The other day, a very senior PR practitioner in Uganda asked me a very good question. Why was it, he asked, that in a column about Marketing, I frequently strayed away from hardcore issues like branding. Why talk about HR and management and leadership?
The answer is relatively straightforward if you agree with me that Marketing is too important an issue to be side-lined and delegated to the Marketing Department alone. The way a CEO leads a business; the way managers organise business process; and the way the senior team relates to their staff are all factors that impact on the marketing of brands and businesses.
Last week I met with colleagues in London to further develop our initiatives on two important groups in the global workforce. You won’t be surprised to hear that one group was the much-quoted Millennials. The other was the Treacle Layer, about whom I wrote recently. This is the layer of older employees who hold a great deal of institutional knowledge, but are often resistant to organisational change. As you can imagine; these people can play both positive and negative roles in brand delivery.
Although the Treacle Layer is a bigger issue in ageing Western economies, they are definitely present in our region. Look around you in your own workplace and you’ll see plenty of people who have been in the organisation for many years. They know a lot, and have firm opinions about how everyone should behave. But suggest changing something, and you’ll soon experience tooth-sucking and head shaking.In Switzerland, our colleagues are working on a fascinating programme for the insurer Swiss Life. Switzerland has both an ageing population and labour laws that make retrenchment very expensive. Thus, Swiss Life has many long-serving staff members who are stuck in a rut. They are also very fearful of losing their jobs and pensions.
By coincidence, Swiss life’s brand proposition revolves around the fact that, as we all live longer, we must prepare ourselves (financially) a for longer life. So, they correctly decided to practise what they preach. I would call this on-brand behaviour.
We are currently running seventeen linked initiatives for Swiss Life designed both to equip older employees for change and to improve the way the business utilises their skills. On the employee side, some are being encouraged to retrain. Others to ‘step back’ from managerial roles to become coaches for the upcoming generation. There’s also an increased emphasis on employee wellness, especially mental health – with ‘burnout’ and ‘bore out’ being the two key issues to tackle.
Older employees are sent a reference letter – basically the best write-up the HR team can give them – to prompt them to think about their current contribution to the business. They are then helped to take steps to make themselves more employable – either inside the company or outside. Giving them new skills and more importantly the confidence to compete again, as they did when they were young.
Interestingly, this was not an HR initiative. The commercial leaders of the business championed it and ‘pulled HR in’ to manage it. The Steering Group comprises the Chief Executive Officer and the Chief Communications Officer (Head of Marketing), both of whom understand the impact of staff on brand.
Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside