Brand Watch: Cemex continues to build the brand inside and out!

Ian featured a case study on Cemex, the global, Mexican-owned cement, concrete & aggregates organisation in Brand Champions, largely because of their forward thinking strategy regarding values-based leadership and recognition of the importance of culture to brand development and sustainability.

The Cemex board takes a very enlightened approach to the development of brand champions and people-centred change and as a result, they have an impressive track record of growth through international acquisition, despite the extremely tough conditions in which they have had to operate in recent times.

We’re pleased to report that their approach to brand development from within continues to gather pace and that they were recently recognised for their efforts once again, this time becoming winners of the Management 2.0 Challenge—the first phase of the HBR/McKinsey M-Prize for Management Innovation backed by Gary Hamel.

To reference their submission:

“CEMEX is fostering innovation by changing the way employees work. It is encouraging a change in practices towards more collaboration, transparency, and openness, and enabling these changes through a Social Networking platform with a business sense, called. Shift. These changes are challenging existing management practices, and opening the creative and strategic arena to all levels of the company. After only 18 months of being in place, these new practices have already produced benefits in an unprecedented scale and speed.”

Congratulations to their CEO, Lorenzo Zambrano; Jesus Garcia, Head of Innovation and the wider management team for what is yet another significant step in the evolution of Cemex as a brand but is also a stride forward in terms of international perceptions of the national brand.

We will be featuring more on the brand development journey of Cemex here and in future publications, so watch this space.


A few words about rugby, culture change and authenticity.

There’s a famous quote about the difference between rugby football and football (or soccer to use the vulgar alternative). It suggests that rugby is a thugs’ game played by gentlemen while its counterpart  is a game for gentlemen “played by thugs”. Over-simplistic & class-riddled it may be, but there’s a grain of truth in there.

Anyone who has watched even one game from the major international tournaments including the rugby world cup or Six Nations won’t fail to be touched by the sight of 19 stone, grizzled behemoths crying while singing their national anthem, paw clutched to badge next to heart. Yet should they stumble upon an international soccer game via some pay-per-view source, they will see pampered, prancing ponies clearly irritated by the notion of having to sing about anyone but themselves.

I wasn’t surprised, however, to read a recent HBR article singing the praises of rugby culture while saluting the achievements of a senior executive who transformed his organisation by applying the qualities of the game he once played as a former All Black. I’ve come across similar stories during my consultancy career. What did surprise me was that this author was an American.

At the core of rugby culture are values, principles and behaviours which sadly seem to be in short supply right now. There are the official values, and then there are these:

– be what you say (there’s no hiding place on a rugby pitch so if you’re going to talk a good game, make sure you can back it up)

– respect diversity (rugby is played by people of all shapes and sizes, each with as valuable a part as the next and without whom the team can’t function)

– focus on goals (no point playing unless you’re doing it to win)

– criticise positively and constructively

– be explicit about your values as a group

– work hard, play harder (the rugby culture is as legendary off the pitch as it is on)

– play for your mates, not yourself

Once you’ve experienced these qualities at first hand, it’s hard to accept anything else. Perhaps that’s why we’re so passionate about brands delivering what they promise and leaders being what they say?

For a game played by such intimidating physical specimens (whether male or female), the game is deceptively complex, more akin to chess than WWF. There are surprisingly few significant injuries and incidents of foul play are few and far between. 30 players trample all over the pitch with bodies so often lying on the floor, yet rarely does boot connect with flesh and cheap shots are a rarity.

How much of this sounds like the thuggish game playing in your board room, current meeting culture or interpersonal organisation norms?

Anyone for rugby?

Are MBAs lighting the path towards values-based leadership?

On the anniversary of the events that plunged world markets into turmoil, ethics, it seems, is curiously back on the corporate agenda. This will doubtless come as a shock to the many thousands of employees who have had their career expectations re-structured for them by the economic crisis, and those who are keeping their heads down, grateful to be in a job.

Of course, we’re not suggesting that the HR renaissance has advanced so far that many organisations are breaking out of the shareholder-first focus of their people strategies. We’re talking about UK business schools such as Cass, Manchester and Nottingham that have recognised that the way leaders have been educated in the past may well have had some bearing on the way they behaved in the run up to the economic meltdown in 2008.

In a direct response to global economic problems, rather than up the ante on recession-busting short-termism, all three of the seats of learning cited above have re-focused their MBAs to feature business ethics and philosophy as “must have” rather than optional modules. They are employing techniques from experiential learning and role play to role model engagement. They are encouraging their students to work with not-for-profit organisations to develop their people skills, empathy levels and social responsibility sensibilities. They are using case studies like the Shuttle Challenger disaster and banking collapse to illustrate what happens when organisations fail to communicate or develop requisite culture.

In summary, they are attempting to expand the focus of their students away from the obsession with shareholder value, balance sheet management and short-termism.

This is a very encouraging development – although ethics, engagement and sustainability are not, in our view, soft skills modules to be bolted onto the superstructure of so-called core business essentials for elite leaders. They are core business essentials for all leaders.

Corporate social responsibility has very little to do with benevolence, and employee engagement should not be seen as a discretionary activity. Relationship skills are as applicable to business partners and colleagues as they are to customers – true sustainability can only come from adopting a joined up approach to stakeholder management both internally and externally.

We would like to see the business schools go several steps further and place at least as much emphasis on sustainable relationship management as they place on accounting and technical skills development. Who knows, perhaps if enough of the reputable seats of learning lead the way, it may make a few senior leaders expand their engagement and leadership development horizons, recognising the link between culture management, boom and bust. And who knows where that may lead?

Could your employer brand be the Bez in your band?


We’re all familiar with the cliché that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. In fact it’s a philosophy on which process management methodologies like total quality management (tqm) and kaizen are based.

But what has process and systems thinking got to do with the subtle arts of people-centred services like HR management, Organisation Development and the concept of employer brand?

As some of you will be aware, we believe the term “employer brand” is a misnomer. It implies that there’s one brand for customers, one for existing employees and a third for potential recruits. And as we all know, the latter smells of fresh paint and is largely portrayed by beautiful people and copywriters.

Employer brand is only half the story.  It represents the “promise making” part of the employment equation.  A more appropriate term is employment brand as this takes into account the promises made by the organisation about the working practices, values, norms – or put another way – the culture. But it also factors in the reality and actual employee feedback about the delivery of the promise.

In short, employment brand = promise minus reality.

We’re accustomed to seeing the application of principles like customer relationship management (CRM) and the management of the customer value chain by our marketing colleagues who should be obsessive about the brand projected to customers.  But how many of our HR colleagues are applying similar principles to the management of the employment brand?  I would suggest, right at this moment, very few, given their targets (where they have them), are largely recruitment not retention based.

The value of a process-focused and value-chain approach to managing employment brand is that it:

– stimulates cooperation between the key internal stakeholders responsible for managing the links in the chain

– should encourage HR functions to take a more collaborative approach with external stakeholders and suppliers (recruitment agancies included)

– it helps to drive consistency in how the brand is interpreted and communicated

– it encourages performance measures at each link in the chain and provides a platform for more effective relationship management at each stage

To illustrate this point, take a casual wander through the vacancy pages of even premier recruitment sites and job boards.  How many simple but explicit errors can you detect in the advertisements?  Now ask yourself how this makes you feel about the capability of the agency in question to manage your account, cv or personal profile with appropriate care and sensitivity. More importantly, what impression does it create of the organisation in question which should be taking ownership of that collateral?  If you’re the client of the agency, how well do you think they are representing your brand and what are the explicit and opportunity costs of these errors? Now ask yourself whose responsibility it is to manage the brand and who the Bez* in the band may be?

Simple errors aren’t the only problems faced when managing the recruitment chain. Perhaps a less obvious but arguably greater problem is the trend of over promising through the representation of a brand which belies the reality. During our general consultancy work, we see examples of very high profile organisations with unacceptable levels of employee and contractor churn as the culture encountered by new recruits is poles apart from the brand template the recruiters are told to use to attract talent through the doors.

It’s unfair to single out the recruitment agencies who have a tough job in this climate and are largely reliant upon the quality of the briefing they receive from their relationship contacts. But hopefully these simple examples illustrate my point.  It’s very difficult for HR professionals to ensure they are sufficiently in tune with the espoused core culture (which can be very different from the actual) and strategic goals of the business and translate this data into the processes they promote and stakeholders they rely upon as they manage the evolution of the employment brand.

What is clear, however, is that HR has a pivotal role to play in managing the chain of people developing the brand. How they go about managing the employment brand does call for collaboration and systems thinking.  However, this does present another opportunity for coordination with their more explicitly external facing colleagues to bring consistency of voice and presence, Who knows, it may even be the basis for a discussion about “share of purse” in the best interests of bringing the brand to life from the inside?

*For the very few people who may not know, Bez is the iconic member of legendary Salford-based indie group The Happy Mondays (check them out), famously talentless bar his “crazy” dancing……”you’re twisting my melon man”!

Apocalypse! Now what? US legislator belatedly sues big banks.

“What do you call it when the assassins accuse the assassin?”

Anyone recognise this quote from Colonel Kurtz, the infamous creation of Marlon Brando in the brilliant but ill-fated Vietnam epic? The film could so easily be a parable for these crazy times?.

Remember the film and you’ll doubtless recall the use of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries which accompanied the ironic arrival of the flying US cavalry. Well, on the morning when the US authorities announce their intention to sue 17 major banks including Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, RBS and HSBC  for losses on mortgage-backed investments that cost taxpayers around the world tens of billions of dollars, the soundtrack is more likely to be the collective sound of dropping jaws. The fear will be that their rear-guard action surely threatens to plunge world economies into recession again accompanied by a double-dip into the tax payer’s pockets.

The question on everyone’s lips is, why didn’t the cavalry prevent the problem in the first place, especially as it’s clearly so wide-reaching? And what were the auditors doing?

As exponents of values-led-leadership and culture development, however, our take on the debacle implies greater cause for concern. We know a bit about the industry and as we’ve stated many times in the past, the problem is systemic. To use an appropriate metaphor, it’s transferred from the high profile rats to the fleas. It is a reflection of the relentless focus on “shareholders uber alles”, short termism and the demise of relationship development as well as a twisted notion of what exactly a performance culture actually is.

As Martin Sheen’s central character, Captain WIllard states:

“Saigon … shit….I’m still only in Saigon … each time I looked around, the walls moved in a little tighter”.

At the professional services event we facilitated for the MPF in London, this year, we laboured the point that brand and reputation are synonymous. But the bulk of brand management must come from within. No point wasting effort on external brand assassins (as Colonel Kurtz alludes), focus instead on identifying and converting the internal stakeholders and developing brand champions from within who will then create an authentic, values-base culture given the right encouragement and support.

Never has the banking sector needed to heed those words more. And the regulators and auditors would do well to listen too.

The other famous character in the film was cavalry leader Lt Kilgore best known for his shirtless beach scene, of course:

” You smell that? Do you smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for twelve hours. When it was all over I walked up. We didn’t find one of ’em, not one stinkin’ dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like … victory.

Someday this war’s gonna end.”

The irony works on several levels.

The lingering advice, however, is to ignore the cavalry and the fighting, forget commanding and controlling and to start leading by addressing the core cultural issues within your sphere of influence at source, before it’s too late.

Having opened with Kurtz, its fitting to close with him:

“We train young men to drop fire on people. But their commanders won’t allow them to write “f***” on their airplanes because it’s obscene!”

If anyone would like a copy of our paper on values-based brand management, with or without a professional services slant, do get in touch and we’ll be glad to help.

Kevin Thomson on the seemingly “extra terrestial” engagement phenomenon.

I’ll start with the answers then work back to the question:

Answer 1 – The stories of Brand Champions

Answer 2 – The Top Ten of ‘Engaging Organisations’ which include:

1. Strength of communication to communities beyond customers

2. Depth of brand engagement (the forgiveness factor)

3. Value (performance) and values (emotional capital) of brand engagement with employees

4. Collaboration, involvement and innovation

5. Powerful messages

6. Creative delivery

7. Consistent and sustainable brand positioning

8. Clear expression

9. Authenticity of voice and actions

10. Delivering the promise

 Engagement: “take us to your leader “!

Received wisdom apparently now has it that organisations must move from measuring and acting on ‘employee satisfaction’ (which they arguably should never have been placing as much emphasis on), to acting on ‘employee engagement’.  Hence the vast industry of recent surveys and “events” picking and plucking as if engagement is a just landed alien phenomenon that needs to be approached with suspicion and caution. 

The MacLeod Report only confirmed what decades of data had already informed the enlightened CEO, Comms Director and HRD, namely that the top four factors that drive employee engagement  are (using my mnemonic):


  • Leadership
  • Integrity
  • Voice of the employee
  • Engaging managers.

Internal Comms 101, surely? The mnemonic is so easy to remember, but so hard to implement (clearly) or it wouldn’t be such a big issue with 3.3m Google references like ‘Employee engagement is a word that gets bandied about a huge amount and often without clear definition.’

We now have The Employee Engagement Task Force picking over the runes and looking to create ‘best practice’ to deliver the definitive solution. Perhaps the engagement enlightened will eventually get some great advice. But will it be about the right thing? Is it really ‘employee engagement’ that is the problem, or is it something else? Like how engaging are the organisations employees work for?

Is it really as simple as saying that once you know the Engaging For Success ‘LIVE’ formula, off you go;

  1. L – looking to create strong leadership
  2. I – being true to what you do (integrity)
  3. V – listening to employees (more)
  4. E – ensuring you have really good engaging managers and supervisors.

 Hasn’t this been the same for the last 50 years of ‘modern management’?

So what‘s the answer? Or more importantly, what’s the question?

If you were looking at this from an external ‘customer engagement’ perspective the fault (after 25 years of really inconsistent results) would lie squarely with the marketing, branding, communication and advertising functions. Why? Because they wouldn’t have covered the basics of making the product, the promotion, the price and the place engaging enough to engage the customer.

But if employees are disengaged, where should the responsibility lie? Yes, in part, with the board. But what have the functions responsible for employee engagement been doing to initiate the LIVE formula given that it has hardly just arrived on planet comms?

Hopefully your engagement leadership trio of HR/Comms and Marketing aren’t holding their breath waiting for magic moon dust to descend from the stratosphere. If you’re struggling, rather than launching yet another engagement survey, why not be appreciative, have faith that best practices will already exist and try inverting this simple external logic:

 1. How can you increase the ratio of engaged to disengaged employees (like engaged customers) using existing Brand Champions (and they will exist)?. Where do you find them, work with them, encourage them and help their stories spread?

2. How do you become an ‘Engaging Organisation’ like the great external brands? Stop looking at the employee for the answers in surveys etc and explore what the story of the evolution of your business says about how ‘engaging’ your organisation is, what it says and does, not just the managers and supervisors but the whole organisation.

The 2011 Brand Engaged Report takes an outside-in perspective on engaging brands.

Contact us for a copy and why not see how your communication culture compares against our top ten tick list?

If you’re still feeling a little puzzled, or even frightened to venture out from behind the corporate sofa, take another look at the answers at the top of this piece and watch this space as future blogs will explore these solutions in further detail.