29 December 2010

The Forgotten Half of Brand Management

Source: TIME magazine
No one takes organizational alignment as seriously as the Army.

When the going gets tough and lives are at stake, you want to be sure that everyone's focused on the same objective, pushing as hard as you are, and that your buddy's got your back.

Achieving this state of operational nirvana doesn't come easy.

Earning the right to become an officer in the Singapore Armed Forces cost me 9 months of intense physical and mental effort in a previous life.  Even basic military training today takes up to 4 months of (arguably inhuman) drills designed to deconstruct individualism and resistance to authority, then reconstruct thinking soldiers to form a cohesive unit that acts as One.

Now the commercial world is not so cut and dried. You may not get your head blown apart by a 'frenemy' in the jungle out there.  But the consequences of a lack of internal alignment can be just as crippling: Low morale, fuzzy roles and responsibilities, squabbling factions, measly pockets of excellence, lackadaisical purpose, petering productivity, poor time-to-market.

Which is why I'm amazed when companies on a rebranding run think the heavy lifting is done when their corporate vision, mission and core values are articulated and the brand strategy is defined. That's all well and good; but in fact, it's only half the job done.

You need to activate the whole shebang. Induct employees in the game plan.  Cascade all that good stuff down the ranks 'til it seeps into the frontline troops -- your brand ambassadors at the coalface, who are consciously or unconsciously building or breaking your brand at each and every customer touchpoint.

Organizational alignment doesn't just happen on its own. It needs the visible endorsement of senior management, and their demonstrated commitment of funding and resourcing appropriate programs to give employees a clear line of sight between their on-the-job actions and the resultant impact on company performance.

That's the only way we'll bring down the damning statistic that says 4 out of 5 workers are not engaged in doing the things that drive business results.

What causes this misalignment?  Cumulative missteps, large and small, that include:
- senior executive behaviours that don't match the message;
- complicated and lengthy approval processes that prevent timely
  distribution of  information;

- employees who don't get to hear things before the outside world
  does -- resulting in a loss of faith; and conversely,

- too much communication, such that more important messages are
  lost in the clutter.

But is it really worth the effort to pursue organizational alignment?  It's too idealistic, I hear you say.  It takes too much effort.  So what if a few people are off doing their own thing?

Well, consider this:  A recent Towers Watson study found that companies with highly effective internal communication practices have a 47% higher shareholder return than companies without such disciplines in place.  An informed, equipped and inspired workforce can truly achieve great things.
As for a team that's not? Well, like the recruits struggling to lift their log in the photo above, you ain't gonna get anywhere fast.

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