About ianpbuckingham

Consultant, cross-genre author, social activist and former SDL and Interbrand (Omnicom) director, de-fuzzing the internal comms; employee engagement; brand; organisation development and culture change fields. Champion of people with a passion for building sustainable brands from within. Promoter of a strategy that calls for partnerships between HR; Marketing and Comms. Shared parenting advocate and sports fan. Founder of the Bring Yourself 2 Work Fellowship and Elder Management Consultants. Clients very varied (from Deutsche Bank to Nuffield Health) and cover most sectors. Case-study-based books include Brand Engagement - How Employees Make or Break Brands (Palgrave/Macmillan 2007) and Brand Champions (Palgrave/Macmillan 2011). Currently writing the third in the brand trilogy (TBT), Brand Challenger. Children's books include the Legend of the Lost series about the Savage Changeling family and their series of heroic journeys to unite the magical and human worlds and save the planet. Blogging Columnist at CIPD/People Management. ianpbuckingham67@gmail.com.

Do you build business and brand advocacy in all key communities?



Behaviour change should be front and centre of business transformation, not a nasty afterthought.

Nearly every major business transformation project I’ve been called upon to help out with in the last few years has begun as a technical process change, like the introduction of a new IT platform or sales system. Stands to reason, I guess, given the business climate has hardly been kind to soft skills “leaps of faith”. Capex spend in particular has been under intense scrutiny, doubtless requiring months of fevered business case creation prior to coming before the grand inquisition, namely the torture chamber of the FD.

Yet what these programmes have all lacked has been the recognition of the need for any form of behavioural change imperative, the recruitment or conversion of advocates inside and out as justification for investment in culture development or due attention to leadership by example.

Cue the OD paratroopers and the HR consultancy special forces as a rear guard action.

Too little, too late, costing a fortune.

While Execs have been alert to the need to do different things, there has been little or no recognition of the need to do things differently. I’ve personally seldom seen much evidence of the appreciation for the need for behaviour change to underpin the process change. In short, businesses have invested heavily in designing and starting to develop a shiny new vehicle only to realise after considerable spend that they neither have the leadership capability to unify the workforce to build it nor the skills necessary to drive it out of the garage let alone take to the open road.

So, rather late in the day, they have had to retro-fit the behavioural business case because they have only belatedly managed to get their heads around the ways of working and operating culture required. What chance then of developing future-proof values and behaviours fit for purpose rather than reinforcing the limitations of current leadership norms?

Needless to say, a heavy focus on culture, values and behaviour change at the 11th hour is the corporate equivalent of the playground “wedgie”. It comes as a shock, takes folk by surprise and it feels disturbingly violating and invasive at the same time given it happens with little or no warning.

To make matters worse, quite often the bulk of the corporate budget has been committed by the time the behavioural penny drops. So more often than not, the engagement process has to be managed on the fumes left in the finance tank and employee engagement initiatives become intrusive interventions, late additions to the project timeline forced through using a combination of excessive internal PR and brute force from the HRD or CEO’s offices.

Yet internal stakeholders see through the subterfuge of proactivity disguising the after thought and robbed of the chance to work through the emotional change curve, either resist openly or, more likely, become silent corporate saboteurs. They resent the fact that the required behaviour change has been bullied through rather than led by example. Cue much more anxiety than was necessary, delays and missed deadlines as, not surprisingly, change really struggles to stick.

And guess who notices next? That’s right, those external stakeholders in the matrix, the ones who pay the blessed bills.

Sound familiar?

Seems like a decent business case for changing the way we do change, to me……..


What are the consequences of dis-engagement where you work?

working dead BE 2

A lot of people jumped on the employee engagement bandwagon in recent years and one of the side-effects is that it has become a bit of a cliche.

There’s so much noise that it engenders a sort of social-media equivalent of an ice-cream headache.


Because so-many opportunists are offering silver-bullet solutions to the scourge of the walking dead employee in the form of “an app” or “a tech solution” that the zombies have become immune, especially those in the leadership positions who should be taking the subject very seriously indeed.

As I’ve proven and illustrated time and again throughout my consultancy career, whether with the Omnicom group helping blue chip brands or my consultancy career helping the likes of the Nuffield Group, Northern Ireleand Tourist Board or even tech companies like ARM Holdings, organisation culture, people processes and leadership behaviour are the keys to building sustainable brands.

Yet in recent times we’ve seen organisations like United Airlines and VW/Audi, Bell Pottinger forget these principles, involving them in costly, high-profile brand disasters. It also affects the public and non-profit sector too as we have seen at Oxfam and even today, Theresa May’s government has plunged itself into another avoidable crisis over the deportation of the Windrush generation. This was yet another reputation crisis that could so easily have been avoided with judicious internal culture management and internal communication/engagement rather than reliance on PR to sweep up after yet another disaster.

But this disconnect appears to run deep in too many organisation as well as across government.

On the subject of PR, last year ended with CAFCASS CEO Anthony Douglas making a series of high-profile, ground-breaking announcements about a growing malaise being experienced by loving parents nation-wide, namely the scourge of parent alienation or PA. It is a relatively modern phenomenon where one parent, usually the resident parent, post divorce or separation, exploits the current family courts and blind spots of the social services infrastructure, to abuse their extra time with the children they share to erase the non-resident parent from the children’s lives. This has been proven to happen over a lengthy period of time using, what amounts to psychological abuse, to bend the children to their will.

Douglas has now formally recognised the existence of PA and the fact that it is affecting around 1 million of the cases CAFCASS oversees, although pressure groups suggested the figure is more like 4million. Factoring in the 5-6 extended family members this will also affect, that’s as many people as the population of Wales and Scotland combined ripped cruelly from the lives of their own children.

Psychological abuse of this nature has been widely proven to have a long-lasting and damaging future impact on children measured in under-perfromance at school in later life, problems with depression, self-harming and failure to thrive. Now add to this the impact on the adults in terms of depression and psychological harm and the impact of as many people as the population of Wales and Scotland combined wasting money on unnecessary legal fees, time off work and the cost of treating them, not to mention the rising levels of related suicide in the targeted population (men around 40), and that is a considerable business case for change.

However, almost a year since Douglas’s announcements, pressure groups report that there has been little or no evidence of:

  1. general awareness or acknowledgement of PA on the CAFCASS front line by vital case staff
  2.  alternative approaches to recognise and address alienating behaviour

So, not to sugar the pill, while corporates would be hemorrhaging money; in the public sector and social/child protection services, because of a failure to engage properly with their own staff, the child abuse continues unabated with little or no change. That too leads to indirect losses of money. There appears, sadly, to be a clear disconnect between the great PR and fine words and employee engagement by the most senior of leaders within CAFCASS.

As a consequence, family courts, reliant on CAFCASS support, remain powerless to address the growing problem and more and more cases of alienation are reported.

Putting the sensitive issue of emotional child abuse and the impact on the economy and well being of people aside, just consider the impact on the trendiest of topics, gender equality and pay at work. Around 97% of UK “singe-parent” households are female led. That’s at least 1 million single mothers who will likely be lost to the job market because they are not sharing the parenting of the children they treat like possessions. *

So, ask yourself again, what are the consequences of  dis-engagement to organisations?

Well, the example of CAFCASS illustrates this perfectly. Businesses, organisations and brands are not built by external PR and fine words alone. What really counts is action, on the front line, where employees face customers, daily. Communication has not landed until CHANGE occurs.

Hopefully the latest addition to the CAFCASS leadership team, Edward Timpson, will recognise the importance of culture change within CAFCASS and wider social services and the need for proper external support. Because if an organisation set up to protect the welfare of our children can’t get this right, will it really matter what commercial organisations hoping to sell to them in future do because goods and services can’t compensate for the love and support of both parents.

* Figures taken from the Peace not PAS pressure group website who asked me to comment on the OD aspects of their article “Parent Alienation and Organisation Culture”

Always follow your bliss!


As I explored in Brand Champions, it was mythologist Joseph Campbell who coined the phrase “follow your bliss” to describe how people are at their happiest when the work they do aligns to their true character. And I have little doubt that leaders of organisations who set out to create cultures that inspire, involve and engage people, are the ones that thrive over time.

So, on #InternationalChildrensBookDay, it seems a fitting time to announce the delivery of a personal project I’ve been working on alongside the internal brand development crusade.

In collaboration with our two little heroes, I’ve recently written a series of childrens’ fantasy books, the Changeling Trilogy.

The first, Legend of the Lost, will hit the shelves this Summer.

But it is in post-production and available for pre-orders now.

Needless to say the plot line follows Campbell’s hero’s journey cycle, as you would expect. All the best stories do. Although the heroes and many of the villains were inspired by the very many characters we’ve encountered along the way, especially where the work and corporate me have overlapped.

So, as a treat to yourself or a junior loved one (aimed at 7-11 year olds but intended to be engaging for adults to read to/with them too), check it out on Amazon. But fear not, the cover is discrete enough for you to have a read on the train, and if anyone asks, you can always claim it’s a high-brow brand management tome and part of your CPD.


PS- if you spot yourself in the stories, the kids have told me I am not at liberty to either confirm nor deny the truth. But buy me a beer and…

BE THAT NUTTER on the bus!

“It was a tough journey yet the results speak for themselves.

You’ve heard Jim Collins’s phrase in Good to Great about leaders needing to get the right people on the bus?

Well one of the problems with being ahead of the change curve is that people in meetings look at you like the nutter on the bus”.

I’m quoting a client who recently proudly celebrated their successful brand engagement drive which has generated some very impressive bottom line results over the last five years, despite very testing economic conditions.

They are one of the case studies in Brand Champions selected for the very reason that, as with the other case studies, the top team understand that sustainable brand development comes from a solid internal culture and that the only way to achieve this if for HR and Marketing, not the most likely of bedfellows, to get into bed together, strategically speaking.

It can be tricky to realise this when you’re trapped within the internal silos of structure charts and organisation politics. So it’s one of the value-adding insights external advisers can bring. Which is why, when I have been approached to help create an employer brand or a service proposition whether for an investment banking division or a major healthcare business, the first question is usually the same:

“Do you have Marketing and HR around the same table with the backing of the CEO?”

If the answer’s “no”, then we make it so, regardless of whether the project is badged brand or employer brand or culture change even service proposition development.

Like it or lump it but sustainable brand development is all about synergy not about internal competition.

As so many change programmes discover too late, be they brand, tech/process or HR driven, the best laid plans and processes are undermined, not by a shortage of spreadsheets or governance, but by a shortfall in one of these areas:

  • employee engagement
  • communication
  • culture change
  • leadership role modelling

Yet far too many organisations still believe they can bluff, spin and now “buzz” their way to enhanced performance through dumping content and data through “whizzy” new channels or considerable “buzzy” advertising spend to drive brand awareness.

Few stop to ask themselves:

“What do we do when we attract customers or recruits but are not able to deliver on the promises we make?”

In my experience, this is down to one of three things:

  1. Naivety
  2. Silo thinking
  3. Seeing this as a problem for someone else

The point the CEO was making during the presentation of their case study (they were COO at the time of the change by the way), was that the truly enlightened are too often dismissed when the approach they propose differs from currently presumed wisdom/current culture. Yet they are being viewed and judged through the lens of a prevailing leadership culture iornically not quite fit for purpose given the pressing need for change.

Now, I’m sure there are many HRDs and Marketing Directors and a few CEOs who will be reading this and dismissing it as the rantings of another nutter on the social media bus.

I’ve certainly heard my fair share of detracting voices down the years.

I can think of some who have managed to protect and ring fence their budgets for long enough to survive a budget round or two and have then moved on.

I can think of some who have made a lot of money for themselves from making a lot of people redundant.

But the ones, most notable, are those who couldn’t, at first make the leap of faith to reach across their silo, yet when they did, are now celebrating the results from taking the path less trodden rather than the path of least resistance..

In the main the same individuals have all built truly sustainable brand-focused cultures wherever their careers have taken them.

But perhaps it’s a coincidence that those organisations include some of the best places to work and highest ranked brands?

“ding, ding”

* Want to read more stories from the business transformation front line? Pick up a copy of Ian P Buckingham’s Brand Engagement- How employees make or break brands and Brand Champions – How Superheroes bring brands to life.

Employee Engagement: It’s a leaky bucket, folks!

Another day, another bucket full of employee engagement articles, most of them woefully misguided and terribly confusing.

Employee engagement, put simply, is a state of mind in which employees deliver to their full potential because of an emotional and rational connection with the organisation they work for.

It is no more complicated than that.

It does not require dozens of definitions. It most certainly is not, as many commentators imply, a goal in and of itself.

Employee engagement is a means to an end and that end is the achievement of the objectives of the organisation.

Far too many people who should know so much better suggest that employee engagement can be achieved by a single initiative or requires complex behavioural science. No wonder the statistics have flat lined over the last decade while CEOs leave the room in search of the headache pills upon mention of the term.

Of course organisations can influence engagement levels and of course they should given engagement is an important enabler or driver of organisation performance. But it requires a systems approach to fix the leaky organisation bucket. Concentrate all efforts in one area only, promise what you can’t deliver and you’re likely to do more harm as the goodwill leaks out elsewhere at a rapid rate.

I’ve worked with dozens of organisations to bring about sustainable, positive change. I’ve seen examples of great initiatives that have created energy and focus. But this always fades away unless the people processes that drive the organisation development system are improved systematically. These include, but are not limited to:

  • culture management
  • leadership development
  • internal communication
  • recruitment
  • retention
  • succession management
  • performance management
  • training and development

The best organisations recognise that brand management involves collaborative partnerships between internal and external facing departments and they form alliances between hr, marketing and comms.

So do everyone a favour, unless you recognise that employee engagement is an enabler not an outcome and you’re prepared to address at least all of the above holes in your otherwise leaky OD bucket, then please drop the engagement word. You’re wasting your time, doing yourself and your organisation an injustice and giving the people disciplines a very bad name.

* Want to read more stories from the organisation development front line? Pick up a copy of Ian P Buckingham’s Brand Engagement- How employees make or break brands and Brand Champions – How Superheroes bring brands to life.

Advice for your younger self


(Collaborative thought piece by Ian Buckingham; Kevin Keohane; Dan Gray and Hilton Barbour).

A father recently walked into his kitchen to find his child clearly upset. So he dropped what he was planning to do to stop and listen.

Seems the child had been disturbed by much buzzy noise on social media about fame and success. They were starting to feel that they would just never be able to shape up as people expected them to. Turns out they were feeling the pressure of making certain subject selections at school that they worried would set them on a path in life when they hadn’t really made up their mind. But they felt like they should know and it was worrying them.

Dad was just grateful he was there for the moment. So he started a series of conversations to help them navigate their way.

He shared this story with a few of us recently. It so happens that we are each relatively experienced friends and fathers who have worked in the Marcomms space, both agency and in-house, for some time.

One question in particular prompted an online conversation:

Q1:”Reflecting on your career to date, what is the one piece of advice you would give the younger you/or your son or daughter when entering the world of work?”

Here’s a precis of our reflections, for what they’re worth:


Find and follow your bliss

It took me a while to see this because of the games that all people play with each other.

There’s much talk about progress. But even if you reflect on what has happened since the industrial revolution, infamous for cramped housing, serfdom and little real time for what makes life great, things haven’t really moved on. Not as much as they should have.

People still live in the same or smaller houses but they somehow pay a fortune for them now; they work even longer, have fewer children, spend even less time with them and still donate their labour for other people most of their lives. They are quite often producing stuff that’s pretty useless and leaves a mess for others to sort out.

There’s more to life than stuff, there really is.

We all have to make sacrifices and compromises in life.

Some involve decisions we feel we have to make to survive.

But whatever you do, always strive to make an impact on the world and leave it a better, wiser, happier place for you having been here.

You stand the best chance of doing that by finding your passion, trying lots, sharing lots, failing lots, succeeding some but growing lots. Eventually, with lots of determination and not a little luck, you will find the sweet spot where work and you crossover.

If you’re really lucky it will seldom feel like work.

When you find that place, whatever it may be, it will be your “bliss”. Until then, good luck spotting the dragons on the way, the takers not the makers, the talkers not the leaders.

The greatest tragedy is not a life lived without money or power or fame. It is a life wasted, without taking risks just trying to impress others while forgetting or not discovering what brings you joy.

You, for me, are part of my bliss. You are my joy. I just hope you’re as lucky as I am to know that feeling too.

handsAlways keep a ‘growth mindset’

Be a humble and voracious learner. Go broad, not narrow, in your quest for knowledge, actively searching for new ideas and perspectives, especially from disciplines outside the one you have chosen. Therein lies the key to long-term success and fulfilment.

Others will tell you you’re wasting your time filling your head with stuff that they think bears no relation to the ‘day job’. Don’t listen to them. Ten years from now, they’ll probably find their job has been eaten by a robot, and they’ll be screwed because they invested all their time and energy in developing deep technical skill.

It’s good – necessary even – to be a polymath. Seek out experiences that will help you develop and hone the timeless mindsets and metaskills that are at the heart of what makes us human – initiative and self-reliance, communication and collaboration, critical reasoning and creative problem-solving (to name just a few).

Your prowess as an integrative thinker, sense-maker and problem-solver will be what keeps you one step ahead of the robots, grants you the ability to adapt and thrive whatever the future of work holds in store, and makes you valuable in an era when business is increasingly expected to step up and help solve society’s ‘wicked problems’.

No-one’s going to solve those problems with the inch-wide, mile deep perspective of the functional expert, so stand tall and be proud to be a generalist.

Because the future belongs to you.

daddydWhatever you may lose, never lose your optimism. 

Much has happened since you were born my darling son.

Man living on Mars. Oceans now free of plastic waste. Racial and gender equality that seemed a pipe dream when I took this role. Many of these advances were made by businesses and business people. Hard to imagine growing up that we once looked on politicians to solve the issues of the world.

Whether its politicians or business people who’ve solved some of our most systemic ills, one thing I’ve learnt is that humanity needs leaders with imagination and with optimism.

Your mother, who I wish deeply each and every day, instilled a curiosity in you that has served you well. Never lose that desire to question. To go back to 1st Principles and understand why? Why? may be a small word but it has been at the heart of many of our greatest discoveries and our incredible leaps forward.

But “why?” is not enough.

You need to do more than understand. You need to actually do something with that knowledge. But do it with optimism. Don’t just create, but inspire. Don’t just solve for others, infuse them with hope and optimism. Optimism is the warmth that fills a weary heart. Optimism is the hand that lightens the burden of the downtrodden. Optimism is the light we all seek in the dark.

When I was a young man, an optimistic leader once said this to his country:

“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.”

You will face many challenges in the years ahead. You will not always win.

But whatever you may lose, never lose your optimism.

That is what separates true leaders from the mediocre one’s. And you are far from mediocre, my darling son.

Time is all you really havedaddaughter

Time is going to drive some tough life choices. You’ll have to learn to balance genuinely rewarding time spent against time wasted buttressing ego and self-esteem. Avoid time-vampirizing behaviors that are ultimately not in your best interests. The sooner you learn this, the better.

Learning this, you’re going to encounter two kinds of people inhabiting the ecosystem in which you seek to play (however it’s sliced and diced – and we’ll come to that in a moment).

You’ll meet those who say, and those who do. Spotting the difference is essential to understanding human nature. And while building eminence and dare I say “personal branding” is important: Become not desperately distracted in seeking the oxygen of attention.

Be a doer, not a sayer.

With ever increasing ease of access, it will unfold around you: personal brand builders with the same search engines as everybody else. They’ll form and join clubs. Achieve the giddy heights of important-sounding voluntary board positions. Sayers dive deep, debating to the death then decoding and defining the minutiae of “best practices” and the essential esoterica of the doers’ capability set. Sayers seek to mark lines around disciplines. Sayers unearth things first discovered and since internalized by doers, polishing and repackaging them as distinctive points of view to present at conferences and breakfast briefings.

Ignore turf-protecting boundaries between disciplines—because when you fly above the sayer landscape, you’ll notice something. There aren’t actually any lines down there. You’ll be a designer. A connector. You’ll think adjacently. Your reputation will spread—with those who matter. As a doer, what will you earn instead? Meaningful work at the Big People Table.

Despite this, yes, you’ll probably feel the sting when sayers win trinkets.

Don’t sweat it.


Q2: But enough of our reflections. What would be your one piece of advice to your child, or the younger you?

Let’s face it folks, employee engagement has had its day


MMMA few years ago I contributed a chapter called Marketing and the Internal Market to Professor Phillip J Kitchen’s book Marketing Metaphors and Metamorphosis in which a number of marcomms experts debated the use and abuse of the metaphor in internal and external stakeholder communication.

Given the fact that, despite years of “noise” and effort verging on overkill, employee opinion polls remain firmly in the “red” with regard to employee engagement which, of course, has a causal relationship with communication, perhaps the time has come to re-evaluate a concept that has constantly divided opinion and which runs many of the same risks associated with the mis-use of metaphors in everyday parlance.

“For many years, internal communication was seen as an off-shoot of marketing and largely reported to the marketing head. Recent evidence suggests that corporate communication and, rightly or wrongly, HR are starting to assume increasing responsibility for employee engagement (see Melcrum study in Brand Engagement).

This subtle power struggle is a sign that internal communication is gradually gaining improved status as the importance of employees as deliverers of the promises made by brands via marketing receives increasing recognition. It may also be a signal that the marketing function lacks the appetite and aptitude to influence the internal markets appropriately.

While there are clear similarities between the internal and external communication markets, especially in industries where the distinction between customers and staff is blurred, the internal market differs from the customer-facing market in a significant number of ways. This means that a blanket approach to communication based upon the use of marketing methodology is essentially a flawed model. Employees are more savvy, more informed and more innately cynical than customers. They literally know the product/service inside out and most importantly, understand the means of production. They also have a feel for the core values and motives of the business owners and managers. They demand greater authenticity in internal communication which has implications for the way metaphors can and should be used.”

The core thesis was that the process of employee engagement differs from customer engagement yet essentially there needs to be greater authenticity and audience focus, especially with regard to internal comms.

Yet it strikes me that this lesson hasn’t been learned as bluster, commoditisation or creation of “engagement products” exaggeration and spin continues to undermine talk about systems-based engagement, amplified by the proliferation of social media where it is hard to differentiate between enthusiastic opinion based on scant knowledge and well-honed and grounded experience.

Hardly a day passes without hearing about fresh attempts to:

– define the term

– create a business case for it

– lambast leaders for ignoring it

– deplore the lamentable statistics associated with it

– badge initiatives like internal marketing, training, brochure design, app design and events etc as “silver bullet” engagement solutions.

The problem is that, even the few who appreciate that employee engagement is just a cog in the wheel of a comprehensive, systems-based organisation development solution to a compelling business need, namely to tap into the full range of latent employee potential, are fast becoming sick and tired of the term.

Let’s face it folks, the employee engagement “drive” coinciding with the global economic downturn, has amounted to little more than a cathartic filibuster. The volume of noise it has attracted/generated has only caused the community leaders most in need of support to withdraw and retrench and this is reflected in the global employee engagement matrices, as well as the proliferation of culture-induced brand implosions which have typified the period in question.

Just as the use of metaphor can be a powerful tool in marketing but detracts from the core message if over used and abused, the very term engagement has sadly become a lazy shorthand for employee satisfaction or wellbeing. It is too readily dismissed as a “nice to have” by cynical senior leaders who have too many conflicting, often short-term priorities to pay it much heed, especially given that the employment market is still buyer loaded. And despite the talk of Edleman and co creating engagement indices as well, I do fear that the term, riddled with mis-use and miscomprehension has had its day because it lacks credibility with the outcomes focused people who matter. The need for employee engagement should be a given, but ironically the terms itself and the circus of single solution practitioners may well have had its day.