First it was the Post Office, then British Airways and now it appears that British Gas front-line employees are in revolt.  When your customer-facing staff are slagging of the organisation and/or it’s management you are well and truly buggered, but when is the penny going to drop here?  This isn’t about the evil hand of capitalism trying to squeeze the life out of dwindling customer base or white-knight customer service operatives standing ground on behalf of their customers.  Its  about one thing, pure and simple.  The failure of management to get employees behind the brand.  Brand Building is the fundamental of business today and it all starts with internal marketing – that’s where all of these organisations are failing.

I don’t want to make light of this.  For these organisations, each of which have among the worst industrial relations records in Britain, it’s a tough challenge.  Why these three in particular?  Well, there’s a clear common denominator here – they are all old public companies.  People who joined public sector organisations in the past and probably to some extent today, are motivated differently from those in the commercial sector.  They rarely think so, but it’s true however you cut it.  Order, rules that protect them from having to do absolutely anything that isn’t in their buttoned-down contracts of employment, endless holiday entitlement and decent money that turns up every month, regardless of how hard they work and how much they care – this is the world of the public sector employee.  Unless employees have a sense of belonging, commitment and shared responsibility, these organisations will never transform themselves into the lean commercial machines they simply have to be to survive, yet the employees who are at the centre of these rows are those with contracts that date from the pre-privatisation era and the self-interest that goes with them.

The reality is that while the world has moved on these organisations struggle to keep pace with a millstone around their necks.  That millstone being employees who are determined to stay right where they are.  It’s no coincidence that this is exactly what is happening in the former Communist countries.  Twenty years on from the Velvet Revolution it’s still a challenge to motivate Czech workers who spent fifty years just going through the motions while collecting the same money every month and commentators are now coming to the conclusion that it will take a few more generations before Czechs are attuned to commercial reality.

Once an organisation knows the scope of its resources, has a strategy and has defined their brand and its “promise”, the task is to get every stakeholder (and this isn’t just employees) fully committed to playing their part in the delivery of that promise.  That means telling them what that promise is, explaining why it has to be that way and helping every one of them understand what they can uniquely do on a day-by-day basis to help ensure the promise is delivered and, just as importantly, helping them fill the gaps in their skills base so that they can do it even better.  If you get this right there’s no argument and it will happen.  In the rare cases where a minority feel that they have some right to override the strategy that everyone else has signed up to, they’ll be neutralised by the commitment of the majority.  Apart from anything else, that’s one of the principles of change management.

It’s not surprising that businesses are only now waking up to what internal marketing is really about.  For years a remit of HR managers, internal marketing has only recently been handed to the people equipped to do the job – marketers – and we still have a lot of catching up to do.  One group who need to catch up most are marketing services organisations but this awakening could be the salvation of many, who, as we all know, are desperate for new ways to bond with clients and new sources of revenue.

A modern internal marketing campaign demands high levels of skills in all areas of communication.  I devised an internal marketing initiative for a retailer that involved teams of employees from each store competing in a national product and process knowledge quiz with regional heats, national finals and a grand finale in the capital.  Among other things, it involved event production, logistics, building a supporting web site and streaming videos of the contests, so we needed multimedia production skills and it also required that we bussed supporters to each event.  That’s what modern internal marketing looks like and if you want to get your employees on-side you need to start thinking about initiatives like this.

It may come as a surprise to the folks at the Post Office, BA and British Gas, but there are workforces in Britain and elsewhere who are taking wage cuts, accepting shorter working weeks, introducing new work practices and taking on extra responsibility because of their commitment to the brand community.  Internal marketing has always been the key to success.  In the new economy its the key to survival.

Michael Weaver
March 12, 2010

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