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Make people and branding your recipe for success

Pam Moore

The human resource management (HRM) field is changing fast, becoming a major strategic player for organisations and leading the way in which companies are perceived – not only by their employees – but by customers and clients as well.

HRM is quickly developing into a cutting-edge sector within companies, responsible for spearheading crucial strategies that are imperative to the survival and success of businesses.

Long gone are the days when HR was just the place where employees went to check on payslips or fetch leave forms. According to Dave Ulrich, professor of business at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, core HR strategic concerns are changing and becoming more about linking the inside of organisations to the outside. This means HR practices can have a direct positive impact not only on a company’s employees but also on their customers and clients.

Putting people and brand at the core of a company’s strategy is very good business

Warren Buffet, for example, believes that assessing the intangibles – company brand and competent leadership – before assessing the balance sheet yields the best indicator of future financial performance. 

His view is confirmed by research at the Stern School of Business, NYU. Between 1960 and 1990, 75 to 90% of the market value of a firm could be predicted by financial performance. Since 1990, this percentage has dropped to 50% in both up and down markets. The other 50% is tied to value not directly linked to physical assets. In other words, value is linked to the intangibles.

At Apple, everything is geared towards these intangibles and adds value to the brand.

The results speak for themselves.

The brand tells customers what they can expect from the product or service. The employees deliver to those expectations. If a company does not deliver on its promises, it will not be successful.

Aligning brand and people under one executive is logical

However, surprisingly few companies do this.

One company that saw the value in this approach was Santam, back in 2007. Margaret Nienaber was appointed as executive head of the combined portfolio and she says: “As a people and brand team, we work towards getting employees to buy into our brand, encouraging us all to become proud brand ambassadors for our company.” 

The outcome was overwhelmingly positive for Santam. In 2009, the company was named as the Best Company to Work For (in the large category) and in 2008, it rose from fourth position up to 18th in the Ask Africa Orange Index Service Excellence: Personal and Commercial Insurer of the Year Best Insurance Company.

It is even more important to align employees with the brand in the digital world

A negative review on a complaints site such as Gripvewine, Twitter or YouTube that goes viral puts paid to sophisticated advertising. People pay attention.

The video, “United breaks guitars” resulted in 12 million plus viewings of negative publicity for the American airline. Employees are on display more than ever and have to be “on brand” all the time.

What does it take for employees to buy into a company’s brand?

Getting employees to buy into a company’s brand involves them understanding, inside out, exactly:

  • What the customer value proposition is;
  • Who the target audience is; and
  • What customers are promised.

Then the focus is on matching the employee experience with the customer experience, which is trickier.

For instance, a company that stands for delivering “uncompromising service” to customers has to set about translating the specifics of this service ethic into recognition schemes, stories and presentations and differentiated pay and incentives for performance for employees.

Moving deeper into the employee experience, there are some things that people want from work that are constant:

  • To work for a company and colleagues with a good reputation;
  • To do interesting and meaningful work;
  • To have opportunities to grow personally; and
  • The money to pay the bills and grow one’s personal net worth.  

Recognising what people value individually and grouping the elements into tailored and targeted packages will enhance employee experience.

Events and communication are key elements in marketing to customers but are also important into rounding out the employee experience. HR should plan in-house events and procedures to reflect the values of the brand – and ask if customers are being treated in the same way as employees.

Pam Moore is an HR specialist and executive coach who helps companies achieve a competitive edge through people strategies. Moore’s insights are based on the latest thinking in the field combined with more than 20 years’ experience in the corporate sector.