Stress – the office bug that undermines your brand culture.

I’m delighted to welcome regular contributions to this blog from Dr.Yolande Coombes, one of the very few Rapid Transformational Therapists in Africa and a trusted colleague at The Brand Inside.

I expect you’ve noticed the colds and stomach bugs that pass around your office, but something much more contagious and damaging to your business is being passed around; and it goes by the name of ‘stress’.

Stress shouldn’t be thought of lightly; it’s the common thread in a host of diseases from heart attacks, strokes and cancer to diabetes, hypertension and depression.  Stress can exacerbate just about any health condition you can think of.  That’s why stress is directly affecting the performance of your business.

A study of organisations listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange demonstrated a high correlation between stress and corporate performance.  We also know that EU countries lose Euros 136 billion annually from stress-related loss of productivity and sick leave. In the US this rises to between $200 and $300 billion annually when you include productivity loss, staff turnover and compensation claims.  Research also shows that stress in a business contributes to at least 60% of workplace accidents and 30% of worker mistakes.

So how do you know if the people around you are stressed?  Just look for irritability, lack of concentration, anger, poor self-esteem, depression and anxiety.   Low motivation, low job satisfaction and organisational commitment are all highly correlated with stress.  Employees under high levels of stress cost 40% more than the average worker, and stress may also contribute to increased instances of unethical behaviour, like lying to customers or taking shortcuts on work tasks. Continue reading

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No Trust in the Workplace

Some years ago, I traveled to Dubai on business, and visited our local Ad Agency offices. Like many commercial concerns in the Gulf, it was run by Lebanese and staffed with expatriates. From Australian creatives to Filipino computer operators; I doubt a single Arab worked there. But the MD’s office would have shamed a Bedouin chief for the lushness of its carpets and the spangle of its daggers and coffee pots. All it lacked was a hooded falcon.

The MD sat behind a large, gilded desk and expounded on the market and his client base. After a while I noticed he was illuminated from underneath, and enquired as to the reason for this effect. He beckoned me around the desk and gleefully showed me a bank of small TV screens, each one feeding live images of his employees at their various workstations. He could not trust his staff to be diligent, and this was the best way for him to influence their conduct. I took it as an aberrant attitude from an unreal world.

Fast forward to the present, when you may be surprised to hear that surveillance is becoming a feature of the East African workplace. Perhaps it always has been, with hidden overseers and peepholes, but now technology is making it pervasive. Here are two examples from conversations of the past week: Continue reading

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What’s in a name?

CEO behaviour directly impacts brand health. That’s why it’s prudent to prevent your leader’s personal brand becoming bigger than the company’s. To be fair, this hasn’t happened too frequently in our region. I can count the examples on the fingers of one hand. But, as our economies grow and CEO smugness swells in proportion, we will see more companies getting into trouble this way.

A salutory lesson is showing at the moment at a cinema near you, featuring The Weinstein Company. Last year, Hollywood staggered when the film studio’s eponymous co-founder Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual abuse by more than 80 women. As you’ll have read, the stories are varied but the accusations range from inappropriate behaviour to sexual harassment and rape. It’s also clear that Weinstein represented an extreme version of the wider CEO culture in Hollywood, where wealth and power have encouraged a sense of impunity since the early 1930’s.

The studio has lost film opportunities, stars and filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino (now caught up in a toxic news story of his own). No doubt the Board and Shareholders are in the midst of a ‘something must be done’ conversation, and it‘s evident that the whole company culture must be revamped. That’s the big job facing the studio’s new leader who is now, of course, a woman. Maria Contreras-Sweet has been quick to announce that the new Weinstein Company will have private breastfeeding rooms, three free meals a day, and will promote a more open and inclusive work environment. Frankly my dear, I’m not sure anyone gives a damn. What is needed is root canal work, not cosmetic dentistry.

In fairness, Contreras-Sweet is also interviewing ‘many powerful women’ in Hollywood to populate the new Board of Directors. And, perhaps most importantly, she will also be changing the of The Weinstein Company to something less…Weinstein-y. This is a no-brainer. They’re not going to be able to take new films to market under that banner. Continue reading

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Long service redefined

A good friend, whose business has been successful for more than two decades, admits one defeat. He has no member of staff with more than 8 years’ service. Is he a monster or a slave driver? No, he’s an urbane intellectual with a highly developed social conscience.Long service

In future, he tells me he will award Long Service commendations to any member of staff who reaches the 5-year mark. In addition, he has decided to make 5 years the timeline for directed turnover. If you work for him and have not improved your contribution within that time, he will let you go. Harsh measures?

Let’s take the one that made you smile – Long Service awards for 5 years served. Here he is right on trend. The younger working population show no enthusiasm for long service with a single employer. Academic advisers tell them to build portfolio careers. Their peers ridicule anyone in post beyond 3 years.

Managing Millennials is not about retention. It’s about extracting value while you have them, and turning them over in a mutually beneficial way. Leaving the door open for the better ones to return later. Continue reading

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Jingle Bells

When you have been around the block a few times, as have I, you begin to see trends coming back. You see it in fashion. You see it in holiday destinations. And trends also return in advertising. Not because the latest generation of marketers and ad folk have run out of ideas. More because (like so many young people) they live in a present entirely uncoloured by the past. I mean, of course, that they have little idea what their profession was doing 3 months ago, let alone 30 years’ back.Cocoa Tin

I had one of those “you’re kidding me” moments last week, when I read widespread excitement about a new concept called sonic branding.

Global marketing publications were sonorously intoning the revelation that ‘sound is a powerful tool that can trigger specific memories or emotions.”

They added that as technology like Amazon’s Echo or the Google Home Assistant become more embedded in daily lives, it’s increasingly important for brands to create emotional connections without visuals, just sound. Cue sonic branding – the use of a sound, song or melody to help reinforce a brand’s identity. Continue reading

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Stop hiring on gut

Human Resource professionals should always be on the lookout for opportunities to add commercial value to their organisations. For far too long, CEO’s, unwilling to get to grips with the face-to-face reality of managing staff issues, have delegated far too much to HR.Gut-Feeling-not-a-Reliable-Applicant-Screening-Systems

In a kind of arms-length exercise they have expected HR to deal with hiring, firing and all the messy bits in between. Thus, HR people are often focused entirely on the internal geography of the organisation.

But modern CEO’s, with brands to deliver, now have a right to demand more. And one major step forward would be the hiring of people who are a natural fit with what the company is trying to do. If your company brand is restless, find restless people. If it is ingenious, look for people whose ingenuity amazes you. Do not try to shoehorn a random Business Degree holder from the University Bangalore into a role that requires very specific personality attributes.

You won’t find such attributes in any CV, and you’d have to be something of a lay psychologist to identify them through interview. That’s why so many wrong candidates are hired on gut instinct.  Gut instinct is what you employ when you have no objective indicators to hand. And despite what may entrepreneurs tell you, using gut instinct in people choices is wrong. Continue reading

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Bank Promises

Over the holidays I researched our banking sector. Proof positive that the Devil makes work for idle hands. We now have 104 businesses licensed to bank in East Africa, barring any recent failures.

I’m sure that the Directors of these banks consider them to be brands, but they would be flying in the face of public opinion. Globally, the banking sector remains one of the most poorly differentiated. (That’s marketing speak for ‘you can’t really tell one from another’). East Africa doesn’t break the paradigm.

Money memeThe promises that banks make to the market are encapsulated in their slogans. Bank slogans in East Africa divide thematically into five groups:

What we do

A new way of Banking (unspecified). Making Sense of Money. Looking after Your Interest. It’s Our Business to Know Your Business (from the 1946 Musical?)

How we do it

Growing with You. For You.  We are You. Getting closer to You. Putting you First. With You for Life. One Life One Bank (oh dear). Where you come first. Putting women first. The Relationship Bank. Relationship beyond Banking.  Your Listening, Caring Partner. Serving Kenyans with Style and Smile. To Us you are Family, Driven by Ethics, Banking on Women. Future Focused. With Pleasure.

 Customer impact

Time for More.  Inspiring you to do More. Helping You Get Where You Want to Be. Enabling you to Reach your Peak.  Your Bridge to Success.  Achieve the Extraordinary. Better Community, Better Life.  Making the Difference (again unspecified). Discover Banking pleasure. Own tomorrow. Continue reading

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CEO’s set brand ethics

Last month, Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi used Linked In to broadcast Uber’s new cultural norms. Like many an incoming CEO, he must work quickly to address negative aspects of his predecessor’s legacy. In the case of Travis Kalanik a legacy described by many as toxic.

uberBack in June 2017, an independent report on Uber’s workplace, commissioned by its  Board, outlined 47 recommendations including defining values in ways that made them more accessible and easily understood and soliciting employee input on improving the culture. That’s refreshing, but what a pity it takes a near meltdown to trigger such action.

In traditional companies, these issues would be classified as matters of corporate culture, as defined by the good old (read tired old) Vision, Mission and Values at created by a senior committee with more regard for how they look on the website than how implementable they are by employees. Modern companies realise that the company is the brand … is the company. So, what Uber is doing now is adjusting the behaviours that should represent its brand in future.

And this is indeed a CEO responsibility; for he or she is the brand manager. As Robert Copeland said (forgive his misogyny, as he came from an earlier time):’To get something done, a committee should consist of no more than three men, two of whom are absent.’ Continue reading

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Employees need to fit your culture

Amid the general wailing and gnashing of teeth that surrounds the Millennial discussion, one occasionally happens upon something sensible.MAIN-Netflix-logo

I’ve been reading about how the online entertainment brand Netflix sets expectations for employee contribution. It’s surprisingly hard line; and contains lessons for all employers.

Regular readers know that I believe the best way to deal with the Millennial challenge is to gradually adjust your leadership style and management process to proof them against the future. In 10 years’ time the bulk of the workforce will be Millennials, so the challenge is not going to go away. But that doesn’t mean you should give away the initiative.

I admire Netflix because it ignores the empty value statements that reflect the lazy thinking at the top of so many companies. Statements filled with pointless words like Innovation, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability.

These are words that whole sectors of our economy use because … everybody else does. They are anodyne and ineffective – because there’s no spirit attached them. Employees, as human beings, will always react more strongly to emotional than to rational cues.

Patty McCord, the previous chief talent officer at Netflix, made two statements in the opening to her Values piece. One emotional, one rational: Continue reading

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