Do people buy from companies, or do they buy from people? – A question that is as old as the concept of branding itself. Case studies of the most successful brands and businesses products point to the efficacy of the latter – and the case winning argument is the revolution in sales figures and brand image of Avis car rental, as they held on to their iconic tagline for five decades – "We Try Harder". It humanised the company, and rather than singing praises about their product – which most advertising campaigns focus on – this lone soldier chose to tell the story behind how the product was made. How there were actual people who care about giving you something superior.
As a founder or an executive, know there is no reason why this approach will not work to hit a homerun with your internal audience – that is, your employee force. Following some basic, cardinal principles of human resources, you can ensure that your employee doesn’t simply feel like a cog in your machine, but like a member of a family. So, how to make your brand love your employees like a human?
Big corporations may as well have been the inventors of this attitude, but with the hoopla surrounding startups, many startup employers fall into this trap as well – let’s call it the ‘Hierarchy Heist’. Treating your employees as if you are doing them a favour by giving them the ‘opportunity to work with you’, considering them replaceable and deeming their contribution unimportant. The above is exceptionally toxic for startups. “When you start building a startup on campus, while you’re still in college, you’d tend to discuss your ideas with like-minded peers, and subsequently, end up asking a lot of peers to come on board upon graduating. Understand this – they’re making a sacrifice,” says Chris Smith of The Campfire Effect, at IIT-B’s E-Summit, of startup stories typical to India. "They could have joined the Googles and Microsofts and Facebook, but instead they chose to show faith and solidarity to your idea. This sacrifice is invaluable,” adds Chris. While you may not be able take cognizance of that in financial terms, start by knowing that you need them as much as they need you. Treat them as an equal rather than a subordinate, just like you did when you pulled entire presentations out of thin air to pass robotics together as a group, back in the day.
“In corporate America, we meet people who’d make the effort to do things that they think you’re interested in, only to later find out what you’re actually interested in,” says Chris.
Here’s the key – employee engagement doesn’t depend on one blanket rule, but rather, several individual rules that differ from person-to-person. If there was a blanket rule, it would be perhaps not to put all your employees in one single box depending on, say, their age, backgrounds, or education. You must take the effort to recognise their individuality. “Get to know your team members and their personal stories. It’s hard to build a team and loyalty without knowing them personally. Do you know their last names, whether they have pets or they’re married, what the names of their spouses are, what their hobbies are? An example would be The Anna Marie website – that has bios of every employee,” says Chris. Just taking note of these little details and following through – inviting them to a reggae concert or sending them a home a little early on their anniversary – will go a long way in making them feel that they are not just a faceless crowd, but someone you take note of. Furthermore, it will also make them more accountable – as they know that their existence is under the personal scrutiny of the guys on top. People will never love your brand more than you love them.
Studies have also shown that a happy employee, who feels more accountable, will deal with clients and customers better.
Do people want to feel busy, or fulfilled? It is true that people join startups to be able to take on multiple aspects of a business, rather than honing their skill in one single department. But this information is being used and abused rather liberally in the startup work dynamic. While your employees may enjoy being in the thick of things, they shouldn’t be opportunistically used as mere proxies to run the gauntlet between every short-staffed department or every unfilled portfolio. What you want them to be is not just busy, but fulfilled. Simply sitting down with them and asking them what areas they would like to explore outside their direct profile, should do it. Placing them in those departments will not only have extra work done at the hands of enthusiastic employees – but, you will also succeed in making it not feel like work, but education or training to them.
Before hiring a team, remind yourself not what your sales and marketing goals are, but what are your brand’s core values. What do you want to be known for? People often make the cardinal mistake of hiring people who are a technical fit, but not an ideological one. It doesn’t work if your values aren’t in sync. Somebody may share the same skill as your job description, but not the same vision and drive as you to see your company excel, and not the same passion for what your company is trying to be in the hearts of consumers. Filter by culture first, technical skills later.
Chris says it is all riding on the order of your priorities. “Switch from ‘do-to-have-to-be’ to ‘be-to-do-to-have’. Right now, what you do is hastily start doing what you want to do, then build on what you need to have to do it along the way, and become whatever the product of the two entails. From now on, remember –‘first, I must see what I want to be; secondly, I must do accordingly do; and finally, I must decide what I need to have to get there,’” he concludes.
Let this Valentine’s Day be the start of a steamy love affair between your company and your employees!