With everything going on in our world – from a global pandemic to economic hardship to countless social justice and racial inequality issues, corporate brands might be tempting to adopt a “business as usual” approach and focus only on their products and services.
But you can’t. And here’s why.
Your business thrives on people. And your employees, customer, suppliers and partners are all people, being impacted at home by hardship or adversity. Whether they are juggling work demands with homeschooling their kids…or whether they are people of color who are fighting for their rights and their lives, they are all IN THIS. They are dealing with a lot.
Your brand cannot be tone deaf right now. Your company will simply look out of touch at best and callous and heartless at worst. (TWEET THIS!)
Younger consumers are even more critical. According to ongoing research from DoSomething.org, Gen Z is demanding that brands provide useful content, community resources, and treat their employees with respect:
“65% wants brands to ensure equal representation in their leadership, including having people of color on their executive team and promoting people of color to management. And 64% want brands to promote diversity in their advertising, like having more BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) models. The biggest takeaway from what Gen Z wants from brands right now is aligned with what they’ve always wanted: show, don’t tell. Yes, use your platform. But go further. Those who will win among Gen Z are those who back it up, do the work, and show us the money.”
So optics aside, what can your brand say and do right now to make things better? What real change can you make to not just talk the talk but walk the walk? How can you pivot your message, customer focus, or even hiring, sales strategy, product and service delivery to keep pace with what your audience wants but also to show your company is using it’s influence for good, rather than evil?
Show up. Don’t shrink. Not when your customers and society need you to lead.
Think you don’t have the power/budget/influence to make change happen on a large scale? Think again.
I absolutely devoured Chip and Dan Heath’s latest book, Switch. I was a huge fan of their book Made to Stick, which presented a framework for how to create messages that people remember, engage with and act upon. Switch kind of does the same thing for change: it provides a framework for how to make lasting changes in our companies, in our communities, and in our own lives. It is such a hopeful book if you have any cause, movement or even corporate change you are trying to influence – no matter how much power or budget you have.
The conflict, they claim, arises in the conflict between our analytical brain, AKA “The Rider” and our emotional brains, AKA ”The Elephant.” The book gives example after example of how “…everyday people—employees and managers, parents and nurses—have united both minds and, as a result, achieved dramatic results.”
From the book:: “If you want to change things, you’ve got to appeal to both. The Rider provides the planning and direction, and the Elephant provides the energy. So if you reach the Riders of your team but not the Elephants, team members will have understanding without motivation. If you reach their Elephants but not their Riders, they’ll have passion without direction. In both cases, the ﬂaws can be paralyzing. A reluctant Elephant and a wheel-spinning Rider can both ensure that nothing changes. But when Elephants and Riders move together, change can come easily.”
Direct the Rider
The Heaths talk about how your analytical brain needs to have clear, concise direction in order to move forward. Ambiguity is not the Rider’s friend and the more precise you can be, the better the Rider can get going. For example, they talk about how malnutrition was improved in a third world country by “finding the bright spots” – the places where things seem to be going right – and adopting one specific behavior across villages in the entire country.
You also need to “Script the Critical Moves” and “Point to the Destination". These are all appeals to our Riders.
Motivate the Elephant
This is something we try to do with clients. All the facts and figures may not be enough to convince someone to make a change. But if you also appeal to emotion and can bring the change to life for them, you can more easily ease resistance. Sometimes people need to see, feel, and touch something before they will buy into it. Sometimes they won’t like a particular product name we recommend until we can bring it to life in a logo concept, or show it emblazoned on a t-shirt.
One example from the book is about a mid-level manager who kept trying to convince higher-ups that the company was spending way too much through too many different suppliers and needed to cut costs. No one heeded his spreadsheets. So he tackled one specific problem (Directed the Rider): safety gloves. He had an intern collect gloves from all the different manufacturing departments and find out how much each had paid for them. He then labeled each pair with the price tag – and often found the exact same pair cost one department triple the cost because of lack of centralized purchasing power – and dumped them all on a conference room table. he invited management to a meeting and when they arrived, they were met with the sight of over forty pairs of gloves with varying price tags on them. It was emotional and powerful. And with that one action, he was able to move through the costs savings measures he had proposed..
The book talks about this step involving “Finding the feeling”, “Shrinking the Change” and Growing Your People.”
Shape the Path
The last step is to shape the path, or the environment, to make the change go down easier. This also involves making habits easier to adopt and using positive peer pressure as motivations. One book example talked about improving some horrendous customer service scores at a call center. The company decided to remove the automated voicemail pick-up system, which meant call center employees HAD to pick up the phones and help customers. Seems obvious, but it worked. By changing the environment, they enabled people to step up and make the change they needed and service scores improved. I loved that the book mentions this concept that we judge people and things by the environment they are in: “My employee is lazy because he won’t fill out his expense reports” or “Jane is rude to customers so she’s horrible with people.” But sometimes, when all you shift is the environment, things are not always what they seem and people seem to magically transform. It’s why we love shows like Supernanny and Dog Whisperer – because it seems like magic that they can instantly transform a “bad” dog or a “bad” child with just a shift in a few external elements.
The book breaks this down into “Tweak the Environment”, “Build Habits” and “Rally the Herd.”
If you sign up their website, you can have access to tons of free resources, including a great Switch one-pager that delves into each of the 3 steps of the framework mentioned above. I highly recommend this one, folks. It’s another awesome read.
Healing the Corporate World. Doesn’t that just sound inspiring? It sure did to me, when Maria Gamb and her book of the same name recently crossed my path. Maria reached out to me when she saw a promotion I ran for my book and we promptly connected over being first time authors – and sharing the same name.
So who is Maria Gamb? She’s a former Fortune 500 trailblazer who served for twenty-plus years as an executive in businesses valued at upwards of 100 million dollars. Today, she is founder, CEO, and “Chief Change Agent” of NMS Communications, where she helps executives and entrepreneurs alike lead profitable, innovative businesses A leadership expert, Maria Gamb, launched her first book this past October. Healing The Corporate World: How Value-Based Leadership Transforms Business From the Inside Out. It will soon be available in digital format.
Her passion is to help businesspeople transform themselves and find their happiness, success and fulfillment. Maria is a native New Yorker, animal lover, avid cook and total foodie (all of which we also have in common!)
RS: Welcome, Maria!Seems to be a huge trend of entrepreneurship going on in our world today. Why?
MG: I think there are several reasons why entrepreneurship is on the rise: One, job cuts and the lack of new work have fostered the opportunity for many to take action on the dreams they’ve long held close to their chest. Two, some are done with the frustrations of the corporate arena and believe they can do it better. So rather than complaining they are taking action. Three, there are those who realize that they want to be more in control of their financial stability since the existing establishments haven’t proven to be as secure as the past. And finally, four, they just have a great idea they know they want to get out into the world.
The reasons for entrepreneurship vary but the economic issues of the past few years have been a huge catalyst for sure.
RS: What do you see as the fundamental challenge with the way corporate America operates today?
MG: Fundamentally, one of the issues within corporations is that they are often times wrapped in fear. Fear is the easiest and most concise word to use. Fear of changing direction. Fear of expanding or moving into something new. Fear that they may fail. Fear of doing something beyond the status quo. These fears are magnified in their people and how they operate with one another every single day.
During President Obama’s State of Union address recently he spoke about the need for innovation and newness in business. That this, in fact, will bring about new jobs for American workers. It does take a measure of bravery by the organization, the leaders at the top, cooperation of middle management and the people within. Without a doubt, it’s a matter of saying “we’re all in this together” rather than “let me just think about me and what I have or want”.
This is only one of the major shifts that need to occur. Many reading this will say “OK, but that doesn’t work where I work. So I’m out of luck”. Well, this may be true in one regard – perhaps those around you are not willing to shift.
So I would respond by asking what that person is doing within their own sphere of influence to foster their team to work beyond their own fear and perceived limitations to become a positive utopia within what may be a less-than-ideal situation. You see, it all starts with one or two people making the decision to shift their own way of working, then others follow. That’s what creates a movement. My book Healing The Corporate World goes into this in greater detail and extends this invitation to the reader.
RS: I love the idea of focusing on your own “sphere of influence” rather than trying to boil the ocean; reminds me of the principles in Seth Godin’s book, Linchpin. So how do you define ‘leadership’? How do we know it when we see it?
MG: Plain and simply put, the correct definition of a “leader” is a person who is in service to others. Yes, service. Not a doormat. But in service to the people around them. How we know that this person is truly a leader is ask a few questions:
Do they care more about those they lead or themselves?
Are they committed to the enrichment and achievement of others?
Are they constantly seeking ways to grow, expand and create more opportunities for others? Which can mean jobs but may also mean advancement.
There are several other attributes of a powerful leader. But this is a good starting point. Remember, a great leader inspires, nurtures, provides vision and advancement to others. That’s what the “service” part of the definition truly means. When you have a person who can do these things, others follow them with enormous loyalty.
RS:What is your key piece of advice for developing our own leadership potential within ourselves?
MG: Being a leader is very much a journey of recognizing who you are, what motivates you and putting down your ego to allow others to shine. I offer these 3 points:
Be willing to put down your own “stuff” and “need to be right” all the time. It only shows your insecurity when you do.
Be willing to partner with others. Otherwise you’ll be a leader in isolation. And well, that’s not a leader at all it’s just someone talking to themselves.
Operate from a set of values that you hold dear. Then never compromise your actions. Those around you are always watching to see – do you mean what you say? Yes? Then take the actions that follow that no matter what. This builds trust.