Out of the Wreckage

Integrated: Out of the WreckageThe new year opened amid a global economic crisis that reached beyond national borders and across industries. In 2008, businesses and individuals saw the stock market shed a third of its value, unemployment rates grow to a size unseen in decades, and financing freeze as foreclosure rates soared.

Fear reigned. If you hadn't lost your job yet, you thought the end might be coming soon. And the worry was justified; many companies have taken the opportunity to clean house, making necessary (or, some may say, extreme) cutbacks to appease shareholders during a time when such actions would go unchallenged.

Now that the warmth of spring nears, we can hope that all the downsizing is over. If you're reading this article sitting in a bank of cubicles and in sight of a few familiar faces, you, my friend, are a survivor. What are you and your other shell-shocked colleagues to do? You know there is still lots of work to be done and fewer people to do it. So, you may ask yourself, where do we begin?

Now is the time to regroup and look to your own brand for guidance. Brand is shorthand for the experience of customers, employees and other stakeholders. Both a promise made and an expectation fulfilled, a brand allows the establishment of long-term relationships. Strong brands stand above the competition - in any economy - by continuing to deliver on their brand promise. According to Forrester Research, this economic downturn offers companies with strong brands a real opportunity to consolidate their customer base by recognizing their loyalty, and encouraging these customers to share their experiences with others.

To effectively reach these customers, it is crucial that all employees perform with the same brand understanding and commitment to achieving the same goals. This is both a challenge and an opportunity in an economic downturn. Employees fear change at any time, but their fears become more pronounced during times like these. Grappling with the fear of change, employees feel helpless and lose their senses of security and belonging. This helplessness manifests itself as lowered morale, lessened commitment and increased anxiety in the workplace.

Even though employees fear change, after the dust settles, they are open to, and look for, something to believe in. Employee brand engagement, when well executed, creates intellectual connection and emotional commitment between employees and their brand. It motivates and directs behavior change so that employees' words and actions align to the brand. This delivers a culture where all employees truly have something to believe in, and can commit themselves to ensuring consistent delivery of the brand to customers.

Any engagement program needs to be open and honest. Employees will proceed into this warily, but open; they long for truth. Any information shared must acknowledge challenges and market forces. To make the program real and actionable, it needs to provide employees with tools and insight that allow them to support company goals.
In times of change like these, employee-brand-engagement programs become even more necessary because they can temper employees' fears and answer the needs of both employees and the business. These efforts not only increase employees' awareness of customers' needs and their role in fulfilling those needs, but also link to improved business performance and productivity, especially when employees understand how the brand connects to the business strategy. These efforts also work to raise employee morale and commitment, which may be the most significant benefit in 2009. In these changing times, motivating all the survivors through employee brand engagement is an essential investment.

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