We live in an age of transparency. Modern consumers are rich with information. They’re aware of how brands behave from the inside out and support brands that align with their values, cares, and concerns. How does a successful brand withstand this scrutiny? By being an open book. Leadership is clear about what matters most to the brand — then inspires, empowers, and equips their employees to authentically live those values out with contagious enthusiasm. After all, how can you expect your customers to love your brand unless your own people do?
A disconnect between your brand and the actions of your employees comes at a high cost. Your company can find itself labeled untrustworthy and inauthentic. Social media can ignite a storm of bad publicity and mockery. Repairing your brand and your reputation becomes a full-time distraction from actually running your business. But if your people love and live your brand with authentic buy-in and enthusiasm, you’ll find yourself reaping piles of goodwill, trust, and loyalty.
Let’s look at two companies that can use a little help and two that are living their brand from the inside out.
On the Culture Struggle Bus: Wells Fargo & Uber
In 2016, Wells Fargo ran into trouble when it was revealed that customer-facing employees had been behaving unethically to meet sales pressure. Millions of accounts were opened under customers’ names without their knowledge. Improper mortgage fees were charged, unneeded auto insurance was sold, and deceptive car loans resulted in 25,000 repossessions. Management turned a blind eye as goals were met and bonuses flowed.
A wounded Wells Fargo made adjustments, changing goals and commission formulas. But they have not helped employees buy back into the brand: Many complain their income has not been supplemented to cover the amount lost to lower goals and commissions — an especially painful slight after the CEO received a 36% raise last year to more than $17 million annually. Until their employees trust Wells Fargo, it will be hard for customers to trust them, and they will continue to struggle.
Uber suffered from a toxic, cut-throat culture at the head office. Employees had very little loyalty to a company where everyone was out for themselves. While the company implemented remedies in 2017, Uber is still recovering. Almost two years later, when Uber filed its initial public offering, leadership showed a surprising amount of self-awareness in their disclosures:
“Challenges related to our culture and workplace practices and negative publicity we experienced have in the past led to significant attrition and made it more difficult to attract high-quality employees.
The loss of qualified executives and employees, or an inability to attract, retain, and motivate high-quality executives and employees required for the planned expansion of our business, may harm our operating results and impair our ability to grow.”
While Uber still has work to do to regain the trust of their workforce, we applaud their self-awareness. Next steps: Create a culture of inclusion and positivity, work for employee buy-in, and get the word out to customers.
Winning with Culture: Southwest Airlines & Starbucks
Southwest Airlines has defined the modern “employee first” culture. Every employee is hired for, and buys into, three pillars: a warrior spirit, a servant’s heart, and a “fun-luving” attitude. Potential leaders are recognized, lauded, and sent for leadership training. Employees are empowered and appreciated. Executives and managers model expected behavior and coach associates who need guidance.
By putting their employees first and empowering them to make sure every customer’s experience is five-star, Southwest enjoys a 4% voluntary employee turnover rate, while 85% of their employees say they are proud to work for Southwest. Happy employees make for happy customers, resulting in the fewest customer complaints in the industry.
Starbucks knows how to treat its employees — and they, in turn, love to live their brand. The company has provided healthcare benefits to full timers and part timers, including same sex and domestic partners, since 1992, and reimburse college tuition, offer stock, and have a 401(k) plan.
Starbucks has valued diversity and inclusion from the start, so when racial discrimination in a Philadelphia store made news in 2018, Starbucks looked deep into its brand and closed every store for sensitivity training to double down on its corporate values: “Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome. Acting with courage, challenging the status quo, and finding new ways to grow our company and each other. Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity, and respect. Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results.”
By simply reaffirming who they were as a culture, Starbucks empowered and unified their employees with the knowledge, tools, and camaraderie to pull through the crisis with renewed belief in their brand.
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