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……..


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.

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?

15 Shades of Internal Communications


BCsiteacket.aspProud to see that Simply Communicate’s Gloria Lombardi chose Brand Champions as one of their 15 internal communication must reads, alongside the likes of Seth Godin. An eclectic list appreciative of the reality that internal communication doesn’t sit alone in the corporate radio station but at its best is part of an integrated system including hr, brand, marketing, leadership and culture.

We encourage you to take a long look at the list on the site but here are the kind words she had for Ian’s second book:

Brand Champions. How Superheroes Bring Brands to Life, by Ian. P. Buckingham

If you were looking for a book describing the role of brand as a powerful and unifying route to sustainable employee engagement, you may want to read Brand Champions. How Superheroes Bring Brands to Life by Ian. P. Buckingham.

In his work, the author shows the link between employee and brand engagement, making a compelling case for branding as something that belongs to each employee of the organisation.

According to Buckingham, at it’s core, engagement is based on reciprocity and the exchange of things with others for mutual benefits. It implies a state where the company and its employees exist in a condition of mutual understanding.

In this context, the employer strives to create a work environment that is satisfying and rewarding for its employees, while stimulating their emotions and desire to address their higher-order needs. “The employer literally invites them to bring themselves to work and become similarly invested (engaged) in the long-term success of their organisation or brand.”

A point stressed by the author is that employees’ engagement with the brand is discretionary, which means it cannot be forced or faked. Engaged employees are usually self-electing rather than made that way by corporate programs. That is why two-way communication needs to be “expanded dramatically.”

This requires allowing employees the opportunity to explore assertions made about the brand for themselves and two-way channels to exchange feed-back. The more empowered and involved they feel, the more likely they are to generate on-brand and on-strategy initiatives through their own power and efforts.

The author writes about a joined-up approach to engagement which takes into consideration the outsider world, such as communities, customers and corporate partners. With the increasing use of digital communications and the power, reach, unpredictability and response time of social media, it’s no longer possible to control stakeholder perceptions with silos-specific communications. Boundaries are blurring. “It’s disingenuous, counterproductive and confusing to pretend that the brand the world outside engages with is or should be any different from the brand “presented” to employees.”

This requires trust and transparency inside the business. “Trust is fundamental to sustainable employee engagement and brands can’t be sustained without engaged employees. There is a lot of noise surrounding the Edelman Trust Barometer for a reason.”

Leaders – embrace social media, but remember that Facebook will never replace real face time


leaderI was reminded of the Facebook vs face time  phrase, which I coined over five years ago, while reading a recent McKinsey&Company article offering insights into how leaders can leverage six social media dimensions for employee engagement.

So-called social media, a much abused misnomer for the relatively new technological, almost virtual, communication gathering points fed largely by constantly evolving gadgets, is literally fantastic. What had latterly been the stuff of fantasy has led to cultural and business revolutions; has liberated many-a-Dilbert from their cubicle and has clearly added a whole new dimension to communication.

I’ve long been a fan of many of the fresh communication channels to have emerged in the last decade or so. But having spent most of my career working with leadership teams in one shape or another, usually trying to help them become more effective, I remain sceptical of the too persistent claims that electronic channels are, or will ever be, communication nirvana. Why? Well, let’s face it, similar claims have been made since man first used electricity to generate messages yet it’s hard enough getting many leaders to talk the talk let alone walk it as their people need them to.

The six social media dimensions and skills outlined by McKinsey’s Deiser and Newton, which they claim every leader now needs, are:

1.     Producer

2.     Distributor

3.     Recipient

4.     Adviser

5.     Architect

6.     Analyst.

I’m not so sure I buy into that list as with all due respect to the authors of the report, in reality, most organisations will do well if, when it comes to any media for that matter, their leaders manage to be:

o       consumers

o       listeners and

o       possibly originators.

The rest of the list, in my view, is the specialist domain of a professional communications function, as this excerpt from a job description for a comms manager at Tesco illustrates:

• Colleagues hear from us first about what’s happening in the business and my stakeholders recognise the impact of the work I deliver
• The narrative I deliver links back to the core purpose and uses it as a central thread to embed a new culture/way of working
• All communication is joined-up, produced to a high standard, is simple, open and honest and sent out in a timely manner
• I explore new ways of communicating to our colleagues, utilising new technology
• I speak to colleagues and get their feedback on the effectiveness and impact of our communication and the channels we use
• I have evaluated the activity and produced positive results
• I build and maintain positive relationships across teams
• Suppliers are proactively managed and reviewed.

But that doesn’t imply that all communication matters are the sole domain of a specialist function, far from it.

Around ten years ago, I was a director of probably the leading internal communications and change consultancy at that time, certainly in the UK. We ran countless diagnostics for clients across sectors and invariably the most persistent criticisms levelled at leaders were:

o       failure to provide opportunities for feedback, involvement and dialogue

o       not listening and acting on feedback received

o       a reluctance to communicate, especially when times were tough

o       not leading by example or walking the talk

I’ve seen nothing since to convince me that those criticisms aren’t still valid today given the state of employee engagement generally or that new media platforms have made much difference as, whatever the delivery mechanism, the old adage of “sh*t in, sh*t out still applies.

No communication strategy, however funky the channels therein, exists in a vacuum. Corporate culture, or the way we do things round here, is inevitably the key component and leadership behaviour has a huge influence on corporate culture.

In short, the issue with leadership communication isn’t channel-specific, it’s mostly about behaviour. And addressing behaviour is way beyond the pay grade of the comms professionals alone, is clearly the domain of the OD, change and leadership development specialists and is the responsibility of the leaders themselves.

In order to ensure that the leadership communication system is operating effectively, leadership teams need first to be able to answer at least the following fundamental questions:

1.     Why are we here, what’s our primary purpose and have we communicated this?

2.     How will we operate and what are our key leadership processes, including the way we communicate?

3.     What are the foundations of leadership, our behaviour as a group, our leadership style?

4.     How do we interact as a leadership team?

5.     How do the individual members behave with key stakeholders, including employees

Speaking as someone who works across sectors, it’s surprising how seldom leadership teams can tick all of those boxes. There’s little point, in my view, bolting on channels, whether new media or old school like Team Briefing, video cascades; town halls or even emails, until the leadership team has addressed these fundamentals. Why? Because of the importance of the term “social” and the behaviour implied.

All communication is essentially social in that it should take at least two and is about information received, understood and acted upon more than information pushed. To be truly effective, it requires a relationship of sorts to exists between initiator and receiver. And the effectiveness of that relationship is mostly determined by behaviour not volume or content.

Much of the effectiveness of communication is dependent on the state of trust that exists between the parties, reciprocal belief in each other and the level of authenticity implied (being what you say). It requires transformational elements (showing that you know the person and care about them) as well as transactional components (being clear about what you want from them). Fail to get the balance right and the initiator becomes just another spammer, cold caller or online pest.

New media may well provide fresh opportunities for obtaining, conveying and sharing information communally. But without the application of basic social skills, the damage it can do can outweighs the problems it solves. And for leaders, this is an especially tricky dilemma, particularly during a downturn when people need the additional reassurance that can only come from pressing flesh and seeing confident smiles.

Most employees welcome fresh channels and involving ways to express themselves. But I can’t think of a single comms audit in which people prioritised electronic media over and above more effective face to face. Take this HBR article, for instance, which points out that despite the rise in the influence of “the machines”, “the face-to-face conference business is robust, we’re flying more miles than ever to interact with others, the brightest minds still converge on innovation hubs like Silicon Valley, and collaborative spaces in firms are increasingly popular”.

As I illustrate in Brand Engagement, while I was working with UK super technology, semi-conductor giant Arm Holdings it soon became clear that engagement is “all talk there”. Their boffins and geeks hardly ever use internal social media – most of their communal communication being face to face. Sure they have all so-called social media bases covered externally and use Twitter in particular to engage with external stakeholders. But the point is, they still believe that sociable face to face, wherever possible, should come first. Their directors clock up masses of air miles ensuring that they visit their global offices regularly and they genuinely pride themselves on their huddle meetings and open door policy. Arm is a business based largely on innovations resulting from what futurist Richard Watson calls “serendipitous encounters” during both large scale and micro meetings that are much more dynamic than Wikis or online forums..

Having said that, we live in an age of exciting innovation, especially with regard to electronic communication. What business wouldn’t want to expand their communications repertoire? And we all have a unique opportunity to “play” with new platforms and potentially bend them to our needs. As with many things in life, however, the answer to how to integrate electronic social media into the leadership practices of any business doesn’t lie at the extremes but in the blend. Success clearly lies in appreciating the technology for what it is and merging  it with all-important, multi-sensory, face to face and cheek by jowl, congregating, gathering in person, pressing flesh, eyeballing and communing with colleagues. New platforms and channels certainly aren’t a substitute for getting the classic basics right. And there’s no more important time to promote this blended approach than during times of attrition when communities need leaders and the reassurance of inspiring, warm words as well as a confidence boosting arm around the shoulder which costs nothing but potentially means everything.     


Stocking fillers and corporate thrillers – best business books



We’ve been very flattered to feature on a number of “must read” lists down the years. Here’s what that cosmopolitan bunch at design and infographic champions Shift Business are recommending as stocking fillers for the discerning business book buyer. Pleased to see Ian’s Brand Champions in such exalted company……

Looking  for inspiration in your business? Want to try something new and innovate? In this day and age, there are a million and one blogs out there that will give you some great pointers. But sometimes you need something a little bit more in-depth to really get your creative juices flowing. Immersing yourself in a longer-form book can be an ideal solution.

So why not put down your summer blockbuster and instead pick up a business book to help you get a fresh perspective. There’s plenty of books out there to choose from.

Here’s five of our best reads and some detail about how they might be able to help and inspire you:

1. Web Analytics 2.0 by Avinash Kaushik

A company website is vital for any small business out there these days. Who better to learn from here than Google’s own digital marketing evangelist, Avinash Kaushik. In this great book, Kaushik shows you how to use the copious amounts of online data out there and understand more complex strategies such as online analytics and the eight critical web metrics that will help you succeed. This is a book for anyone that wants to measure the effectiveness of their website.

2. The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick

Facebook is everywhere these days! And increasing numbers of companies use the social networking site to connect with customers and prospects. But how did Facebook get to where it is today? What are its secrets of business success? This book will tell you more about how founder Mark Zuckerberg took his company from just two employees to 3,976. Get ready to be inspired!

3. Brand Champions by Ian P. BuckinghamBCsiteacket.asp

Does branding matter? According to Ian Buckingham it really does. He also thinks the secret to success lies with your employees. If employees don’t embody a brand, then how can a company keep its brand promise to its customers. Your employees are your brand custodians and this book will help you turn them into the beating pulse of your company.

4. Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach

Content is king right? If you still need to be convinced then this is the book for you. It will help you put together a content strategy and explain why it is important for your business. You’ll find out why messaging is worth paying attention to and how to write blogs that resonate. So get reading (and writing!)

5. Good to Great by Jim Collins

This book is about being the best in the world and not just sticking to the average. If that sounds like something you would like for your business, then pick up this book. Filled with inspiring tips and tricks, it is a step-to-step guide on the important things to focus on in business and how to make positive changes.