This is the fourth in a series of articles examining how business leaders and companies can transform their corporate culture in order to succeed in the midst of the impending Purpose Revolution. Find links to the full series below.
The good news for sustainable brands is that consumers want to buy from companies they can feel good about. Eighty percent of global consumers say they want to buy from “good” companies and 34 percent regularly reward companies they feel good about while ignoring and punishing those they feel are causing harm. But there is a large problem sustainable companies face as they try to win those customers that we explore in our new book The Purpose Revolution-How Leaders Create Engagement and Competitive Advantage in an Age of Social Good.
So, Who Do Consumers Believe?
How do we tell our story of good to consumers in a way that will help direct their choices towards our company and its vales? Well, it turns out we have a very believable asset: our employees. While consumers say they only believe about 16 percent of what companies tell them, those same consumers say they believe 52 percent of what an employee says about a company. A nice bow on that truth is that we are up to ten times more likely to share a social media feed about a company posted by a team member than by the company. So, if we really want to help consumers act on their desire to buy good, we need to focus on finding out whether our people are unconditional purpose ambassadors for our brand and get serious about having them telling the story.
Do Your People Believe your Story of Purpose?
Of course, if your employees are your most believable purpose ambassadors, the first question you need to get a handle on is whether your team members feel connected to your purpose. Does it resonate with them, does it feel real and authentic, is it alive in the organization in moments of truth?
Many companies don’t even have metrics to answer these questions. While surveys are one way to measure how alive your purpose is among your team members, focus groups are another path. Get real and ask team members if they understand your purpose, feel it is authentic and real, and if they feel they can challenge decisions that aren’t aligned with purpose. Do they feel 100 percent positive about promoting your vision to the outside world? If they don’t then the first place to start is to address the issues they raise.
When we interviewed Walter Robb, former Co-CEO of Whole Foods, he told us that “one of the ways team members decide if you are serious about your purpose is when you make a decision that isn’t in the short-term interest of the business but is aligned with your purpose.” One of those moments occurred at Whole Foods when they decided to stop selling non-sustainable seafood, a choice that impacted profitability but was a needed step up offering everything and letting customers decide based on labeling. “We got incredible positive uptake from our team members because they could see we were serious about our purpose,” Robb said. And when your people know you are living your values, it resonates through the entire team and they feel pride about the company.
Many companies are afraid to ask how their employees really feel about their company’s purpose and “story of good” but having the courage to ask and a willingness to hear team members speak up about what would make them better ambassadors is a great step.
Are You Enabling Your Employees to Tell Your Purpose Story?
Once you pass the first gate, you are on your way. Your purpose feels real and your people appear to believe in it. The next step is to enable employees to tell your story of good. Enabling means consistently helping your people to see the company’s purpose in action so they have what they need to share your story.
One of our favorite examples is a large bank client of ours that has a focus on social good and sustainability. They know that in a large organization that story can get diluted. So, they make a point to ask leaders at all levels to regularly share information on the bank’s social purpose and sustainability endeavors, and they created a dedicated pipeline to channel information to teams with the latest information including facts, figures and videos. At the same time, managers intentionally create space for purpose in team meetings so that staff can share how they live the bank’s values while serving clients.
One of the biggest mistakes we see companies make is that they build extensive campaigns to activate and communicate their purpose story to customers and the public, but are relatively weak on internal communication, putting forth little effort to tell the story of good within the company. All things being equal, given the believability gap between employee communication and corporate communication, we should reverse the tide and put the greater effort inwards to tell our story in an authentic way within the company and then empower our people to be our ambassadors to the world.
Are You Empowering Your People to Tell Your Story?
But if you really want to achieve excellence in making your team members into great purpose ambassadors, you need to take the final step of asking whether you are empowering your people to be ambassadors. Empowerment begins when you ask them to share your story. This can be done in person, on video or through social media. We are always amazed how many business owners and leaders don’t actively ask their people to be ambassadors for the brand’s purpose. Many team members may not know the critical role they play as the most believable asset. Share that fact with them, then invite them to tell their story.
Then make sure you get out of the way! Many companies are so obsessed with the brand and brand image that employees don’t feel empowered to tell their story in their own words. To truly let employees be our ambassadors, stop focusing on asking them to share company communication and empower them to tell the story in their own words and personal style.
A great example of authentic storytelling happened when John Chambers, Executive Chairman and former CEO of Cisco, used a portion of the marketing budget to buy high-end video cameras for any team members who would tell their story on YouTube and explain why they chose to work at Cisco. In other words, the company encouraged people to tell their story but they didn’t tell them how they had to do it. The result was hundreds of thousands of viewer hits on authentic videos of real team members telling the Cisco story. Hearing about the purpose of a company in the authentic voice of team members is far more powerful than the slickest video created by even the best ad agency. It doesn’t get much more believable than that!
Closing the Gap is Key
In our book The Purpose Revolution, we talk about the gap between the customer desire to buy good and the information they feel they have available to them. In the battle to demonstrate how good a company is, we frequently overlook, to our detriment, the critical role that employees play as Purpose Ambassadors. When we interviewed team members at 3M for our book, what struck us most was that we couldn’t find anyone who was not 100 percent positive about the company’s commitment to sustainability. So, ask yourself the three key questions:
- Do your people feel your purpose is real and lived?
- Are you enabling them to tell your story through constant authentic information about your story of good?
- Are you empowering them by asking them to share your purpose story and getting out of the way for them to tell it with their own style and voice?