Tim Bleszynski & Ebenezer Banful, New Brand Tribalism

As part of the build up to September’s Employer Branding Summit, HRreview features a piece by Tim Bleszynski & Ebenezer Banful of New Brand Tribalism which – among other topics – considers how a brand can be a powerful tool in employee engagement and loyalty.

“Every business has a soul, a spirit, energy of its own that distinguishes it in the world. It is this energy that powers the business, motivates the employees and inspires its customers. It is shaped by the brand and cemented by the culture and belief. How this manifests is different for each company since the spirit of each business is unique” NBT 2010

All things being equal, if the choice was yours would you rather work for a company that you believe in, one that you’re passionate about – or one that simply provides you with a job and benefits? Today’s talent is lucky enough to have that choice – if they’re not happy they will either leave for somewhere they believe in, just turn up and do a job or they won’t even join in the first place. Wouldn’t you rather have a workforce willing to put their shoulder to the wheel of your cause? The question we must all ask is, are you evoking or provoking your tribe?

As we move further into the 21st Century, the nature of brands and brand ownership is evolving fast. Once, organisations made goods and sold these commodities to consumers who had seen adverts on TV or in magazines. Owners of businesses commanded vast workforces who obeyed their bosses, sang the praises of their organisations or if they felt disgruntled, remained firmly tight-lipped for fear of getting their cards. The ability to strike was the workers’ recourse if they were unhappy with the way they were being treated. This dated organisational view is no longer reality – the impact of strikes has been changed vastly by government legislation and the advent of new technologies such as the internet and social media have changed the way staff can vocalise their opinions – whether that be in a positive light or not.

In a bid to keep control and understand this evolution, many companies are rolling out obligatory ‘engagement’ surveys and pontificating about how important, happy and committed their workforce is. We often hear HR Directors who talk about Engagement like it’s the holy grail of work place marital bliss. The same HR directors then talk about how despite having and engaged workforce they are not properly driving performance. The key to high performance is beyond simple engagement it’s about belief.

These days, ‘work’ is no longer about the job function, benefits or experiences. It’s all about identity – a statement about who we are, who we want to be and how we want to be seen. People don’t want to be sold to, they want to buy – and buy into – a ‘big idea’ that they can believe in and which reinforces their sense of self.

Many companies are leaving a lot of un-tapped value on the table – unfocused activities, wasted labour resources, service shortfalls, underused technology, poor innovation, disengaged workers, a struggle for talent – all because they don’t have an adequate grasp on the diverse set of factors that drive peak performance.

With increased competition and open markets, the true value of a company rests increasingly in its intangible assets – the brand, the culture and the belief of its tribe. A tried and true story in this vein tells of a janitor working for NASA. When asked what he did for a living, he replied, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.” At NBT we love these stories, because they highlight exactly what every brand and every organisation should be focussing on – belief.

As organisations become increasingly aware of the power and potential held by their tribes, they must ensure they engage with them in a way that befits the brand and is authentic. Employees have access to more information – and more channels to have their voices heard – than ever before. Any organisation trying to fight that is likely to alienate, isolate and demotivate its workforce. Take Virgin and Innocent – they are prime examples of organisations which have learned to nurture their workforce and in return see enormous loyalty – not to mention the pick of the crop of potential employees banging down their doors asking for a job.

On the flip-side, some brands are failing miserably at nurturing their internal tribes. British Airways has seen a huge proportion of its staff revolt – loudly – and The Royal Mail is slowly slipping in the same direction. In the process of trying to force their shop staff to look like a homogenous tribe, the management of American Apparel have in fact had the opposite effect. Legal action and reams of negative media coverage quickly followed.

Evoking and nurturing this kind of authentic belief should be a top priority for every organisation. Just imagine what you could achieve if all your staff spoke of their employer with the degree of belief, passion and commitment as the guy at NASA. Deep beliefs breed passion and performance. When belief and passion ooze throughout your corporate culture, you will attract people – inside (employees) and outside (customers and potential employees) the business will speak up for the brand and everything it stands for. Your tribe can become a powerful ally or powerful enemy of your brand and those companies that don’t embrace and nurture their tribes are likely to suffer at the expense of those competitors that do.