Don't Assume Your Employees Know What You're Thinking

Brand Communication Starts in the Office

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Bart Cleveland
Bart Cleveland
It's not easy to practice what you preach. Maybe because most of us agency owners don't admit to ourselves that the same principles apply to us as to any business. When we work with clients, one of the first things we research is their internal health. Without fail, there are key obstacles to success that marketing cannot help a business until they are removed. Anyone with a nominal amount of business experience knows that you won't sell your product for long if you don't live up to its promise.

It is important that agencies take stock of who they are and then clearly and consistently communicate it to everyone, particularly employees. I admit we are guilty of assuming too much in this area. Perhaps I'm most guilty because I tend to preach about doing great work so much I assume employees translate that into the agency's philosophy, or brand.

We recently had a staff meeting to discuss what's been going on with the economy and how it's been affecting the agency. In the beginning, everyone was quiet, even somber. It was evident to me that people are tired of the struggle. Many are too young in their careers to have experienced a recession, much less one of such magnitude.

As we continued to talk, the subject changed to who we are as a company. One employee had brought this up in an earlier conversation. He said that he felt the employees didn't really believe we had a distinct identity. I asked why and he told me because the partners had not articulated it.

Wow. That really surprised me. Then I thought about it and realized there was something to what he was saying. My partners and I have frequently talked among us about the agency's brand. We've examined what we do at work that makes us most happy. We've looked at our clients that are most pleased with our work. We agreed what we are about and we then assumed that we had adequately communicated that message to the staff. Basically, we made the same mistake most of our clients had made before hiring us. We believed in clairvoyance.

That staff meeting became a catalyst. We realized we needed to take a little of our own medicine. Steve McKee emailed the link to a company self-diagnosis test from his book's website and told everyone to take it. The results will come in soon and I expect we'll see some areas of improvement we need to make that will be humbling for the partners and for every employee.

The fact is many people believe obstacles are only surmountable if their employer clears the way. That certainly can be true, but not in most cases. Throughout my career, I have found that most of my slow progress and lack of growth was caused by my own shortcomings. When I realized that in many cases I was using my employers as a convenient excuse, I reapplied myself and goals began to be reached. Sure, there were times when it was my employer's lack of action that caused the trouble, but not nearly as often as I wanted to believe.

I think putting ourselves through the same self-examination that we insist our clients do is going to be a transforming act. Perhaps we felt immune to the problems we find common in other companies because we are so aware of them. As they say, doctors make the worst patients. I'll let you know how the treatments are going.

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