What do you rely on most in your world? Water? Your smartphone? Coffee? Okay, clearly these are my go-tos but whatever you find critical to your day-to-day routine, one thing holds true, all of those things are marketed, heavily. TV and radio commercials, ads in our online publications and Google searches….our favorite celebrities and influencers posting and blogging about them….ALL methods of marketing the importance of products that we already hold valuable. And although life without these things may seem unimaginable today, it’s likely you decided this to be the case only after they were first marketed to you. Marketing strategies identify, articulate, and some may argue create, consumer needs aligning those needs to specific products and services. Now consider this, how important is employee buy-in to your workplace? Enter the case for internal marketing.
Have you ever introduced a benefit plan that everyone hates? Or perhaps you’ve rolled out a new commission plan to a sales reps who feel commission payouts are unattainable? If you’ve ever had the unfortunate experience of leading a company change where employees were not bought in, you’ve learned the hard way that without buy-in, successful implementation is a mere pipedream. As consumers and employees make decisions and choices not on logic but on emotions and psychology. Just as a good product or service is not enough to ensure high market share, a great workplace is not enough to attract and retain valuable employees. Without marketing highlighting why our products, services, and workplaces are great – people fail to remember, and the magic is lost. Here are some internal marketing ideas to enhance your company culture that generate a return on your investment (in people).
1. Why you?
What drives customers to choose you over competitors? Why do employees choose your company over any other? If you’re having difficulty answering the second question with as much confidence as you answered the first, don’t feel bad as this is the case with most leaders I meet with. Many have responses like “we offer a great benefits package” or “we pay top dollar”. When challenged however, reasons just don’t hold up. So, give pause to the question of why employees choose your company because the answer is important. The answer should serve as the foundation to every employee initiative – recruiting, onboarding, retention, and so on. Why people choose you as their employer reflects what your employees value most. How well you deliver on this value ultimately determines how happy, engaged, satisfied, and successful your employees are. You meet with employees individually to discuss why they choose you. Because it can be a complex answer, one-on-one discussions can provide great insights. Because anonymity can lead to more honest answers however, you may instead prefer to use an employee survey to solicit a variety of responses. Regardless of the method you choose, asking is critical.
2. Your vibe attracts your tribe.
Knowing why your most valued employees choose you is the most important piece of information a leader can have. A close second is how to communicate this message. When recruiting for an open position for example – it’s important to know what speaks to your tribe. Where do they look for jobs? Are they even looking? What about the job and your company’s culture is of interest to the “right” employees (“right” meaning having shared values with others in the company as well as the skills and experience necessary to perform the duties of the position). This year for the first time since recorded, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported more open jobs than unemployed workers to fill them. This means employers must actively attract candidates to fill their open positions – no more relying solely on unemployed workers actively looking for jobs. When competition is high – marketing will often determine the winner. Like never before, it’s important for employers to market their employer brand. This is different than marketing your brand to end users and consumers. An employer brand comes back to why you (as an employer)? Passive candidates, because they are by definition not actively looking for jobs, require more from recruiting than just posting openings to a job board. They are not looking for you. Like marketers find consumers, employers must instead target and source candidates the candidates they want to hire. And because educated candidates, like educated consumers, tend to be more valuable – get your online (employer) brand together. What are current and former employees saying about working for you on review boards such as Glassdoor and Indeed? How does your website’s careers page reflect your culture and employee experience? The goal is not to have the most robust or most beautiful online representation. Your goal is to have the most accurate online employer brand representation – because that is the one that will attract your tribe.
3. Fake begets fake.
Speaking of accuracy….have you ever hired someone with the perfect resume followed by the perfect interview only to realize that it was all BS?! That guy was never the top sales rep with his previous company! Just days into the job it was evident he never sold anything in his life (oh – except he sold you on giving him the job – ouch!). Take a look at your hiring process. Is it genuine? If you’re attracting candidates who seem too good to be true only to later disappointed when they prove to be, assess how authenticity is tested in your recruiting and hiring process. Why employees choose you is just as important and why those who don’t belong in your company don’t choose you. You cannot successfully be all things to all people. So, own who your company is….and isn’t. If you don’t believe in employees to work remotely, make it known early in your recruiting process. If you choose to offer only one medical plan because it affords you lower premiums and makes it more affordable for all employees to cover at least themselves (rather than more coverage to less employees), say so! An authentic message is not appealing to everyone. With authentic messaging we appeal to desired candidates and simultaneously repel those who would not be successful with our company. Open jobs can be costly to a business, but the wrong hire, catastrophic. Take time on the front end to articulate who your company is, what the culture is really like, what your employee experience has to offer. When it comes to recruiting, quality trumps quantity ever time.
4. Consistency counts
A friend of mine works for Charles Schwab. One day she was telling me how she was butting heads with another leader of an internal team on a project. Then as if by magic, her frustration seemed to vanish and she said, “but we resolved it once we stepped back to consider what was best through the clients’ eyes”. What the heck was she talking about? I asked her to explain – and she did. She told me this phrase is what most Schwab employees use to settle disagreements and make decisions. I couldn’t believe it. Charles Schwab employs nearly 20,000 people and this one simple phrase allows team members to solve problems, for the most part, consistently. Consistent messaging sticks. We as humans, appreciate knowing what to expect because it allows us to and predict benefits and consequences and ultimately make what we consider to be better choices. Marketing has long time realized this concept with what they refer to as “the rule of seven”. The rule of seven suggests people need to be exposed to a message at least seven times before they remember it. While unsure there is any true science showing seven to be a magic number, I can say that many companies I meet with struggle to communicate with enough frequency and consistency to resonate with employees. One of the attributes of the employee experience we at Culture Engineered test on is communication. Of the ten attributes we test on, the communication attribute shows challenging to most companies, regardless of industry, size, or structure (flat versus hierarchical). What we often find is that communication itself is not bad. It’s just not done consistently or frequently enough. One of the best ways we’ve found to resolve the communication issues in the workplace is to start all corresponding communications with the phrase, “because you asked for more effective communication, we’d like to announce (insert initiative)”. This phrasing helps align a changed way of communicating in response to employee feedback and also helps make messaging sound more consistent. Leaders are usually resistant at first, fearing employees will feel they’re repeating themselves. In three nearly three years we’ve been using this approach to resolve communication issues, we’ve not received even one employee response suggesting we’re over communicating.
5. Engage your superfans
What product or service are you in love with? For me, it’s our vet Dr. Mangone. We foster dogs, specifically senior dogs. I’ve had dogs all of my adult life and am known to take in strays fairly frequently. Most need some sort of medical attention. Until just two years ago, I had with me my Dingo mix dog, Caleb, a rescue I took in when I was in college. He lived to be 17 years old and our vet cried with us when Caleb took his last breath. If our vet treated people, I’d be a lot better about going to him as my doctor. I sing his praises to others constantly and have referred fellow animal lovers to him. I am a superfan when it comes to our vet – promoting him more confidently and convincingly than perhaps any ad or paid advertisement ever could. Who are your superfans that work within your company? A few weeks ago I visited a well-known tech company here in the valley. While they’re recognized as a tech success story here in the Phoenix-metro community, they’re also notoriously known for laying off employees annually during the holidays, despite healthy financials. The tech community in Phoenix is a close community – so when companies with healthy profits routinely and systematically layoff the employees who helped the company to be a success, word travels quickly. During my visit however the woman showing me around their campus beamed. Telling me stories of the team coming together to earn bigger bonus payouts and giggling proudly as she divulged the company has a $15K per month allowance for sugary employee snacks, she seemed oblivious to how insensitive this seemed to the outside world. To me, an outsider, it was nauseating. Don’t get me wrong, layoffs happen and unfortunately I’ve been on both sides of that unpleasant situation – but to scale only to later layoff employees recklessly and in the same breath preach company culture and loyalty is disgusting. Remembering the countless conversations with developers I’d had over the years who once dreamed of working for this company only to later be tossed aside without reason, her admiration for the company made me feel like I was in an alternate universe. But then I realized, she’s a superfan. I of course do not condone the reckless practices of this company nor am I encouraging the use of manipulation to mask unethical practices. I do however have a question for the leaders running ethical and honest businesses out there, what would happen if you nurtured your superfan employee relationships? Are you inviting them to collaborate on employee/culture initiatives with you? At Culture Engineered, we’ve found the key to articulating and driving a company’s employee experience is the Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS). While our survey is anonymous, we are able to deconstruct the employee experience with this metric and determine what of the ten attributes of the employee experience are driving that employee experience to be positive. High eNPS scores are the marks of your superfans. Because of the high correlation with high eNPS scores, employee satisfaction, and performance, it’s important to understand what about your employee experience resonates and inspires your superfans. These are your advocates….your key employees….drivers…stars….whatever term you prefer, they are as passionate about your company’s success as they are about their own success. Today, identify them if you haven’t already done so. Learn what makes them so dang into your business and invest in those aspects of your employee experience. Not only will you make them even bigger advocates than they were even before, but you will attract more by focusing on creating the experience that the “right” employees value most.
We need to realize that internal marketing is only manipulative when we fail to be honest, ethical, or authentic. It isn’t enough to invest in making our workplaces great – we also need to ask what our employees appreciate and commit to making what employees value a priority. Great leaders and companies invest a lot of time, money, and energy into making the employee experience satisfying and rewarding. But if we’re not sharing with employees our intention to make them feel more valued, and instead allow them to assume our great culture happened by chance, we’re missing the opportunity to show them how important they are to us. We as leaders will fail. We will mess up. Sometimes we will be forced to make difficult decisions that employees don’t fully understand. Be transparent and open with your intentions when you can. This in itself has a huge impact on employee perceptions and feelings about their work – arguably more so than most bonus plans or costly perks. Today – start incorporating these basic marketing principles into your employee interactions and initiatives and be amazed at how quickly and positively employees will respond.