In the past five years, the world of work has been irrevocably turned upside down.

Millions are changing or leaving their jobs – 69 million in the USA during 2021 alone – the so-called ‘Great Resignation’. According to EY’s 2022 Work Reimagined study, 43% of employees are likely to resign within the next twelve months. The mismatch in expectations and attitudes between employer and employee has widened and employers are now having to work incredibly hard to attract and retain talent. The balance of power has shifted from employer to employee.

This shift was exponentially accelerated by the pandemic which jumped the world forward to hybrid working as standard. From the EY study, 80% of the employees interviewed would like to continue to work from home at least three days a week, leading to the place and role of work in our lives dramatically changing as a result.

Current economic pressures, including rampant inflation and a hot employment market, are also playing their part, not to mention European conflict and supply chain disruptions.

But there are deeper forces at work that employers must get to grips with if they are to win the war for talent and, simultaneously, head off the ever-present risk of talent flight.

Of course, pay, conditions, benefits, and work-life balance – these are all really important – and the ability to work flexibly has become critical to many. But what’s been added into the mix is the need for employers to visibly consider employee well-being and to recognize the employee as a whole person rather than a ‘work-unit’ or an ‘asset’. As a result, management is morphing into coaching, with traditional command and control structures wasting away.

All this adds up to organizational culture becoming the critical factor in ensuring organizations attract, retain, and develop talent. Boosting morale and building resilience are now business imperatives, not nice-to-haves – and for those in service businesses, central to successfully and consistently delivering a differentiated brand-centered experience to customers.

A recent Gallup survey indicated that nearly half (42%) of people are quitting jobs because of how they feel about their bosses and about organizational culture. Only just over a third (35%) strongly believe their employer cares about them. The same study shows that 70% of an employee’s engagement at work is attributable to the effectiveness of their manager.

Organizational culture is shaped by the organization’s brand and/or its reputation. Employee attitudes to and perceptions of an organization are just as influential as those of its customers and its external stakeholders. And yet, often, too little thought is given to internal audiences in considering how to frame an organization’s brand – sometimes no thought at all – and even if internal audiences are factored into how a brand’s external reputation is shaped, activating the brand inside organizations is seldom considered beyond being a communications exercise.

Furthermore, many organizations begin to talk about brand purpose, vision, mission, and values without any attempt to explain these concepts to the workforce. I was once interviewing some call-center staff as part of a program to reshape an insurance brand’s positioning and asked these staff about brand values. One took out a card and said, “These are the values they have decided for us.” This employee had been told the organization had a set of brand values, and she had a card to prove it, but she had absolutely no idea what to do with or how to use that thinking.

So, what role can a creative brand agency like ours play? Ultimately, we contribute in the same way as on any assignment – by helping shape a clear strategy and then executing against it in original and creative ways – ways that ensure audiences sit up, take notice, and engage – producing collaterals and communications materials that work hard.

So, here are our ten top tips for successfully deploying a brand and/or company’s reputation inside the organization to marshal and galvanize internal audiences, drive up their morale and productivity, and bind them to the organization for the longer term.

1. Make sure your brand is properly configured to inspire and inform everyone – both internal and external audiences – and, if it isn’t, create a mirrored element for internal audiences. It’s important that internal audiences have a shared screen with external stakeholders as to why your brand needs to exist, what makes it different from and better than its competitors, and which frames the positive change it is striving to make in the world.

2. Take the patient’s temperature before you start and regularly thereafter. Doctors monitor patients continually throughout treatment not just at the point of diagnosis. It’s equally important to understand how your people are feeling and what they are thinking before you open a dialogue with them. Keeping tabs on how things are changing as your program develops is key to fine-tuning your strategy as you progress.

3. Secure C-suite sponsorship before you start. Internal brand programs are frequently instrumental in helping frame an organization’s purpose and future direction, and align employees behind these ambitions and, as such, are critical to delivering against the organization’s commercial and strategic goals. If staff detect the leadership isn’t engaged and united, they won’t be.

4. Connect your culture directly to your organizational ambitions as detailed in your corporate plan, and share this with employees. This allows them to locate their efforts and understand how they are laddering up to collective success. As well as creating a positive esprit de corps, organizational culture must be a key contributor to achieving corporate goals.

5. Create a dialogue loop and encourage and enable the organization to talk to itself as well as to you. Too many internal branding programs are conducted in broadcast mode with little or no listening back, checking that messages have been received, or asking the organization for its ideas about the future. Nothing destroys engagement like the impression that the organization is not listening.

6. Exploit the power of technology. The assumption you can only engage workers who are physically present is an exploded myth. The switch to flexible working has created new ways of grabbing attention and the emergence of the metaverse can only enhance this. It allows for a continuity of engagement because it can be carried out in a non-disruptive way. The deep joy of the fifteen-minute Zoom rather than the standard hour in a meeting room is all the proof you need.

For example, Accenture created a mobile app for Accenture employees. It provides a personalized read-out of Accenture news, video messages from leaders, key actions, client metrics, and more, keeping employees dynamically up to date with what’s going on. The app’s user experience is friendly, actionable, and personalized – the home screen quickly shows the day’s top company news, as well as the employee’s upcoming key conference calls and meetings and important recent emails.

7. Create structures to help you cascade the thinking that helps build a strong organizational culture, based on active listening. It might be that you need to rethink how you communicate and share information with your staff to avoid important messages about the brand and initiatives designed to build a positive culture getting lost in the snowstorm of operational emails and other communications.

8. Show them you mean it. Consider if there are specific actions or initiatives that will convince employees you mean what you say and that you are committed to changing their lives for the better. This is particularly important if you are looking to trigger change. And these ‘symbolic acts’ don’t need lots of money.

A recent CEO of Citigroup informed her 200K+ employees that she wanted to ban internal video calls on a Friday to try and create a healthier work-life balance. She also declared a company-wide, one-day holiday or ‘reset day’, as it was termed.

Demonstrating you are in tune with employee lifestyles and that you trust and value them is what really counts, as these examples show:

  • Google offers paramedical services, like massage therapy, to their team members while they’re at work. In fact, Google employs a massage program manager, as just one of thirty-five massage therapists are employed in their United States offices. Massage therapists go through an interview process at the company as well, where they demonstrate their skills (which sounds great for the interviewer).
  • Zappos, Facebook, and Asana provide specialized nap rooms for employees looking to catch some afternoon rest. Due to the flexible work schedules, employees can catch a quick nap and return to their projects with renewed energy.
  • Chesapeake Energy employees are offered preventive programs and are incentivized to complete an annual screening for common health-related issues. In 2021, 66% of its workforce completed a health check and received a reduced insurance rate as a result. To further support employee health, its corporate campus includes a fitness center that offers chiropractor visits, physical therapy, personal training, nutritional counseling, and group classes focused on physical fitness, stress relief, and relaxation. Its fitness center staff also offers free workout videos through a YouTube channel, available for any employee to access at any time. Hundreds of employees have logged on remotely to participate in these workouts.

9. Appreciate, recognize, incentivize, and reward the hell out of everyone. If you want your people to align with and emulate your brand, then hardwire it into every aspect of their working lives, not just in how you communicate with them – so, that means: reward and recognition programs, pay and conditions, environments, recruitment, personal development, training – the whole nine yards.

10. Activate imaginatively. Most brands think deep and long about how they are going to grab the customer’s attention and fire their imagination when it comes to brand activation and comms but some fall back onto conventional approaches and media when it comes to internal engagement. Taking an original and creative approach will pay dividends.

Cover image source: Artem Maltsev