get from doing business with you on a consistent basis through every delivery channel.”
Burns goes on to say, “Every credit union employee has a responsibility to live the brand. Training can help your team get more comfortable speaking their brand’s language and articulating brand attributes. Ultimately the brand is a reflection of every interaction at your credit union.”
Everyone hopes their brand has a positive perception but remember, “hope is not a strategy.” Commit today to investing in your people, elevate your culture, and create brand ambassadors. Walt Disney said, “You can build the most wonderful place in the world, but it takes people to make the dream a reality.” Your people are your competitive differentiator; they must substantiate your brand every day with every interaction.
If you truly want to create the culture outlined in the six-pack above, we can help. Go to https://fi-strategies.com/contact-us/ and let’s get the conversation started.