Engaging Your Brand’s Best Asset: Your Passionate Employees

10.09.18 / Diana Fryc

Remember what it was like, back in the day, when you were energized by your job, passionate about changing the world, and committed to work that had a higher meaning for you?

And here you are now in a leadership role, running a better-for-you brand, perhaps one you launched.

Your brand’s success and your company’s legacy depend on having employees who are just as energized, passionate, and committed as you were when you started.

Are they? Are you, still?

Employee Engagement Is the Heart of a Solid Brand

Employee engagement is the heart of today’s most beloved brands. These category leaders aren’t just about selling product; they’re a movement, a conversation with their followers about working together to improve the world. And that conversation, a human one, needs to start with your employees. A brand’s purpose is an inside-out activity, originating with a passionate internal team charged with converting external customers.

In fact, this idea of surrounding your business with die-hard fans, both inside and outside, reflects one of Retail Voodoo’s core philosophies: True believers only.

As brands have changed, becoming standard-bearers for sustainability, compassion, community, quality, transparency — work has changed, too. Today, people no longer look to their job for just a paycheck. It’s part of their personal identity. And they want to be able to connect deeply with the company and share it with other people in their lives.

When you build a business where everyone who touches it buys in, it has huge potential to be a values-driven, disruptive play in your market. You’ll create a brand that always wins and owns an unfair share of the market because so many people are enthusiastic about it.

Help Employees Buy Into Your Mission

A purpose-driven brand will naturally attract talented employees. But it takes effort and nurturing to keep employees engaged. Leaders need to demonstrate that they care for their employees, value their contributions, appreciate their dedication. They’ll see your passion — or lack thereof — and model it.

You need to supply them with tools to stay engaged, and those tools have to be relevant and productive. Workshops and taskforces will backfire if they appear to just be busywork.

Nike — in the news lately because of its issue-driven campaign with Colin Kaepernick — is a great case study on employee engagement. Several years ago, Nike leadership came to us for help understanding why the brand’s front-line retail workers didn’t bleed Nike like corporate employees did. These part-time, hourly workers, typically teens and twentysomethings, worked at Nike stores on their way to somewhere else. Could Nike generate the same fervor in them?

As we worked to build engagement, we identified a major stumbling block: Nike’s 200-page employee handbook. No surprise, retail workers had neither the time nor the interest to digest all that corporate information. So we developed a boiled-down guide for retail staffers that defined what the brand stands for, how the products fulfill its promise, and how to explain that to shoppers.

That brief employee guide proved so successful that Nike’s HR team rolled it out throughout the organization.

5 Keys to Inspiring an Engaged Workforce

1) Keep it simple. See the Nike example above. Your purpose, mission, and vision should be so ingrained in your organization’s DNA that people just feel it. No encyclopedic handbook required.

2) Involve top leadership. Employees should see leaders materially and emotionally participating in the brand’s quest.

3) Stand for something beyond the product. People hunger for meaning in their work. Successful brands do more than sell stuff; they advance a larger mission. Generating passionate fans means you’ll sometimes earn your share of haters, too. Your leadership team may need to go out on a limb to advocate for your mission. Employees will respect that you can take a punch.

4) Be open to discussion. Leaders at every level of the organization should invite questions and contrary points of view. Listen and engage, and have a plan to channel this input in productive ways.

5) Know what your brand promises and how it keeps those promise. Enroll all your people in understanding and shaping the way the brand behaves in the real world and interacts with real customers. Give them ownership to do what they need to do in order to deliver, particularly front-line employees.

If you think the key to keeping employees happy involves ping pong tables or free donuts, think again. You have to give them reasons to believe. Not just on their first day, but every day.

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