By Third Degree Advertising
Whether or not your organization has deliberately defined and shaped its internal culture, it is influencing your organization’s success right now. Your internal culture — what you collectively value, how you do things, your commonly held beliefs and expectations — defines your organization. It manifests itself everywhere: in how your employees interact with one another, the care they take in performing their jobs and the way they treat customers.
Consumers are more likely to connect with your brand if they have a good understanding of what you are about, reinforced by the experience your staff delivers. When dealing with an organization where employees truly believe the values and mission, you can feel the difference from the moment you walk through the door. When employees are on board, it translates to a better and more consistent service experience, which in turn builds trust, loyalty and business.
Just about every business has a mission statement and a set of values. The words are there — maybe posted on a wall or published in an annual report — but for many businesses, the passion is not.
Large or small, all types of businesses struggle with internal communications. There may never be a foolproof way to ensure your intended message comes across clearly every single time, but here are some simple ways to make sure your staff is all on the same page.
1. Define the Organization’s Internal Culture
It’s hard for businesses to be consistent internally or externally if they haven’t fully defined who they are and how they want to evolve. Find what makes your organization unique, cultivate it and celebrate it. People can usually tell whether you are putting on an act or being genuine. Help your employees understand your business’s unique story and make it their own.
Southwest Airlines has built its culture and reputation by starting from the inside. Its leadership team defined the organization’s core values as well as its niche in the market, then maintained consistency as the airline grew by ensuring all employees understand and embody the spirit of the organization.
FedEx has what it calls the “purple promise,” a commitment to service excellence that is part of their employee culture. Every employee is called upon to work to fulfill that promise, even those whose jobs are not customer-facing. And it’s not just an internal dialogue or initiative; the promise is part of their public website, with sections that highlight everyday activities by employees that fulfill that promise.
2. Tell Your Story
Many organizations give new employees a standard (and usually rather dry) employee manual outlining the nuts and bolts of how business is done. But some organizations also feel it is important to share their personality with their employees in what Third Degree calls a culture book. Rather than focusing on just rules and regulations, a culture book often dives into more of the intangibles that make an organization tick.
Belvoir Federal Credit Union gave every employee a culture book when they launched a new brand identity. It explained the brand and set expectations for how every member of the team could live up to that brand promise – ultimately impacting any current or potential customer the staff comes in contact with.
3. Walk Your Talk
Remember that actions speak louder than words. Every interaction (no matter how small) is an opportunity to affirm your brand in the eyes of your employees and customers. Your brand is a promise you make to your customers; your culture is how your employees live, breathe and deliver on that promise.
4. Spread the Word
It’s all too common that the body doesn’t know what the head is doing and vice versa. You need to take steps to ensure everyone is sending out the same consistent message to your customers. And sending out a consistent message starts with more effective communications about marketing promotions.
Utilizing tools like intranets can provide a central place for all employees to find out the latest on current promotions. Instruct employees to visit the company intranet daily or weekly to learn about the latest at the credit union.
Delta Community Credit Union uses a spokescharacter to personify their intranet, Simon (as in “Simon Says”), to share specifics for current promotions, employee news and other information that brings their team together.
Simon is Delta Community’s internal spokesperson, delivering important messages to staff.
When ABNB Federal Credit Union launched their new brand identity, they held a special employee pep rally to explain the change and inspire employees – including elements such as a skit and guitar performance by Vice Presidents.
At ABNB’s internal brand launch, senior execs performed skits to reinforce key concepts.
Macy’s focuses internal messaging on simplicity and why the information is important to each internal audience. The company works to create feedback loops to ensure that all messages are understood. According to Macy’s vice president of employee relations, this plays an instrumental role in helping the company achieve its goal of providing great customer service.*
5. Encourage Input
Don’t limit input and idea generation to management meetings; give support staff an opportunity to contribute their thoughts and ideas too. You never know when a young or inexperienced employee may surprise you with something brilliant. Allowing staff to participate boosts their self-confidence, making their work experience better and opening the door to better interactions with customers and prospects.
At Third Degree Advertising, morning “huddles” help employees maintain communication on a daily basis. These quick 10 minute meetings among departments allow employees to: 1) discuss top priorities, 2) identify where they might need help, and 3) share any news – work related or personal. The huddle not only helps from an operational perspective – it connects people in a fun yet purposeful way. Having happy, engaged employees means less turnover, resulting into lower costs and a more positive overall work environment.
Materials from Third Degree Advertising’s daily “huddles.”
6. Share the Love
Cultures that recognize the contributions of employees will be stronger, truer, and longer-lasting than cultures where behavior is forced by top-down decrees. If leaders and employees don’t have a strong sense of team, it can undermine your culture very quickly. Employees who feel the love are more likely to inspire similar feelings among your customers.
ABNB regularly holds employee appreciation events to thank employees for their hard work; these events include prizes and employee-only contests themed around ABNB’s identity, performance, and goals.
It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint
Your credit union’s personality is defined by its culture, not its wardrobe. A strong culture endures over time, responding to changes in environment with the steadiness of self-awareness. Evolution is a natural and healthy trait of organizational culture; chasing fads is not. Customers seek long-term relationships with brands they know they can trust throughout the test of time.
When you think about great brands, those that come to mind are usually brands that have performed exceptionally well over long periods of time such as Disney, BMW, Coca-cola, Apple, McDonald’s and Harley Davidson. These brands conjure up an image, a feeling, and an experience that stays consistent over the years, even as they have continued to evolve. When these brands offer short-term promotions, the promotions are consistent with the core identity of the brand; when they bring new employees on board, those employees aren’t just given a dry handbook, they’re baptized into the culture.
It takes work to improve internal communication and cultivate a strong internal culture, but the payoff is worth the time and effort invested when you get it right.
A Harvard Business School study conducted over 11 years showed a variety of areas in which companies with the right culture outperformed their counterparts. Revenues were 4.1 times higher, stock prices were 12.2 times higher, and return on investment was 15 times higher.*
As the largely commoditized financial services industry shakes off recent economic pressure, now is the time to assess the effectiveness of your organization’s internal communication and corporate culture; you might just decide it’s time to invest a little more in yourself.
Third Degree helps progressive credit unions better navigate the new realities of a more competitive marketplace. We develop custom strategies to help them grow membership, increase share of wallet through cross-selling, maximize community charter and geographic branch expansion opportunities, enhance in-branch environmental merchandising, organizationally align staff during times of pre and post-merger activity and improve financial literacy of membership including youth marketing outreach.
References: John Kotter & James Heskett, Harvard Business School, “Corporate Culture and Performance;” Smartblog on leadership, Oct 2010, “Macy’s Lisa Glick on building strong employee engagement.”