You are offered the position of CEO of Company A, an organization in need of new leadership. You have earned a reputation as an agent of change, an innovator, and someone who can clean up the mess. Your goal is to develop people, teams and value. Company A’s board believes that you are the person to turn this company around.
You thrive on this type of challenge. You prefer to step into a difficult situation, assess the environment and drivers, and create positive movement that will lead to significant improvements. You find this infinitely more rewarding than incrementally building on the results of the last CEO.
The board wants you to “overhaul the corporate brand” in the coming year; an arduous task because brands are built over a lifetime. You are thinking about your personal brand; you have developed your own reputation over time with success in multiple businesses and in many roles.
Despite your worries about rebranding on time, you accept the job, mobilize your network and go for it. You decide to focus on your internal customers – your employees.
Your personal brand: what do I represent?
Your brand is not the title you hold or the services you sell. It’s not a logo, custom colors or a catchy slogan. It has nothing to do with money, power or fame – and everything to do with heart, conviction and commitment to a promise.
Your personal brand as CEO can impact the level of success you and your business will experience. Your brand is who you are at the core of your being as a leader. It’s what you believe, how you act, how you treat others, and how you keep the promises you make to your customers, whether they are your employees or your customers.
“By soliciting employee feedback, you learn what they need to thrive and provide direction, resources and support for programs and incentives to support their growth.”
Your employees are watching. All eyes on you. They connect to understand your vision. They watch your actions carefully to determine if they can trust you with their livelihood. And as they watch what you do, you learn more about them. You learn what the company stands for and look for a starting point to rebuild the brand.
In a study of 365 Asian, European and North American companies, Bain & Company found that organizations with a winning culture share two key elements. The first is high performance values and behaviors and the second is a unique personality and soul that cannot be invented or imposed. This culture is born from within.
Your brand cannot be fabricated or inauthentic. You can make statements about what your personal brand is, but just saying what you want it to be doesn’t make it that way. Others will immediately detect the artifice, especially your employees. The disconnect between who you are and who you claim to be creates mistrust. The same goes for your company’s brand.
Organizational culture: the biggest lever you can pull to impact the brand
You cannot dictate the brand of your business. It’s organic. But the biggest lever you can pull as a CEO to impact a brand is your company culture. By improving the work environment, you can influence the company’s brand from within.
You open your ears and eyes to understand the business from the inside. You seek information from employees who will share the truth unvarnished. Marketing materials claim that your company is x, y and z, but talking to many people inside and outside the company, you find that the company does not live up to these claims all the time . Employee morale is low, commitment is lacking and shareholders are disappointed. You have your starting point.
To redesign the company brand, you must first fix the company culture to understand what your employees lack and define and communicate the mission to bring your employees and business lines together.
You possess a tenacious personality, but you cannot impose cultural change quickly or from above. Instead, you engage directly with your people. You listen. You identify a cadre of respected employees who embrace the change, then work with them to get buy-in.
You enlist their help as internal brand ambassadors to instill the new vision, mission and philosophy within the organization. As a team, you share ideas on how you could improve company structure, processes, incentives, reviews, and promotions to align with new management. You determine the leadership you need, from front-line supervisors to senior executives in your following, and at some point you may need to weed out those who put up unreasonable obstacles to the new program.
You are very interested in who will train your new employees. You want brand ambassadors to onboard and mentor your new hires to ensure they have positive experiences from day one. You make it a priority to talk to new hires during their first week. You share your plans for the business and indicate that you encourage their thoughts on what can be improved and how.
Focus internally on meeting employee needs to rebuild your brand
You have numbers to stick to. You have external customer expectations to meet. Your ability to meet these commitments starts inside the company. Similar to emergency airplane instructions for putting on your mask before helping others, you respond to the needs of your employees first. You create a positive environment internally to improve the services your employees provide externally. You build a culture of trust, respect and empowerment to drive positive results for your clients. You develop your staff and your teams to develop your clientele.You focus internally to rebuild your brand.
Rebuilding Your Brand: Five Ways to Create Positive Culture Change
To effect culture change, you take actions that make these attributes an integral part of your personal brand: engaged listener, impactful communicator, unerring truth-teller, culture change warrior, and visionary.
- At least listen more than you talk. You use the ears to mouth ratio as a benchmark for how much you listen to. You seek the opinion of your employees to understand what they think. What are their most pressing concerns? What would help them do their job better? What are three things you can do to improve the way they feel about working for your company? Sure, you hear what your senior executives are telling you, but you also want direct feedback from people across the company. You take notes and take action.
- Over-communicate, then over-communicate. With your employees, you share your direction, your priorities and the actions you are taking to improve the culture and rebuild the brand. You let them know that you listened to what they shared with you. And when you feel like you’ve communicated your messages too much, you know you’re probably only halfway there and keep repeating. When employees understand your vision, why you are making changes, and how they fit personally into the organization you are creating, they are more likely to embrace and support the changes they will experience.
- Speak the truth without fail. Truth and transparency lead to trust. You understand that even if your employees don’t like everything you have to say, they respect your honesty. You don’t assume they know what actions you’re taking, sharing updates on the company’s progress, setbacks, and workarounds.
- Give your employees ownership. By soliciting employee feedback, you learn what they need to thrive and provide direction, resources, and support for programs and incentives to support their growth. You show that you appreciate their contribution. You encourage and reward initiative and innovation. You push decision-making to the lowest level for your employees to solve your customers’ problems. You give them the opportunity to be heard and to make a difference.
- Give the vision of what can be. You were hired to turn the company around. You speak honestly about your diktat without denigrating those who were part of the previous regime. You outline your vision of where you want to take the business. You seek the support of your employees by proposing an ideal to aspire to, a roadmap, key measures and incentives for behaviors that contribute to this vision.
You understand that redesigning or rebuilding a brand takes time, and that change is not entirely within your control. By building your personal brand as an honest listener, communicator, broker, thought leader and visionary, you serve and energize your primary customer – your employees. Your actions impact company culture, which in turn impacts the service provided to your customers and, ultimately, your company’s brand.
Rajeev Kapur is President and CEO of 1105 Media, executive coach and bestselling author of Chase Greatness: Thought Leadership for the Next Generation of Disruption.