Whenever I hear “Maslow’s pyramid” pronounced in management consultancy environments, in the grace year 2017 AD, I become nervous. People still stick mysteriously to an alluring theory of the fifties in nowadays business playground. Quoting from Maslow after the work of Viktor Frankl, Daniel Pink, Simon Sinek and after zillion of studies published in Harvard Business Review on motivation – not to mention MRI and neurosciences – is like searching for a floppy in the era of VR.
Why is Maslow still intellectually enticing here and there – and my hope is that we talk of an intellectual approach here and not an inertial, obsolete well masticated opinion, ready to effortlessly eat. Well, would it be because of its logically progressive, slothfully evolutionary, stage-by-stage approach which is easily devoured by our more-at-hand left sided brains? Of course the taxonomy of needs is correct; the problem rises with their following one to another chronologically. Needs are well organized indeed, but humans are not deterministic pawns.
Motivation triggers proved to be nothing of what Maslow imagined. It is obvious that people starving will not die if they don’t hold a Facebook account, but reality proved that even people deprived from the basic of means will aspire and get fed by their dreams simultaneously. Self-actualization happened in concentration camps, illumination happens in total scarcity. People are an ontological continuum and not progress bars.
In organizations people don’t get motivated by the carrot and the stick to progress and give “the best of them”. A raise motivates on the very short term – and with a boomerang attached to their back! – while a purpose and a humanly sane climate keep people thriving on so many levels.
Factors dismissed as fluffy can produce solid, sustainable financial results in the long run. Intangibles like dignity, laughter, friendship, mutual respect are as hard as currency.
But most of all the purpose, the greater good, the alignment to whatever vision there is bigger than themselves, transcends the very object of work and gives people endless fuel. And fortunately enough this does not happen after all employees reached their highest managerial level and are all CEOS with consolidated bank accounts. The power of a human aspiration, “man’s search for meaning” reverses the mighty pyramid and makes the people’s evolution delightfully unpredictable.
Or become yourself a Demiurge.
What’s in a name, though? A whole world trapped in a tiny group of letters that has to be relevant, powerful, distinctive, memorably-outstanding, creatively –intriguing and last but not least protect-able (IP wise) in such a noisy and taken rhetoric of the post creationist world.
There is a single huge intellectual challenge in naming: how to compose with your mind a little piece of reality that speaks directly to people’s gut? Or heart?
If you, as an entrepreneur search for the best name for your business, you have to take into account a few common sense principles. Or search for a good naming strategist.
Who happens to apply the same principles, by the way.
1. Emotional enticement, not linguistic smartness. A good name has to have a certain resonance that goes beyond a fortunate combination of letters. There is no recipe for appealing effectively to the subconscious, still this is what a good name should do: exercise a bizarre stickiness to the hearing or sight. Once perceived, it should remain there like a personal positive memory that cannot be grasped by the reasoning.
2. A core promise encapsulated in the very essence. A name should speak ultimately about a brand fundamental promise. A name IS a promise of value. And this is why naming should follow a clear brand with a well-defined essence. A name does not precede a branding process; it is part of it instead. Ideally, naming is a consequence of a clear brief issued after a decided positioning.
3. Relevance for the industry against freestyle fantasy. Although its alchemy is very intricate, a good name should send a spear of meaning towards the field of activity, the industry in which the business exists. It should be anchored and recognizable. The least touch of pragmatism is always preferable to aerial poetry in business.
4. Drama inside, rhyme, alliteration and letters music always help. There are no rigors at all as there are countless exceptions for any rule you are trying to make in this domain. Still, good names seem to perform on a stage and feel uninhibited.
5. Pure business description is better left to a descriptor. Although it is a temptation to start a naming process from a puzzle of disparate pieces or concepts that you have to recombine, maybe a descriptor (immediately linked to the name, even part of the visual identity) is a better solution. Safer, in any case.
Reality check: domain and IP availability are the cold shower for any naming strategist. The real maturity and expertise of a “name-er” is when she generates a restrained list of names with highest potential for protection rather than a long list that dies a little with every new search. Nothing is new and unregistered on Earth and there seem to be no business ideas left that haven’t already sprung in somebody else’s mind. But the beauty of it is that there are still some gems out there…
Out of all stages of a branding project, I personally find naming the most rewarding. There is an endless playground out there with some pale and unconvincing rules and restrictions here and there, but the rest is pure enjoyment.
I just visited the Romanian Kitsch Museum, a recently launched respectable institution in the Old City Center of Bucharest. Targeted to expats, but equally entertaining indigenous, the museum is unique in its kind – congrats to the founder whom I happen to know.
What inspired me to write about this visit? The striking parallelism between kitsch and the lack of branding.
A strange feeling that self promotion with no solid background and authentic stake behind leads very much to kitsch.
What lies beneath all exhibits in the museum is the constant yelling for attention. Kitsch is luxuriously pathetic in attention grabbing. In its essence kitsch is the opposite of authenticity (and the opposite of refined taste, but as a secondary consequence). Kitsch is fake, imposture, wannabe, imitation, lacking the slightest hint of self-humor. Kitsch is serious, takes itself seriously and wants popularity at all cost.
So are the vast majority of objects, products, people, services and companies that lack a backbone in their promotional fury. In the absence of an introspective silence of a few minutes, they assault the stage and start pouring.
If companies, people or products do not take time to answer to some hugely basic questions before entering the public space, they are not far from fake and imposture:
- Who am I, truly?
- What sets me apart? What’s my offer to you?
- How can I make a sustainable promise that I will keep?
- Why do I actually stand in front of you and want a slice of your attention?
Why do 80% of new launches fail? Because they start by yelling first, I suppose. Visibility, availability, approachability are not necessarily about branding.
Striving and starving for attention are not about branding either.
Kitsch is a hilarious extreme consequence of anti branding. Yet extremely popular, colorful, noisy and seriously set to thrive.
The latest issue of Harvard Business Review dedicated to leadership just released a 10 years long study on CEOs performance called The CEO Genome Project, meant to identify the specific attributes that differentiate high performing CEOs (executives meeting or exceeding expectation in their role according to board members and key stakeholders), if any.
The entire research can be distilled down to 4 specific behaviors that proved to be common to all CEOs:
- They make decisions with greater speed and greater conviction
- They engage for impact their employees and other key internal stakeholders to get participation and alignment
- They adapt to changes quicker than others
- They deliver reliably, meaning they are desirably predictable in following their commitments.
Wow. Holy Graal.
News is that common sense has now 10 years of research behind and data on its back.
The great news is that fundamental values nurture the human soil at all levels. The magnificent news is that – now that we know – we can really focus on what matters: being a better human being, before being a CEO.
Out of the 4 major discoveries, I dare to detail a bit the second one, as it regards directly my own field of expertise. Good CEOs engage their people, it seems. I witnessed and personally delivered tens of sessions where employees started to look differently at their CEO and at their own role in the company just because they were there at the same table with the top decisions in due time. Because they were consulted, “perceptually-audited”, asked what they believe. Whenever I perform an employee engagement assignment I start from the bottom up: perceptional audits are the ground zero of any organizational engagement project. Engagement is obtained if people know, if they are consulted, asked relevant, deep and maybe never asked before questions and if they can open themselves in front of a third party person with no stake in the company (aka the brand consultant). They are engaged if they find their personal statements alongside other colleagues’ statements well curated in the list of CEOs decisions.
Engagement is a matter of being true to people, sensing their concerns, but also adapting your perspective to their own lenses. If a CEO is truly concerned to define and redefine the goal of value creation then in this process he/she should get employees in the same boat. What it means, this boat? Maybe troubled waters, maybe hard work at the rows, who knows? I quote from the conclusions of the research and nod in deep approval: CEOs who engage stakeholders do not invest their energy in being liked or protecting their teams from painful decisions. In fact, both those behaviors are seen in low performing CEOs. Instead, they instill confidence even if this means making uncomfortable or unpopular moves.
Branding is a journey of real life, no BS, authentic decisions and no sugarcoating.
Now, scientifically proven.
The rhetoric arsenal usually taught whenever we approach charisma is the already classical weaponry of persuasion: metaphors, analogies, rhetorical questions, stories, anecdotes, contrasting points, repetitions, dramatic pauses, not to mention versatile facial expressions, ample gestures and last but not least an animated and penetrating tone of voice.
They are not at all unimportant; on the contrary, they make the entire beauty and force of self-expression. They are overtly taught in leadership courses, trained in public speaking modules and consciously practiced in everyday life.
But subconsciously? Oh, what a brave new world unfolds here!
There is something that remains constantly more powerful and that delivers a force replacing this entire arsenal of teachable tools. And this is moral conviction, the underworld of inner truths. Being sure that what you say reflects what you truly believe and staying …holistic are key to exerting charisma and making people follow you. “The essential element in personal magnetism – Bruce Barton once said – is a consuming sincerity, an overwhelming faith in the importance of the work one has to do”.
The mother of all mimics and body language cannot cover a fake discourse, fake feelings and fake values.
As values are what you display, what you wear and what you breathe. Emanating confidence is a consequence of trusting yourself, your own map, your instincts and your knowledge. Convictions transpire through our Freudian slips and undertones are audible even if well buffered.
And maybe this is why we speak so much of integrity these days. So much that it became a buzzword. Which is actually pitiful.
The term designates the concept of remaining entire, un-fractured, un-split in whatever you do. I think branding is intrinsically a matter of integrity because unless you gather yourself, you cannot answer simply, sharply to the question: what are you about, basically? Promotion and advertising with no branding is pure noise, charisma with no integrity is pure danger.
The aftermath of the election brought in a branding crisis for America, far more obvious than the economic or the social one. And that is because branding deals with identity first and foremost and it is a matter of an answer to the disarmingly simplest question: “What do you stand for?”
So the answer to “What do you stand for, America? ” is much harder to provide, if not impossible now, as we speak, because a subsequent question immediately arises: “Which America, which side of it?” The top of mind representations related to America are now confuse, diluted, contradictory, dizzy, as it is the very heart of the country.
In this crisis of “belongings” America lost its belonging.
“The best of all the possible worlds” seems to have reached, symbolically and concretely, its final frontier. Democracy touched its limits in America and it made an implosion. If this is the end of the multiculturalism supported by political correctness, then what remains? Will checks and balances (still) function enough as to counterbalance the excesses of the new governance and the whims of its new president? What is left of the “American Dream”?
“The land of all possibilities” now unearthed its last self-destructive possibility, as the effervescent melting pot of cultures proved to be an (under) pressure cooking pot.
The end of an era is certainly uncomfortable and daunting for any living creature. The Planet quake happened because a cycle might have ended: the global cleavage between poverty and extreme richness became extreme and the desperate need for fairness and equality became much more stringent than the value of freedom to seize opportunities. A new – and still gloomily old – undercurrent shows up at the surface again with new lessons, certainly. Trump is a pretext – the perfect pretext that the history needed – to embody and carry out in the daylight the unspoken, long forgotten dreams of humanity.
What can we, the rest of the world, make of this?
Not much and everything, if we look from the right angle. We can involve more in our politics and policies of proximity instead of being passive-cynical. We can build and enlarge positive communities upon human values and nurture empathy in each of our decisions, as this is the best checks and balances universal system that we can create, with no bigger expectations. We can start to consider ourselves as the most reliable and responsible person for whatever happens to us.We can search for certitude pillars far closer to ourselves. It’s safer, saner and ultimately more ethical.
During employer branding projects or corporate reputation consultancy endeavours, I came across lots of behaviours of owners or managers towards the human “resource”. The very resourcefulness of this force is sometimes badly understood so conflicts burst like out of the blue because no one seems to pay attention to a few signs. The bad habits I chose to write about today are those that come down to a single fault: the fault of taking by default. People motivation, expertise, effort, caring, teamwork are usually considered as self-understood and self-nurturing.
Here are my top 4 advice of employers to avoid situations that lead to painful divorce.
- Do not overwork overachievers, although it is tempting, I know.
High fliers and overachievers are usually those who end up working to burnout. This category of living creatures has an innate desire towards work anyway and the thin line between job time and overtime is easily crossed. So, if they work anyway let them work, they like it! This is bad. Extended and – passionately otherwise – strenuous overwork with no horizon and projected limit of time produces breakdown. Heavy load periods of time should be marked as such and acknowledged as limited.
- Do not elegantly ignore good performance, as self understood. Act now, not tomorrow.
With people nothing is by default, especially effort and expertise. In the transactional relation that happens in a job clear messages should be unearthed. The lack of a corporate ability to actually spot, nurture and recognize good performance is due to existing systems stuck and unable to remember the …curious cases of individual people. Performance appraisal is possible when there is a thinking system for it but also when people are held above the very system! Exceptions make the rule. People are live, they are here and now and motivation is what can make or break a business. Today, not tomorrow. An annual people review is as useful as an annual weather forecast.
- If you make unfortunate internal promotions, they are worse than the worst of new hires.
People accept that each new hire is wrapped in a certain dose of luck and are willing to resent less an unfortunate match coming from the outside. But when the wrong person is promoted internally, this is the worst that can happen. It creates waves of lack of trust and direction and even a sense of lack of common benchmarks with the employer. An internal promotion is a strategic move that needs a lot of preparation and pulse taking. Worse promotions happen when toxic people get more power that they already have. Total dismay!
- Don’t fail to challenge intellectually and emotionally people. Constantly.
People can sit on an unsatisfying salary for months if they have nice toys to play with daily. The intellectually-satisfying-and-growth-perspective-giving job is what keeps motivation high. Job fit is crucial. HR needs also a repositioning from “a hire and fire” department to an “employee experience” facilitator. And experience does not mean to strive to create stellar work environments, but the “decency of the fit”: the right position for the right person. But for this to happen a little effort to really know that person is needed.
Simply put, I believe people have several contradictory needs to be happy at their workplace:
Freedom and guidance in the right proportion,
The feeling of belonging to the team and in the same time the conscience of their unique contribution – praised, if possible
A sane alternation of work ebullition and hygienic break.
That’s all there seems to be, basically.
Whenever we hear employer branding we hear it used mainly in an external context: the need to attract talent, the need to have a great reputation as a better premise and promise for a successful hiring. I’ve seen lots of people at the top of the pyramid (be it executives or HR people) that hold a clear perception about what branding should do for an employer: project externally an attractive image for the company in front of those who are supposed to negotiate very little when faced with an interviewer. Once candidates reach the mighty Employer Brand, the privilege is self-understood.
I believe things function rather the other way around: corporate reputation is solidified upon what happens within the confines of a company and depends heavily upon how each and every day at work looks for each and every employee. The truth of a company resides in the internal life satisfaction and at a lesser extent in the events or the communication targeted externally: what employees talk about over a coffee during lunch break, the way they feel together, the pleasure they take in doing their job, the feeling of independence and appraisal they get with every success and the precious feeling that they matter at the end of the day. These are much more valuable assets for a company than any communication campaign no matter how smart and buzz generating it gets.
Here is my top list of improvement areas where companies should look at when approaching an employer-branding program:
Ground zero – a sine qua non condition: align remuneration packages with the market and the industry. Don’t necessarily be overpaying but certainly do not be underpaying! Extrinsic motivation is still here to stay at least as long as people will have to pay money for whatever they need in life;
First: Conceive personalized programs, don’t judge people motivation in bulk; offer experiences rather than goods; offer development tailored upon individual needs, elaborate thinking around what moves every person. At least top talents, and high stake employees with a strategic role in the company.
Second: Consider personal development at least as important as professional development. Personal supports professional, there is no other way. Personal is professional. And personal is not personnel. “Personal” is the acknowledgement of the simultaneous roles in life that people hold, affecting their professional performance: as an stressed spouse, as a caretaker, as an unhappy child of someone, as a current debtor in depression, as a sleepless young mom or who knows what else. People take all these roles with them every day. Ignoring this personal context when assigning a job damages the projected results. Companies must really connect to the personal history of their people (not to their privacy, though!) in order to retain and motivate them.
Third: Time and space of work are crucial. Time and space is all we have, basically. Invest in design thinking when refurbishing a new space, do not consider merely redecorating. Think the space as a fluid reality built around the needs of humans, give them the time to recharge, reboot, replenish. Flexible schedule and alternation between office and remote work start to become a common reality, not only in tech or creative fields. Decent collaboration, good ideas and fruitful cross-pollination, nice vibe and organic growth happen when time and space are well together and people fit in naturally.
A few summer tips to come back to business with intact reputation
So basically we don’t have to do anything for our personal brand, as long as we are in holidays, right? We took a vacation off our duties, our competent profiles and our connections that we always wanted to impress. Let them wait till autumn! We took a vacation off ourselves.
Cool, you might be right for the moment being. The problem is that you’ll still come back in business sometime…
Your personal statement is basically who you are so it’s not rocket science to imagine that your personal brand should not be far from your reality as a human being: your way of behaving, your temperament, your personality, your education and degrees, your body language, your field(s)of competence, your hierarchical position and even the significant other of yours, they all speak on your behalf when you expect the least. And they speak especially when the defending walls of your personality are down, when you’re relaxed and having fun. Your true nature might catch you off guard at any moment. How to be prepared for such unprepared situations?
Here are a few little summer tips for those who want to let go and still be in control of their reputation. All these tips refer not to what you have to do, but rather to what you have to refrain from doing. If you can, of course:
- Resist the temptation to fill daily your FB profile with shots of yourself no matter how proud you are of your rightly tanned complexion. You might need a more professional look when you are back and people have this strange habit to remember what’s fresher in their minds.
- Resist the temptation to bad mouth your employer over a drink or two. Your job and the company you work for define you after all and unless you are actively and overtly searching to change it, you should not hit the fan with anything …inappropriate.
- Resist the temptation to fill your social media walls with transitory moods or small happenings, unless they are really noteworthy or charmingly framed. Chitchat of any kind fragments representations about a person and it does not fuel coherence. Use the time off to recharge rather than discharge small emissions on everything.
- Resist the temptation to remain connected to the job. I personally might have a bias on that but whenever I see people that intervene in conversation threads from vacation I believe that they are bored with their significant other or not having fun at all. Except for exceptions, of course. There is difference between the vacations of a self-employed or entrepreneur and that of an employee, I know, but still. Etymologically, “vacation” means “empty, free or at leisure”. Why ruining such a blessing?
- Resist the temptation to counterbalance in excess: I worked a lot, now I let go insanely or I sleep all day; I refrained from doing this or that, now I indulge; I had enough of this, now I totally forget. Our extremes create unreliability; they instill insecurity in others and de-balance us. Vacations are for refreshment not for total reboot. Unless sabbatical, of course.
What has reputation and personal branding to do with all these? Everything, if we admit that what we leave behind us is an authentic trace of ourselves in our journey through this world no matter where we are. Personal reputation is about knowing well who you are and behaving according to conscious goals in life, not about projecting temporary images here and there. Vacations are for replenishment of self not for losing of self. Vacations are not exceptions but an integrated part of our same long lasting personal reputations.
What are our real chances as leaders and organisation managers to find out what our key stakeholders really believe about our performance? We send them satisfaction surveys questionnaires, you might say! Email questionnaires with as many questions as possible. The more questions the better!
Throughout the corporate and employer branding projects that I delivered in the last couple of years, I detected a recipe that never fails in relevance, astuteness and insightfulness: the 360 perceptional audit.
What is a 360 perceptional audit? An in-depth qualitative research on stakeholders perception performed on a large spectrum of clients, partners, collaborators using one to one in-depth interviewing methodology, and preserving the interviewee anonymity.
Here are below 7 reasons why the perception audit performs highly efficient when it comes to understand what stakeholders think:
- Objectivity: it is carried by an external consultant with no stake whatsoever in the organization or any link with projects or people who are subject to discussion
- Insightfulness: it is carried following an interview guide with precise indexes but it also lets people browse freely through their thoughts to unveil aspects that usually do not show up in an organized thread.
- Total transparency: interviews take place one to one, at client premises or in a place of their comfort. The importance of eye-to-eye contact is immense as the non verbal behaviour might reveal cues about what has never been said.
- Full honesty: the mention about anonymity is made upfront. For some people – declaratively at least – it makes no difference versus a signed statement, but for others it increases the comfort zone and generates openness.
- Quality feedback: preserving a one-hour discussion (max) with each client allows people to thinks deeply over a subject, focus on the key aspects and bring in arguments and even new ideas. Not at all rare are the cases when clients and partners brought in ideas that never occurred to the company. Because people are provoked to think they generate spontaneously valuable content.
- The 360 view upon one matter: perceptions related to the performance of a company are a puzzle made of a zillion pieces. There are aspects of consensus among interviewees and aspects of profound disagreement (as a sign that performance perception in that area is not consolidated). The combination of small data is what brings clarity to any future business and brand strategy.
- A professional thanksgiving. The personalized approach towards every stakeholder on the list functions both as a message of genuine interest towards the client and as a thanksgiving– a simple courtesy gesture that increases goodwill.
The perception audit is a sine qua non instrument in any branding consultancy process. Unless well researched at the perceptions level, a company might miss self-understanding of capital importance. Current perceptions are the very reality of a brand and in the same time the starting point for any future strategic shift.