If you were looking for a book describing the role of brand as a powerful and unifying route to sustainable employee engagement, you may want to read Brand Champions. How Superheroes Bring Brands to Life by Ian. P. Buckingham.
In his work, the author shows the link between employee and brand engagement, making a compelling case for branding as something that belongs to each employee of the organisation.
According to Buckingham, at it’s core, engagement is based on reciprocity and the exchange of things with others for mutual benefits. It implies a state where the company and its employees exist in a condition of mutual understanding.
In this context, the employer strives to create a work environment that is satisfying and rewarding for its employees, while stimulating their emotions and desire to address their higher-order needs.
“The employer literally invites them to bring themselves to work and become similarly invested (engaged) in the long-term success of their organisation or brand.”
The author points out that employees’ engagement with the brand is discretionary, which means it cannot be forced or faked. Engaged employees are usually self-electing rather than made that way by corporate programs. That is why two-way communication needs to be “expanded dramatically.” This requires allowing employees the opportunity to explore assertions made about the brand for themselves and two-way channels to exchange feed-back. The more empowered and involved they feel, the more likely they are to generate on-brand and on-strategy initiatives through their own power and efforts.
While there are variations, Buckingham suggests the most common traits exhibited by engaged employees, summed up by the ironic RIPE:
Receptive: they are open to opportunities to be involved;
Involved: they are part of the program, not recipient of it;
Proactive: they innovate without being asked;
Energised: they do more things.
With those qualities, engaged employees are achievers – the things they do tend to be fruitful – and advocates – they are proud and happy and actively recommend the brand.
The author also explores the type of organisations which seem to allow employees with RIPE-AA credentials to thrive. He notes that usually their top team are advocates of culture-led approach to brand management; develop a very clear business case for change; involve and engage all employees in the development and evolution of the business; and insist on partnership between the external and internal facing communication/engagement functions.
Linked to the last point is the need to look at colleagues as one of the many communities the organisation need to engage with. The author writes about a joined-up approach to engagement which takes into consideration the outsider world, such as communities, customers and corporate partners.
With the increasing use of digital communications and the power, reach, unpredictability and response time of social media, it’s no longer possible to control stakeholder perceptions with silos-specific communications. Boundaries are blurring.
“It’s disingenuous, counterproductive and confusing to pretend that the brand the world outside engages with is or should be any different from the brand “presented” to employees.”
This requires trust and transparency inside the business.
“Trust is fundamental to sustainable employee engagement and brands can’t be sustained without engaged employees. There is a lot of noise surrounding the Edelman Trust Barometer for a reason.”
Indeed, in the current social business era, organisations may find Buckingham’s suggestions useful.