Several years back I found myself standing in front of our team asking what company leadership thought were two simple questions – “what does our company do” and “what do we value?” If the fact that I had to ask those questions wasn’t bad enough, the silence and fumbling I received in response were terrifying. We’d been working together for two years, pushing week after week to meet deliverables, release products, and land clients, yet somehow our what and our why had fallen through the cracks in our keyboards. From the outside, we looked like a healthy, growing company, but there was a danger growing internally that threatened to destroy what we’d all worked so hard to build – one that I can now identify as tactical brand misalignment.
While there are other types of brand misalignment, tactical brand misalignment happens when there is a breakdown in your internal and external marketing/communications initiatives. Though the causes of this misalignment vary, they may be attributed to:
- Poor Onboarding: Employees aren’t given a clear picture of who the company is.
- Lack of Relevant/Timely Communication: Company goals shift and the staff isn’t kept up-to-date.
- High Turnover: People are unhappy in their role and leave the company shortly after joining.
- Inconsistent Marketing Messaging: The messaging on your external channels doesn’t line up with what the company says or how they execute things in the day-to-day.
- Inconsistent Marketing Focus: The company’s target market and/or offerings are constantly changing.
It can be an odd idea to some that marketing is both an internal and external company initiative, but with employees changing jobs at an ever-growing rate, “four times in their first decade out of college” according to the CNN Business article titled, The New Normal: 4 Job Changes By the Time You’re 32, it is more important than ever to focus on giving your employees the tools they need to internalize your company mission, identify with your values and processes, and visibly contribute to company success.
The tragic thing is that tactical brand misalignment is easily avoidable. By implementing a timely communications strategy that provides your employees with the right information at the right time, you empower them to reconnect to the mission over and over and work in-sync with leadership to meet your business goals. Consider a car engine, for example. You know that your car needs oil to lubricate the engine and make it operate effectively. If you miss an oil change, it might not seem like a big deal – your car’s performance might be marginally affected, but your vehicle still functions. Now, what happens if you never change your oil? The elasticity of the oil breaks down causing the engine to experience more friction, damaging it, and resulting in your car coming to a sputtering halt on the side of the freeway. If only you had changed the oil.
The same can be said of your team and their understanding of your company’s mission, vision, values, and initiatives. As companies grow these evolve quickly, but when our teams aren’t in-sync with those changes, processes begin to break down and teams start scrambling to hit the always elusive “moving target”. Change is never easy, but when it is not communicated or addressed, employees experience friction and they will always, eventually, break.
How do I know if this is happening at my company?
If it is, chances are you’ve already started seeing problems with your company performance. Once productive and passionate employees may have started under-delivering. Collaborative and creative employees are just going with the flow and not actively contributing to ideas anymore. Employees you just hired are already shopping their resumes in an attempt to stop their “emotional bleed.” As you evaluate the misalignment in your organization, it is critical to evaluate yourself as a leader and ask yourself some tough questions. Have you been prioritizing your efforts “on the business” and neglecting critical work that needs to be done “in the business”? The good news is, that once you identify the source of your misalignment, you can re-engage your team and create processes that promote more transparent communication in the future.
Yikes! How, how do I fix this?
- Start by owning the lapse in communication and make yourself available to field questions. Your employees will appreciate your transparency and your authenticity will build a stronger bond with them. (Remember the saying about people quitting people and not jobs?)
- Get your employees involved in the solution. Take time to understand their unique pain points and listen to their needs for the process.
- Implement a communication strategy for your specific problem. Maybe your onboarding process needs to be overhauled? Maybe you need to be more intentional about quarterly reviews, regular (structured) company meetings, or utilize a collaboration tool to keep your team in-the-know.
- Be consistent. A breakdown in consistent communication is what got you here in the first place. Make a schedule, stick to it, and show your employees you’re open to hearing their concerns.
- Periodically check in. Maintaining your alignment is an active exercise. Checking in with your team from time to time to answer questions, provide clarity, alter course will go a long way to preventing future misalignments.
As I look back now on that difficult conversation with my team, I’m filled with gratitude for the honest conversations and humility that went into identifying our misalignment. I consider the hard work and commitment it took for our leadership team to find and implement the right solutions, and the dedication it took to stick to them as we continued to scale. In the end, it was those characteristics that not only saved the company but allowed us to connect with customers and employees alike from a place of true authenticity.
So, what’s stopping you? Are you ready to stand bravely in front of your team and ask the same questions? If you have the courage, you will find your team ready to come alongside you to find a solution for themselves and for the company at large.