You’re offered the CEO position for Company A, an organisation in need of new leadership. You’ve built a reputation as a change agent, an innovator and someone capable of cleaning up messes. Your goal is to grow 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 enter a difficult situation, assess the environment and drivers and create positive movement that will drive significant improvements. You find it infinitely more rewarding than building incrementally upon the last CEO’s results.
The board wants you to “overhaul the company’s brand” within the upcoming year; a daunting task as brands are built over a lifetime. You think of your personal brand; you grew your own reputation over time with success at multiple companies and in many roles.
Despite your concerns about rebranding in the timeframe given, you accept the position, mobilise your network and get started. You decide to focus on your internal customers – your employees.
Your personal brand: what do I stand for?
Your brand is not the title you hold nor the services you sell. It’s not a logo, custom colours or a catchy tagline. 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 the CEO can impact the level of success that you and your company will experience. Your brand is who you are at the core of your being as a leader. It is what you believe, how you act, how you treat others and how you keep the promises you make to your customers, whether they’re your employees or your clients.
“Through seeking employee input, you learn what they need to thrive and provide the direction, resources, and support for programs and incentives to support their growth.”
Your employees are watching. All eyes on you. They tune-in to understand your vision. They carefully observe your actions to determine if they can trust you with their livelihoods. And while they are monitoring what you do, you are discovering more about them. You are learning what the company stands for and seeking a starting point to rebuild the brand.
In a study of 365 Asian, European and North American companies, Bain & Company found that organisations with a winning culture share two key elements. The first is high performance values and behaviours and the second is a unique personality and soul that can’t be invented or imposed. This culture is born from within.
Your brand can’t be fabricated or inauthentic. You can make claims as to what your personal brand is, but simply saying what you want it to be doesn’t make it so. Others will detect contrivance immediately, especially your employees. The disconnect between who you are and who you claim to be creates distrust. The same applies to your company’s brand.
Organisational culture: the biggest lever you can pull to impact brand
You can’t dictate your company’s brand. It’s organic. But the biggest lever you can pull as CEO to impact a brand is your company’s culture. By improving the work environment, you can influence the company’s brand from within.
You open your ears and eyes to understand the company from the inside. You seek insight from employees who will share the unvarnished truth. Marketing materials claim that your company is x, y, and z, but from talking to many inside and outside the company, you find that the company doesn’t live up to these claims all the time. Employee morale is low, engagement is lacking and shareholders are disappointed. You have your starting point.
To overhaul the company’s brand, you first need to repair the company’s culture to understand what your employees believe is lacking and to define and communicate the mission to bring your people and business lines together.
You possess a tenacious personality, but you can’t force cultural change quickly or from the top. Instead, you engage with your people directly. You listen. You identify a cadre of respected employees who embrace change, then work with them to gain their buy-in.
You enlist their help as internal brand ambassadors to infuse the new vision, mission and ethos within the organisation. As a team, you share ideas on how you might upgrade the company’s structure, processes, incentives, evaluations and promotions to align with the new direction. You determine the leadership you need from front-line supervisors to your C-suite executives and at some point, you may need to sideline those who throw up unreasonable roadblocks to the new program.
You take a keen interest in who will train your incoming employees. You want brand ambassadors to onboard and mentor your new hires to ensure that, from day one, they have positive experiences. You make it a priority to speak to new hires in their first week. You share your plans for the company and convey that you encourage their thoughts on what can be improved and how.
Focusing internally on meeting employee’s needs to rebuild your brand
You have numbers to meet. You have expectations of external customers to meet. Your ability to satisfy these commitments starts inside the company. Similar to the emergency aeroplane instructions to place your mask on first before helping others, you attend 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 outcomes for your customers. You grow your people and teams to grow your customers.You focus internally to rebuild your brand.
Rebuilding your brand: Five ways to create positive culture changes
To effect culture change, you take action that makes these attributes part and parcel of your personal brand: engaged listener, impactful communicator, unfailing truth-teller, culture change warrior and visionary.
- Listen at least more than you talk. You use the ratio of ears to mouth as the baseline for how much you listen. You seek input from your employees to understand what is on their minds. What are their most pressing concerns? What would help them do their jobs better? What three things can you do to improve how they feel about working for your company? Sure, you hear what your C-suite executives tell you, but you also want direct feedback from people throughout the company. You take notes and take action.
- Over-communicate, and then communicate some more. 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 what they shared with you. And when you feel you have over-communicated your messages, you know that you are probably only halfway there, and you stay on repeat. When employees understand your vision, the reasons why you are making changes, and how they personally fit into the organisation you are creating, they are more likely to accept and support the changes they will experience.
- Tell the truth without fail. Truth and transparency lead to trust. You understand that while your employees might not like everything you have to say, they respect your honesty. You don’t assume that they know what you actions you are taking, sharing updates on the company’s progress, setbacks, and alternate solutions.
- Give your employees ownership. Through seeking employee input, you learn what they need to thrive and provide the direction, resources, and support for programs and incentives to support their growth. You show that you value their input. You encourage and reward initiative and innovation. You push decision-making down to the lowest level for your employees to resolve issues for your customers. You give them the opportunity to be heard and make a difference.
- Provide the vision of what can be. You were hired to turn the company around. You speak truthfully about your dictate without denigrating those who were part of the prior regime. You lay out your vision of where you want to take the company. You enlist your employees’ support by offering an ideal to aspire to, a roadmap, key measures, and incentives for behaviours that contribute to this vision.
You understand that overhauling or rebuilding a brand takes time, and that this change is not fully within your control. By building your personal brand as a listener, communicator, honest broker, enlightened leader and visionary, you serve and boost your primary customer – your employees. Your actions impact the company culture, which in turn impacts the service provided to your clients and, ultimately, your company’s brand.
Rajeev Kapur is President & CEO of 1105 Media, an Executive Coach and the bestselling author of Chase Greatness: Enlightened Leadership for the Next Generation of Disruption.