The success of a community programme for your employees probably has more to do with branding than you first think. How can you activate purpose in employees and keep them engaged with your community programmes over the long term? Importantly, how can you create internal visibility about your programmes that withstands company change, especially in an uncertain post-Brexit world? Using examples from GSK and Patagonia we consider how their use of bold internal branding has allowed them to lead the way to creating employee programmes with that all-important ‘stickiness’ for the long term.
Corporate responsibility teams are moving away from employee engagement, which translates to a day here and there spent volunteering in the community. Instead they’re looking to make sustainable behaviour an integral part of internal culture and daily behaviour. Some might argue your internal stakeholders are the most important to engage, as they can become advocates for your impact in local communities. Unless you gather internal support from senior level management, you risk running an employee programme prone to uncertainty during changes in leadership. From looking at successful employee programmes, it seems a strong identity and brand is key to withstanding company change and drawing on the hearts of employees for multiple activities and causes.
Last weekend saw the culmination of GSK’s annual ‘Orange Week,’ an effort to unite the company’s global workforce of 100,000 employees towards supporting charitable causes. In 2013, GSK and Save the Children launched a five-year partnership to raise $1 million a year from their employees, to be matched by GSK. The Global Brand team got to work creating an internal campaign they’re calling ‘Orange United,’ to excite and inspire their people to get together around the cause. Taking a quick look at all the activities employees got involved with last week from baking to running, the distinctive Orange brand seems to have become a mark of identity and pride for employees worldwide. The reports show 1 in 3 employees are aware of the partnership, 30 markets have participated, and 98% of GSK colleagues surveyed said the partnership with Save the Children makes them feel proud to work for GSK. The company has also branded the one day each year employees have to volunteer as ‘Orange Day.’ On this day employees can choose a local community programme that matters to them.
Meanwhile, Patagonia stands out for its bold public statements on sustainability, but also internally it’s creating a movement around employee activism. Patagonia has found that encouraging its people to be activists in the community generates excitement among employees around having their voices heard and supported. The term ‘employee activism’ grew from the company’s support of environmental activists back in its early days. Although activism is a strong word, you can imagine this brand would grab some attention at meetings. Think about the day of a non-desk-based employee, someone many corporations are trying to engage on something they call ‘corporate responsibility.’ I’m a member of the much-discussed millennial generation, who are supposed to care more than any other generation about the responsibility of our employers. Being told I could be an activist in my job brings much more than curiosity but also a wider meaning about what my work could mean to me.
Whilst Patagonia and GSK have approached employee engagement from different angles, both have succeeded in creating a winning internal brand. Often the argument is that corporations such as Patagonia have grown from the roots of social purpose and so would find it easier to make the association in the minds of their employees. Whilst ‘employee activism’ may not fit all corporations, GSK has shown how successful a global corporation can be in channelling a bold brand for good across its organisation. The internal branding of employee programmes offers some inspiration for taking employee engagement to the next level and bridging that move to a cultural shift in values. A brand is a reflection of your values, and sustainability ultimately requires a shift in values for some corporations and their employees. An internal brand for your employee programmes should sit across your organisation, so that even when we experience change, the consistent message is there. At a moment in time when we’re all experiencing uncertainty amidst the Brexit, maybe a clear message with strong community values is exactly what your employees need to feel united.