Strong Brands Are Built From The Inside Out

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????A few years ago, I observed something going on that I’d seen in several companies before, and I was struck with an insight! (I love it when that happens.) What was the observation? There are lots of organizations whose employees aren’t “sold” on their company’s brand.

What specifically had I seen? Following are a few examples:

  • Field Service people had been reporting product quality issues back to Corporate and hearing nothing back. They were becoming convinced that management doesn’t care enough about quality, and they discussed it in frustration among themselves and with H.R.
  • Sales Representatives were constantly at battle with Production and Scheduling because delivery commitments they made weren’t met, and customers were annoyed. The adverse relationships between the two groups were left unresolved.
  • Manufacturing workers had higher standards for product quality than did management, and they were becoming disillusioned as they observed higher standards for some customers but not for all.
  • Customer Service staff were receiving the same complaints from customers time and time again, with no relief in sight. Some were beginning to dread picking up calls.

In a book written decades ago, that I just recently discovered due to the recommendation of a friend, another issue rang bells on a similar scale. The book? Written by Edward F. McQuarrie, it is “Customer Visits”. The example that hit home:

“A major chemical firm analyzed its output of a chemical product and found several contaminants that current production procedures failed to remove. Committed to a goal of eliminating defects, the firm vowed to drastically reduce the level of these trace contaminants. By means of a substantial redesign of the production processes, it was able to achieve this goal. Whereupon, the firm promptly lost two of its largest customers. It turned out that these customers expected to find those contaminants in the product, and, in fact, relied on their presence to calibrate their own production processes.”

The insight I gained is this: Whenever employees or management are defining “quality” differently than the customer, problems occur. The symptoms may be conflicts between functions, employee dissatisfaction, and disappointed customers, all issues that fester and weaken the company brand.

I’ve come to recognize some of the root causes of internal brand weakening attitudes and behavior:

  • When management develops or talks about quality standards, they often discuss them as being rooted in ISO or FDA and other regulations. In an environment where cost is constantly a topic of discussion and focus (and where isn’t it?) employees can put the puzzle pieces together and come up with a picture of their own: management cares most about money.
  • Companies often develop business strategies that, when cascaded down throughout the organization, result in Functional goals. Functional goals can undermine shared goals. For instance, Sales is charged with getting orders and finding new customers. They need to be able to meet customer expectations while Manufacturing needs to meet targets in efficiency and throughput.
  • Managers and supervisors in many departments are focused on departmental goals and targets, as is communication. Customer expectations are often not the focus of discussion.
  • Quality requirements may actually differ among customers. But, how many employees are provided with enough information to see that some customers want, for instance, metal parts to be polished, while others don’t, and why?
  • Despite the good intentions many organizations have to meet customer requirements, many decisions are made without knowing about specific customer use of the product and expectations, including the example above from McQuarrie’s book.

I bet there are additional causes of brand weakening. What have you observed?

Employee attitudes, beliefs and confidence in the company brand impact the way they do their jobs and deal with both one-another and the customers. Have you heard a respected Sales Rep. complain about Manufacturing, and vice versa? Don’t their frustrations sometimes leak out to customers? We need to enable our people to find enthusiasm, pride in association, and, yes, even passion, all emotions that drive people to give their best effort at work.

When people feel excited about what they do, and have confidence in management, this impacts their performance as positively as negative feelings do. And, who’s on the front lines, dealing with customers, making decisions about production, talking about the company with colleagues, family and friends? Your people. Your people are a critical asset in building your company brand.

When leaders develop their strategies and goals with the customer at the center, and when they express goals in terms of customer expectations, and when employees are educated about the specific customer needs that drive design, manufacturing and quality specifications, everyone can get on the same page, and feel good about it.

When everyone across functions has the same, shared strategic goal, to deliver on the company’s competitive differentiation, for instance, the natural bond created by that shared goal will foster working together to find solutions to problems. And this, which builds confidence and positivity internally, builds the company brand from the inside out.

What have you seen happening in your own experience that might be deteriorating the company brand from the inside out? What ideas might help turn that around?