I sat alone at the bar, furtively inspecting everyone around me. Could that be them? Or them? Maybe those two in the corner? How does one recognise networkers anyway? Do they have a special handshake? Maybe it’s all about carnations and copies of the Racing Post – or is that just spies and blind dates?
Yep, last night I popped my networking cherry (and I doubt anyone has ever described it like that before).
Anyway, as I slowly let go of my inhibitions (thank you oh friendly glass of wine!) and talked to more people, it dawned on me (again) how important first impressions are. That, in turn, got me considering reputation.
I firmly believe that perception equals reality. What people think about you, and say about you behind your back, is what you are as a person. Or, indeed, as a company.
It therefore does not defy logic to suggest that employees should be the guardians of a company’s reputation. After all, it is employees who probably talk about your company the most. So why is it then, that so many companies seem to forget this key asset in their reputation management artillery?
All employees need to understand the company values, business objectives and, most importantly, how their work directly feeds into the end result. Without this basic knowledge, they won’t feel engaged and part of the bigger picture. They won’t feel comfortable talking about their work or what they do. They won’t be able to represent the company.
Picture this, you’re out at a bar and you meet a friend of a friend. In the ensuing small talk you ask about their job. The friend of a friend goes quiet. They mumble something about working for “a big multi-national” and then change the subject. What would you think about that company? What would you think about a place where even the people who work there are reticent to explain what they do.
I’m guessing not a lot.
And this is where so many companies fall short. They fail to equip their employees to engage. Luckily for them, I’m here to hand out some free advice (I really should start charging for this stuff!)
1. Exposure and buy in
If senior management isn’t behind an idea, forget it. Employees look to their leaders for guidance. Employees look to their leaders to, well, lead. Management need to live and breathe the company, and they need to demonstrate that visibly.
If your leadership don’t know what the company stands for, your employees won’t either, and worse, they won’t care.
Communications isn’t a million and one leaflets churned out by the communications department. It isn’t about starting every meeting with a chant based around the company principles. No. In this case, communications means clear, defined messaging with strong calls to action, and backed up by some form of feedback and response.
That sounds like a whole load of jargon, doesn’t it?
A non-jargony example? How about holding regular town halls with employees with one of your leaders talking about a specific value of the company they hold dear, followed by a question and answer session.
Employees need to be more than just a cog in a wheel. They need to be part of the business mechanics. They need to be able to voice their opinions and have those opinions heard, if not acted on.
Stop groaning at the back – training isn’t always about trust exercises and powerpoints. No, sometimes training is as simple as giving employees ideas on what they can say about the company. Sometimes, it’s about letting employees practice talking about what they do, and helping them develop answers to any questions.
Allowing your employees tell their story of the company is worth a million press releases. Help your ambassadors understand why their work is important.
Let me be clear. I’m not talking about churning out corporate robots here. I’m talking about giving employees a voice. If companies get this right, employees will be engaged, they will be enthusiastic, and they will willingly become guardians of the company’s reputation.
Beaumont is a communications agency based in Lausanne, Switzerland. We work with clients all around the world to change the way they talk about themselves – helping them create engaging stories that motivate action.