Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Entrepreneurial Leadership – Thinking outside the Brand

How your leaders and employees are central to your Brand Reputation

“Your brand as an organization is what your clients say about you to their contacts. This will come from how they feel when they interact with your people”. 

The reputation you project as a company is today most strongly created and conveyed by your people and their behaviors, rather than your traditional branding, your social media presence or your website. The way your leaders and employees interact with all your stakeholders (not just clients and customers), how they make them feel and the emotion created, will result in an experience for that stakeholder that will often get remembered and talked about in the stories they tell, whether positively or negatively.

We call this Brand Personality. This is what truly differentiates you and your business.

Much has changed in the past 2-3 years in particular with regards to what employees need now from their work and their employer. It’s no longer just about benefits and pay – they demand more in terms of:

  • Respect for the value they specifically bring
  • Being part of the bigger strategic picture
  • Empowerment to do the right thing
  • A flexible environment that enables them to lead their lives as they desire
  • Trust in them
  • A workplace culture that values them as authentic individuals

A few years ago, I was delivering a leadership program for a large luxury hotel group in London, UK. One of their strongest brand values was Providing an Exceptional Guest Experience. On day one I was having lunch in the restaurant with the Head of HR and I spotted my favorite drink on the menu – Ginger Beer! So I ordered one. A few minutes later the waiter returned stating they had run out of Ginger Beer. Disappointment of course followed! My car had been valet parked and when they brought it back at the end of day two, on the passenger seat was a bottle of Ginger Beer and a note that said “enjoy”.  3 months later I stayed at the hotel again and of course in my room there were 2 bottles of Ginger Beer on ice! Guess how that made me feel? I have told the longer version of this story to 1000’s of people in conference presentations around the world since, and people still send me pictures of Ginger Beer and even crates of a new brand! The experience made me feel special, so I talked about it. People still remember it and the hotel brand because of it. This is what I mean about brand personality and how you make your clients feel.

Furthermore, the way in which your employees communicate with others and talk about your company will be largely dependant on how they feel when they are at work, or how they are treated by their line managers, how valued and respected they feel and how proud and inspired they are to work for your company.  We already know that most people leave their job due to poor line management, but everyday behaviors are driven by emotions and this could be costing your brand and profitability dearly too.

Therefore leadership requires a different approach if we are to maximize the personality of the brand throughout the organization.  Having an Entrepreneurial Mindset is essential to achieving the leadership skills required for leaders to excel, and to motivate and inspire their teams. There are some practical elements we can think about as leaders to support this. An Entrepreneurial Mindset is one that:

  • Encourages collaboration and communication
  • Is clear on what differentiates them and what they stand for
  • Articulates clearly their expertise and what they bring
  • Inspires others to be their best, authentically
  • Identifies strengths, talents, and motivators in others
  • Recognizes the importance of visibility

Some questions you might ask of your company:

  • Do you truly know what your leaders and employees value most?
  • Do you know if your employees are proud to work for your company?
  • Do your leadership development programs need a refresh?
  • Are your people reinforcing your brand consistently?

Studies show us that employees most value their direct intimate workplace environment (Metis ‘Workplace Culture’ Study 2020) and of course this will have a direct impact on how they feel at work and therefore how they may make all stakeholders feel when they interact with them. This goes full circle back; it’s how your employees talk about your organization that creates the reality of the brand.

I’m often asked what is the difference between Brand and Reputation? I firmly believe that:

Brand = Bold Intention

Reputation = Reality

We can create the best marketing messages and collateral (Bold Intention) on the planet, but unless we live up to these promises (The Reality), we create a high height to fall from.

Ultimately people behavior is the most powerful element of your company reputation and without focus on this and processes in place to enhance and monitor it you are leaving a great deal of expensive brand investment to chance.

In summary

Here are some key actions you can take to start to ensure you’re maximizing your brand personality and reputation:

  • Do regular pulse checks (not just annually) on the levels of employee engagement and what your employees really need, and really act on the results. Often asking the open questions about their experience of working for you will give you that all-important information.
  • Provide personal development programs for leaders and staff that focus on the Values, and how they can personally interpret and internalize them authentically in order to reinforce them consistently
  • Support your leaders external profile and visibility to get your brand personality ‘out there’. Presenting, media interviews, panel and group discussions are some ways of getting personality projected.
  • Assess your recruitment processes more closely and consider if you have the right people creating a strong brand during the process
  • Consider your workplace environment – is it in alignment with keeping and attracting talent and in particular the millennials and Gen z coming into your organization today?

When your company reputation is so critical today to stay relevant to customers and clients, and attractive to the right talent, you simply have to bring employee engagement to the top of your agenda, and that means great leadership. Remember the most powerful element of your company brand reputation today is quite simply your people and how they make all your stakeholders feel.

By Lesley Everett, Leadership Brand Expert and CEO of Walking TALL

Lesley’s Bio

Lesley Everett is an internationally recognized professional keynote speaker and specialist on Leadership Branding, known for her content-rich, engaging and practical advice and delivery.

Lesley has visited and presented her Walking TALL System in 28 countries across 5 continents to date.  She is a published author of 3 books (latest Corporate Brand Personality), and is an Executive Coach.  Her clients include many organizations across all sectors including Salesforce, TEVA Pharmaceuticals, Deloitte, ASDA/Walmart, JetBlue, as well as many Associations, celebrities and Politicians.

Lesley is often called upon to comment on people in the public eye on their personal brand and image.  She has appeared many times on TV in the US and UK on BBC News, Sky Business, CNBC, CNN, CBS and Bloomberg.  Lesley has also had over 200 articles in media publications around the world.

Lesley is the founder and CEO of Walking TALL Training & Consulting, Inc, based in Monterey, California. She has created a methodology for Personal Branding that has inspired audiences for the past 16+ years.

Lesley was awarded the Professional Speaking Award of Excellence in UK in 2010 (the first female speaker to do so) and is a Past-President of the Global Speakers Federation (2014).