One of the most fascinating podcasts I listen to is NPR’s How I Built This. The people behind some of the world’s best known brands give an insider’s view of the process of moving from idea to ignition.
In every case, there is not a clear path to success. John Mackey from Whole Foods endured a devastating loss when a flood demolished his store (he had no insurance). Blake Mycoskie, one of the pioneers of social entrepreneurship, received more orders for TOMS shoes than he had inventory. He hired a team of interns to personally contact every customer to let them know there would be an 8-week delay. They only lost one sale.
If you’re not telling your company’s origin story, you’re missing and opportunity to inform, inspire and involve customers and employees.
Stories create memorable bonds. It doesn’t need to be a rags-to-riches chronicle to captivate. Sometimes a failure story teaches a greater lesson. A well-crafted origin story becomes a shared experience, a powerful way to connect your most important stakeholders to your brand. For employees, origin stories help to build appreciation for the past while ensuring their contributions are part of the ongoing narrative.
Here’s how to get started:
Connect visually. Your origin story is your business family tree. Share photos, documents, company meeting videos and artifacts.
Align with the business core values. Show how the values that grew the business are still relevant today. While businesses always evolve, the things that were important then are still important now.
Keep it interesting. Every great business story starts with an inspiring journey and experiences challenges along the way. Don’t just provide a timeline of dates.
Solicit stories. Ask your employees to share stories from their first days with the business. Who inspired them? What was the weirdest tradition?
Tell the truth. Be authentic and don’t embellish the facts. That’s a fast lane to losing credibility. If the founder was a grumpy old so-and-so, say that. It adds more personality to the story.
Erin Andrews’ civil suit against the owner and former operator of the Nashville Marriott at Vanderbilt, and the resulting award of $55 million, should set off alarm bells for every business. In raw, gut wrenching testimony, Andrews recounted the emotional impact of being videotaped in her hotel room by a stalker. While the verdict assigned 51% of the penalty on her stalker, the hotel was found to be at fault and liable for 49% of the amount.
The verdict may be reduced or overturned on appeal, but the reputation damage is done. Guests don’t make the distinction between a company-owned or franchised business. They know the brand. In this case, they know that Andrews’ privacy, safety and security was violated at a Marriott hotel.
The individual who videotaped Andrews has already been convicted. The heart of this case was Andrews’ contention that hotel personnel gave out her room number to the stalker and did not tell her that he had asked to be put in a room next to hers.
That sounds like a training issue.
Well trained hotel personnel know to never say a guest’s room number out loud. They do not honor requests for rooms adjacent to members outside their travel party. Was the hotel employee who provided information to the stalker trained? We’ll never know. But the monetary penalty for the error is evident and the impact to the brand’s reputation is evolving.
Employee training in any business is an investment, not an expense. When employees are well trained, they perform with skill and confidence. They treat customers well and create an experience that builds brand love. Productivity and efficiency improve and turnover declines. Sure, training requires time away from operations, but that’s time well spent when employees understand their role. Knowing what not to do is as important as knowing what to do.
Companies that support employee training and development make an investment in business success.
“Please take some time to familiarize yourself with the contents and policies of our Employee Handbook and feel free to contact your HR representative if you have any questions.”
Does that sound familiar? Probably not, because in all honesty, who actually reads through their entire Employee Handbook?
Most of the time your Employee Handbook is distributed, put in a drawer and then thrown away when the next handbook is distributed. They are often an afterthought to both employees and employers that are only brought out in when someone wants to check company policies.
I recently read an article about one such extreme situation. The company, Quicken Loans, was summoned to the National Labor Relations Board offices this past December. The case against them alleged that the Detroit-based company had violated the First Amendment rights of employees and their protections under the National Labor Relations Act to discuss salary and benefits information. The allegation claimed that company policies in their Employee Handbook restricted discussions to the formation of a labor union.
Whether or not Quicken Loans is found in violation, this is a perfect case of why it is important to know what is in your Employee Handbook and why companies need to periodically update and revise it. Attorney Daniel Schudroff made a great comparison when he said “It’s like taking your car to the shop every six months for a checkup, the preventative maintenance could save an employer a costly event.”
Want to learn something during your internship? Add one employee handbook, five blog posts, one print check, two client meetings, and the launch of a start-up. That should do the trick.
Throughout my seven week internship with Insight Strategic Communications I had the opportunity to work on projects that ultimately gave me a better understanding of brands, employee ownership, and proofing with the audience in mind.
The word “brand” was not new to my vocabulary; however, throughout the course of my internship, I gained a better understanding of the definition. I had never realized how many factors went into creating and maintaining a brand and how many different types of rules and standards must be considered when developing products—things such as font, color, positioning, and tone. As a communications consulting firm, we have to be aware of a client’s brand as we write, proof, and create content for them.
I spent a bulk of my time writing and proofing content and materials for our new company Nest Egg Communications—a communications agency that provides communications toolkits for employee owned companies. At the start of my internship I had no idea what an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) was, let alone what it meant in terms of business. I now know that ESOPs give employees a way to share in the wealth they create, no matter what job they hold.
I had the opportunity to refine and practice my writing and proofing skills while also learning to consider the audience and how the message might be perceived. Before I started reading something I would ask “who is the audience?” This was new for me, I had always edited content by determining if it was perceived well by me; but, what I gained from my experience is that the writing is ineffective if the intended audience can’t understand the message.
With this internship being my first real-world job, I was both nervous and excited; I was eager to learn but also afraid I didn’t know enough going in. However, through lots of questions and experiences I now know that not only can I meet expectations and do the work, but with some more practice I can thrive in the communications field and create great work.
Chances are that if you are reading this blog, you’ve probably already investigated how to engage millenials in the workplace. When we think about engaging millenials, we usually illicit mental images of young folks looking bored or struggling in a corporate conference room. What we definitely don’t think of is football players. In this case, we’ll look at the San Francisco 49ers, the franchise who is making a huge commitment toward its most important personnel, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Not only is the NFL big business, but there might not be another industry that’s more dependent on millenials to drive the success of the company. The playing staffs of NFL team are comprised almost solely by millenials — broadly defined as those aged 18-34. The Smart Phone Age.
What’s eye-catching here aren’t just the techniques the 49ers are using to accommodate this new generation of players, but the open-mindedness and courage the front office and coaching staff has in breaking down historically successful protocols in its business. After all, the 49ers are one of the winningest teams in the NFL, colleting five Super Bowl titles from 1981 to 1994. Regardless, Head Coach Jim Tomsula has changed the team’s meeting schedules to adapt to millenial’s shorter attention spans and propensities to multi-task.
“The [experts] are telling me about attention spans and optimal learning,” Tomulsa told the WSJ. “I’m thinking, ‘My gosh, we sit in two-hour meetings. You are telling me after 27 minutes no one’s getting anything?’ ”
But as opposed to some business leaders, inside the NFL and out, the 49ers felt it was prudent for their coaching and support staff to adapt to the player’s habits, not the other way around. In this effort, they’ve stopped handing out paper schedules, and now all meetings are sent straight to a player’s online calendar. Instead of the old two-hour meetings, they’re now segmented into 30-minute blocks, with 10 minutes in between for free time.
Some business leaders feel it’s important for millenials to adapt to the working environment of their generation, one that didn’t grow up with smartphones and advanced computing. But at what cost? The goal of any business leader should be to create a working environment in which employees can produce to their maximum potential. And not only that, but great leaders understand that the most important employees to cater to aren’t the ones with corner offices — they’re the ones who are on the front line of the business. Sadly, it’s these employees who are often the lowest paid, and thus the most neglected.
Everyone from psychologists to elementary school teachers can tell you that the impact technology has made on the human race is real. It’s not a far-flung theory, and it’s not a simple case of young people being lazy. Not only are attention spans getting shorter, but higher rates of ambidexterity are occurring, which is thought to be caused by children now typing, texting, and playing games with both hands on touch screens.
“Our whole lives, we’ve gone with a paper and pad,” Tomsula said in the WSJ. “Next week, a young person’s phone will be outdated. We decided we have to be on top of that.”