WORDS BY: MANRICO ERASMI, CHRIS ELKERTON, ROBIN GIBSON
PHOTOGRAPHY BY: JUN KAHNG
Around the corner from the reception desk, beside the kitchen and across from the President’s office, a city is being built.
Well, sort of.
Yes, there are roads and bridges but there are also mazes and pyramids. There are cars on lifts, stages, computers, billboards and benches. People, oddly motionless, stand with guitars, pizzas, blowtorches, hammers, puppies, phones and wizard hats. The laws of physics are bent and the only colours you see are orange, white and grey.
This world is the floor-to-ceiling Lego wall in Livewire’s Meeting Room One. It may sound like a playroom, and it is. But it’s also a place of business. Employees come in and out for calls and discussions about all sorts of things. They also come in to build.
It may seem like frivolity on the surface, like a ping pong table or beer taps. Office “fun” can often come off as a Silicon Valley cliché’ of “cool” corporate culture. But, if done thoughtfully, there can be a deeper truth and importance to something like a Lego wall. It can be critical to your business.
At Livewire, we know what employees do in meeting room one directly impacts what they do for their clients. That’s why we did it. And it isn’t just us – many companies are realizing that employee experience has a direct effect on customer experience and, perhaps more significantly, their own brand.
“Brand ambassadors” aren’t select voices, they’re every employee in your organization, whether you like it or not. Considering that, do they have what they need? Are they living the brand? Do they even understand it? They need to be – and it should begin at hiring.
Despite vast amounts of evidence to the contrary, Human Resources is still sometimes viewed as transactional, putting out fires and handling the administration side of people management. It’s clear today that these professionals are so much more than that. HR is your brand’s front-line. They ensure new people are the right people – or personalities – for the brand. Companies with the strongest brands go to great lengths to hire people that embody their values. Here, we say “is this person a Livewire?” Because we know this front-end investment of time and effort to find the right people might be the smartest money we can spend. Other leading companies do the same.
Nearly every year, American grocery chain Trader Joe’s is recognized on several customer satisfaction lists. For them, hiring means knowing that not just any grocery store employee can represent the brand. They need to fit a particular profile.
Trader Joe’s employees need to be exceptionally collaborative, to the point where every in-store employee needs to know (and be willing to do) each job, whether it’s bagging groceries, creating displays or stocking shelves. Everyone is referred to as the “Crew”. They must have the personality, ability to connect with customers and the selflessness to take on any role necessary – all key tenets of their brand. That’s who they need to hire. By doing so, this allows the brand to be adaptable and exceedingly customer centric, at every point in the customer journey.
Southwest Airlines is regularly at or near the top of most airline customer service ratings. They, too, place the same emphasis on hiring the right personalities who embody the warmth and kindness that the brand represents. But, for them, it doesn’t end at the hiring process.
Onboarding is filled with friendly, personal touches – from welcome calls and luncheons to helping the new hires with investment choices and retirement goals. By the time they’re on-the-job, they’ve felt the same “warmth, friendliness and individual pride” which the company promises their customers.
It doesn’t stop there. Southwest leaders work hard to maintain this same level of attention and care to all their employees. In weekly communications, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly personally celebrates employees who have gone out of their way to provide exceptional customer service. The best of the best are then celebrated in their self-published Southwest: The Magazine. There are recognition programs, awards, peer-to-peer callouts and customer-testimonial videos are regularly distributed to employees.
These practices might seemingly fall under the category of “good culture” or employee retention but, in reality, it’s part of an overall brand strategy and it has a more direct impact on their customers than some might think. An employee immersed in the values of a brand is much more likely to exhibit those values to customers.
Said even more simply, in the words of Simon Sinek, “customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.” Considering that, is it a surprise then that in addition to their leading customer service ratings, Southwest earns exceptionally high employee engagement scores? The two are inextricably linked.
Like Trader Joe’s and Southwest Airlines, Patagonia is a category-defying enterprise that anchors itself in their belief that they have a responsibility to help protect the world through action and advocacy. They believe to fulfill that lofty promise, they need to help the people within their own world first.
Patagonia has long been ahead of the curve with inclusive hiring, maternity leave, medical-leave benefits and on-site childcare. They even go so far as paying for a nanny or partner to travel with employees and their children on business trips. Employees have flexible schedules and are encouraged to exercise during their workdays. There are free yoga classes, scooters and bikes available to get outside and organic, healthy snacks and lunches are always available in the cafeteria.
Considering the care they place in ensuring their employees are taken care of, it makes sense they introduce their online careers section with: “We’re in business to save our home planet, and we’re hiring.”
Patagonia, along with Trader Joe’s and Southwest Airlines, know that an authentic brand must be built from the inside, out. When it’s understood at all levels and – ideally – believed at all levels, it’s the most organic brand building you can do.
If you haven’t been considering this, what can you do to begin? First and foremost, don’t take any employee interaction for granted. Don’t take any departmental function for granted. Whether it’s marketing, human resources, corporate communications or operations, view everyone as brand-ambassadors and creators of employee experience.
Because every touchpoint is an opportunity to build brand understanding and buy-in. From onboarding to change communications to intranet content to team meetings to offsites to hallway chats to, yes, office decor, your company’s brand can be reinforced and better understood by your entire team.
Sounds simple but, of course, it isn’t always. All this requires a good sense of “who” your company is and “why” it exists – its personality, values, goals and purpose. These are essential elements of brand that aren’t always present. And even when they are, they can be out-of-date or just plain wrong.
Internal brand-building is a stress test for your brand and, the truth is, you may discover giant holes in it – gaps in understanding or perception that you’ll need to fill. But, it’s also an opportunity to discover strengths you didn’t know you had. Through the lens of your employees and their experiences inside the organization, you may find a well of under-utilized truths which can make your brand more authentic and resonant, internally and externally.
According to Forbes, fewer than half of all employees “believe” in the projected brand their companies claim in marketing. And of the employees that do believe, how many are properly equipped to communicate it onward? Not many. Considering this, if you could create an employee experience that is not just compelling, but differentiated and carefully tuned to your brand’s truths, think of the competitive advantage you could gain.
So, look at your brand in the metaphorical mirror. Who are you? What do you want your employees to know about your brand? How can you help them embody it, so your customers will see it and, more importantly, feel it?
For instance, perhaps you want your customers to feel inspired by uninhibited creativity, open expression and joy that your work offers.
If that’s the case, a Lego wall makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?