Why HR Deserves A Voice In The Branding Discussion.

I just finished Michael Lewis’ fascinating book, Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World about how international economies such as Greece, Ireland, Iceland and Germany dealt (or in some cases, never dealt) with the global financial crisis. What I learned was that my assumptions about fixing the economies of the world were way too simplistic and that it’s a whole lot more difficult than giving bailouts all the time.

Why? Systems are fixable – challenging but ultimately fixable. Fixing cultures so that the mistake doesn’t repeat itself? That’s actually a lot harder. 

You can invest in superior technology and fancy office space. You can move the same people around and around in a job carousel into different roles and tell yourself things are suddenly different as result.

These are moves intended to make you look good to the outside world, but until you invest in developing strategy, culture and people – the very things that drive a company’s energy and soul – something much deeper will remain broken.

Giving a bailout to Greece is like giving a chocolate cake to a 700 lb. person who promises they’re going to exercise right after they eat it. You’d like to believe they’re going to change, but there’s a lot of reason not to. Primarily because Greece as a culture has largely been ignoring its financial obligations in a corrupt economic system for years. Getting a monetary lifeline isn’t going to change history from repeating itself. The only way to do that is through sustained, monitored long-term cultural change.

Entrepreneurs can learn something from this painful lesson on the other side of the world. If we try to put band-aids over deeper internal shortcomings, we’re just going to keep bandaging the patient over and over. That is, if we even do that much.

It’s where you must look inward and begin to be honest with yourself as a company.

What’s your vision and does your staff buy into it, live it and preach it to others?

What do your processes look like? How efficient and productive are those?

Do they help your people accomplish their jobs or do they bog your people down in paperwork?

How’s your customer service – just addressing a complaint at best or turning it into a referral opportunity?

What’s the level of collaboration – is it seamless or do you have departments engage in so much turf war infighting that they might as well be separate companies?

External questions are challenging. I’ve wrestled with these questions for years on the outside as they relate to Advertising.

I find myself asking things in regard to clients like:

What target audience are we for (and not for)?
What do we want our brand’s message to be?

Do we want to be on Google Plus or not?

But that’s nothing compared to the internal questions.

The internal questions are the really hard ones to answer. They take time and they can be painful. They’re so painful that sometimes we’d rather ignore them and pretend they aren’t there (but yes, they still are). They force ego-minded people to address their shortcomings. They force entrenched veterans to admit times are changing and they’ll have to change with them to remain relevant. They force all kinds of people out of “we’ve always done in this way” comfort zones (if you’ve always done it that way and it sucks, then you continuing to do it that way doesn’t work, does it?).

If you hadn’t guessed already, this is where HR needs a more visible seat at the table in the brand discussion. From unique benefits to training programs to how your brand is perceived in recruiting new candidates.

Not enough companies think of this kind of stuff. They use HR as purely a compliance mechanism or view social media as a way to weed out candidates rather than hiring for passion. That does a nice job of preserving the status quo but a lousy job of building a culture – and in turn, building a brand.

Whether that’s a dedicated in-house resource or a consultant, designing programs that are built to reflect what the company stands for isn’t some hokey idea but a smart one. Because the upside for recruiting, retention and most powerfully, advocacy to others, is there.

We often speak about a concept of the brand advocate but it often is viewed solely in terms of the outside customer.

So don’t forget about another set of potential brand advocates that might be right under your nose – the people that work for you.

I didn’t say it was easy. Easy is ignoring the problem. But for the good of living up to how you portray your brand to the outside world, you have to have a conversation about the elephant in the room that is your culture’s current shortcomings.

And if it’s gotten to be so much of a mess by now that you need a bail out, I know a fellow or two who can come to the rescue. After all, if an entire country can get help, you deserve some to help change your culture too.