By Brenda Heerdt
December 18, 2008
Ten years ago, our firm put together a written document that includes five core values - the guiding principles that define who we are and how we make decisions. Over the years, we have come to realize the positive impact of effectively communicating these values internally. Implementing policies, practices, and decision-making processes around these core values has made a major impact on our culture, human resources practices, and basic business decisions that are positively affecting our bottom line. HR professionals call this internal identity the employee brand.
An employee brand is the heart of your company. If cultivated from the beginning, a well-defined and communicated employee brand will help your business grow and thrive. This is true of every company, from service providers to manufacturers. A neglected heart will weaken, become inefficient, and ultimately cease. So it is with a company that ignores, or pays lip-service to, those elements that uniquely identify its internal makeup. Your employee brand directly corresponds to how well you conduct business.
In my experience, the strongest indicator of a well-cultivated employee brand is the level at which your employees are committed to your success. Employee engagement and commitment are the hallmarks of a well-defined brand and a sign of good things to come. It is our job as HR professionals to identify our employee brand and promote it throughout our business.
This promotion should be both conceptual and sensible to ensure the brand is easily understood and practically implemented. It must be more than a well-crafted mission statement or list of core values hanging on a placard in the break room. The brand must be lived, because it is not the values alone that make the difference, but how they are demonstrated.
A practical example will serve us well: a key element in my firm’s internal makeup is a commitment to help others succeed. Conceptually, that’s a no-brainer - when others do well, business thrives and everybody wins. However, it can prove difficult to put into practice. One individual’s advancement cannot come at the expense of another. Put downs and one-upmanship cannot be tolerated. To live this core value, we reinforce a flat organizational structure, along with policies and practices that support all, not a select few.
As you examine how your company operates, think of both large initiatives and small practices. If one aspect of your employee brand is that all staff support each other for the company’s good, be on the lookout for anything that may reinforce a we/they atmosphere. For example, if management serves pancakes at a staff appreciation breakfast, the message might be that management is on a separate team. This message, though unintentional, can build a barrier between employees.
Another common barrier in many companies is the fear of failure. Is it safe to admit to a mistake at your company? It should be. Living the core value of helping each other succeed can mean the difference between learning from our mistakes, or hiding them out of fear and being virtually assured of repeating them. If employees are hesitant to admit their mistakes, they may become disengaged, non-committal and unproductive.
In business, identify what is most important, and then be sure your internal practices mirror these values. In this way, the policies derived from your core values will help your employees live them daily. Companies with an engaged and committed workforce are among the best and brightest, and continue to grow and thrive.
Brenda Heerdt is the human resources director and an associate at Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber, Inc. (FTC&H), a full-service architectural/engineering, civil engineering, environmental, and construction services consulting firm headquartered in Grand Rapids. FTC&H was West Michigan’s 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For elite winner in the category of Employee Engagement and Commitment category. Creating and maintaining an inclusive, healthy and supportive work environment is Heerdt’s passion. She can be reached at [email protected].