Does a civil partnership between HR & Marketing really make for an odd couple?

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Interesting article in The Harvard Business Review, September 11. Former CHRO, Xerox Corporation discusses the power of working collaboratively to bring about business transformation inside and out, an ideology we’ve long espoused of course.

The article makes some punchy claims about HR that raise an eyebrow or two like:

“The HR discipline is evolving into a strategic voice because its sphere of influence — talent attraction, engagement and retention — is now recognized as the foundation to organizational success”

It may be over-stating the true status of HR at present. But she’s certainly right to highlight the growing empowerment of  employees as a result of the indomitable wave of electronic media that is liberating the  voice of  employees and customers alike and the important role that HR could/should be playing in maximizing the opportunities these channels present:

“…..the pervasive influence of social media on the work world demands change in the way employers motivate and communicate with talent. We’ve seen success with a novel approach to talent engagement: an integrated HR-Marketing strategy that teams Marketing’s brand messaging savvy with HR’s internal perspective and expertise. When HR brings a communication orientation to its role, the entire company benefits. The partnership brings added value to Marketing as well. How much more effective could a CMO be if he or she knew for certain that talent would deliver on the brand promise made in every external marketing message?”

Marketing, as we’ve often illustrated, should be actively courting HR right now given that consumer trust levels as well as employee engagement levels are at an all time low. Bad news for marketing spend as employees after all, remain the promise keepers, choosing whether to truly deliver on behalf of the promise makers. Tapping into and nurturing their discretionary effort is vital.

” When Xerox re-branded itself as a document solutions leader….we recognised that employee engagement was integral to Xerox’s transformation and continued growth as a Fortune 500 company. After all, productivity and the strength of the company brand both live within Xerox’s workforce. Employees, at first skeptical, embraced their new work environment. And HR, as a full partner in this effort, made sure our messages were consistent and reinforcing – not conflicting.”

As Nazemetz rightly acknowledges, while still not common enough, the Xerox HR-Marketing collaboration was not the first of its kind:

“nor are we the only ones doing it, especially as employer branding gains importance. Another example dates from 2008, when Lincoln Financial Group — buffeted by the financial crisis — created an HR-Marketing partnership to foster deeper engagement within its pool of 8,500 direct employees and 1,200 independent financial planners. The collaboration began with research into the pulse of the workforce. We talked with more than 600 employees to understand their relationship to the company, to the brand, and to their work. Then we worked closely to define an employer brand rooted in the voice of Lincoln employees and connected to Lincoln leadership’s vision for the organization. The joint Marketing and HR team brought the brand to life in employee meetings, and through printed and digital communication channels. The CHRO, Lisa Buckingham, connected with the leaders of Diversity and Inclusion, Corporate Responsibility, and Recruitment in order to weave the employer brand into HR communications enterprise-wide. As a result, every HR program was aligned with the Lincoln employer brand, making them feel focused and consistent to Lincoln’s employees.

“It hasn’t always been the easiest journey,” says Buckingham. “But once we got everybody on the same page, everyone agreed how important employer brand is and how it actually touches so many facets of the organization. We recognized that there needs to be a consistency in what we’re saying and what our values are.” One measure of the program’s success: In the 2012 employee survey, 58% of Lincoln employees said they were “highly engaged” — a score well above the financial services benchmark of 35%.”

One of the drums that we continue to bang relentlessly is the fact that sustainable business transformation requires a systems approach to managing culture and people processes from recruitment and retention through to performance management and re-sizing.  In our experience, once leaders view brand and organisation development as intrinsically interlinked, union between HR & Marketing moves from pipe dream to necessity, regardless of whether that sits comfortably with either camp, especially in a market where leaders have no choice but to deliver more for longer and for less.

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Re-blogged in honour of the inspirational superhuman feats of the London 2012 Paralympians.

The Brand Trilogy (TBT)

WASP males don’t tend to get too many invitations to be involved in the promotion of diversity management; which is more than a little short sighted.  I’m a firm believer in the notion that the promotion of diversity should embrace the full range of stakeholders and should truly practice inclusiveness in the way stakeholders are engaged with the philosophy or it runs the risk of being seen as a marginal activity aimed at an exclusive audience.  Within businesses, this means adapting the language used to promote diversity from the usual hearts, flowers and equality stuff to appeal to left brain and bottom line thinkers. It needs to empower and celebrate uniqueness not reinforce difference. As with the CSR and sustainability agenda, this can be done, as it makes damn good business sense. But a “push” communication approach may be one of the reasons why the diversity flag bearers within organisations sometimes…

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Paralympic brand watch: Motability’s culture-first approach to brand transformation

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Like the millions of people suffering withdrawal symptoms following the extinguishing of  the London 2012 Olympic torch in the wake of an epic games,  I was deeply moved and hugely impressed by the awe-inspiring opening to the London 2012 Paralympics watched by a tv audience of 20 million people in the UK alone.

As that grizzled hack Simon Barnes of  The Times put it:

“The opening ceremony began last night with a Big Bang, in just about every sense of the term, and some words from Professor Stephen Hawking, the world’s most agile mind once again leaping free from the ruined body. It was all good inspirational stuff, but doomed to be forever second-best to the inspirational things we will see as the Games start today.”

Watching those extraordinary scenes of exceptional people it reminded me of the Motability brand re-launch which remains one of the most successful transformation programmes I’ve had the pleasure of being associated with and which still puts so many FTSE 100 change journeys to shame.

In the space of two years, Motability went from an apparent employment back water with a laid-back charitable culture  to an extremely professional, top 50 organisation in the Times Best Companies poll; Local Employer of  the Year; operator of Europe’s largest vehicle fleet and “best thing since sliced bread” in the eyes of their customers who, along with the dealerships, rated the organisation as a premium brand. No surprise then that the stories of so many of the athletes competing in the games, who also happen to be Motability customers, resonate with the brand. Not for profit doesn’t mean unfit for business.

It’s depressing to hear talk of values, culture change and engagement trip so easily from the tongues of so many business leaders in recent times without the intentions or actions to back up the fine words. But when your founding mission was to liberate people with disabilities from the confines of the trike through the simple device of providing the use of a motorcar, perhaps it’s easier to engage the right people in the right way and inspire them with values like Friendly; Flexible and Facilitating. Perhaps. But first they need to feel proud to be part of an organisation that can be as hard-nosed on behalf of their customers as it is accommodating to its customers, which is where the culture bit comes in.

Under the leadership of an inspirational CEO, Mike Betts, the Motability management team transformed the way they do things, the internal culture, in the space of 18 months by opening with a process of engagement via consultation and then role modelling their core values as they set about evolving the processes that mattered most to their people from recruitment through to communication and appraisal.

The engagement of key stakeholders from garages through to manufacturers came next with contract and service levels re-negotiated to the point that the re-designed Motability brand and logo moved confidently to pride of place on forecourts and industry publications. Motability is now a leading player in the UK car market with 1 in 12 or so cars sold in the UK going to a Motability customer.

The 2012 Paralympics is the first in the history of the games to be completely sold out. As always, however, it is the athletes who give the games their soul. What made Motability’s transformation different for me was that there was a universal belief in the core purpose and desired culture of the organisation, from front of house through to the most senior of leaders. It is always the employees, the workaday brand champions who give the organisation its soul. And once they had learned to blend commerciality with passion and conviction while remaining true to the integrity of their core purpose, the brand grew wings. If only the leaders of  the abundant beleaguered brands could feel that for themselves, perhaps the spirit of the Paralympic village could work its magic in corporate HQ. In fact, Oliver Holt could have been writing about Motability when he penned these words to describe last night’s events:

“Before a new flame was lit in this magical London summer, the words of an Ian Dury song rang out around the Olympic Stadium. ‘Hello to you out there in Normal Land,’ the lyrics to Spasticus Autisticus went, ‘you may not comprehend my tale or understand.’ Normal Land watched on. Not with distaste. Or disdain. Those kinds of emotions began to seep away a long time ago. Not even with indifference. No, Normal Land gazed at the Opening Ceremony for the London Paralympics with admiration, even a little envy.”

* you can read more about the Motability transformation journey in Brand Engagement (I.P. Buckingham 2007).