We are in curious and unknown times globally. People are sheltering in place the world over. Information is changing daily.
We are all being tested as individuals and communities. Companies are being tested as well. Employers will, without question, show what they value, demonstrate their culture and see how the work experience they provide holds up in times of crisis. More than ever, this is the time when customers and employees will be watchful for any gap between who a company says they are and the reality they experience.
Let’s be clear: COVID-19 won’t create gaps. It will, however, magnify them and shine a spotlight on the gaps. The strategic role of the Employer Branding (EB) Leader is vital to an organizations’ ability to effectively navigate the coming weeks and months. A strategic EB Leader can act as the voice of the brand and the employee, with an understanding of how these ultimately serve the customer, to ensure alignment between words and actions. And I say this fully cognizant that the C-Suite may be juggling any number of conflicting decisions that the EB Leader must flex to understand.
In a very short period, we are seeing organizations shine and stumble in this alignment.
I went to my favorite grocery store. As I arrived at the store, many shelves of products were low or empty, and it was quite busy. To create space at the checkouts, every other checkout lane was closed, and lines were spread back halfway up the grocery aisles. The managers and team members were cleaning the checkouts after every single person, wiping down every cart after each use. There was a calm in the air. People were being patient and gracious. Three times I saw more than one person reach for the last product and be generous with one another.
As I stood in line, I watched the employees who were working the cash registers and bagging the groceries. I watched the managers. I was present to them taking care of us, and that they were taking our care seriously with a calm, soothing and positive presence. In that moment, I was clear that the employees could only care for us if they were being cared for.
I went to the grocery store website when I got home to see who they claim to be. They position themselves on quality and service. Check. They are family owned. I was present to “we are all in this together” type of family experience. Check. They talk about supporting the communities we share. BIG CHECK.
As a customer, who they say they are and how I’m experiencing them is in total alignment. And it is the EMPLOYEES who are delivering on that experience. Now I don’t know that these employees are being well cared for, but I have a strong hunch. It would be easy for these employees to call in sick and avoid the risks that come when dealing with customers. It would be easy to go through the motions of ringing people up or bagging the groceries or wiping down carts. I watched, and that was not the case. Every single employee and manager were SHOWING UP. They were present. They were fully engaged. These employees cared. They were delivering on the brand experience.
We are seeing many stories in the news about how companies are showing up. There was the Arkansas property management group telling its restaurant tenants to pay employees instead of rent. The Vegas casino chain paying employees throughout the forced 30 day shut down. One of my favorite restaurants had to lay off most of its staff. They are providing pay and benefits through the end of April, and actively showing these employees how to apply for unemployment. Like me, you’ve probably had a letter from the CEO from most of the businesses you have ever frequented. Most letters include how they are handling the coronavirus and ensuring your safety as a customer, as well as how they are taking care of their employees in the process. I’ve had a couple emails from companies that I couldn’t remember what…or when…I ordered from!
All of this is great! Employer Branding Leaders should continue to reinforce and chronicle examples of this alignment between who a company says they are and how they are navigating these one-of-a-kind circumstances. Why? Because this is going to go on for a while, and it is likely to only get more challenging.
There are stories that highlight the gaps in the alignment, also. Let’s face it, we’ve known some of these gaps before the corona virus. Now they are just magnified. Two weeks ago, the gap were apparent in environments where one thing is said, but the expectation is quite different. Where people are told they are empowered to work from home, but those same people have heard their leaders complain about someone not being physically in the office. Where people are told to call in sick if they feel sick, but then peers and leaders alike behave as though it is a burden and continue to make email and text demands.
Now those same gaps have a spotlight on them. Like a large employer sending a communication to employees this week to continue to come into the office as long as they don’t feel sick. This communication was delivered despite jobs and infrastructure that can, and does, support work-from-home. I checked out their website and many people could interpret a gap between who they say they are and how their employees are experiencing them, particularly the employees who shared this memo with the press.
Or a large car manufacturer that initially continued with full scale production, requiring workers to show up, despite a shelter-in-place order. Again, checking their website, it could be easy to interpret a gap between who they say they are, what they stand for and how their employees experience them. This manufacturer has changed course now (thankfully)….and yet the impact of that initial misalignment will be hard to overcome or forget amongst its employees.
I am noticing the few organizations I do business with who are absent or silent. They haven't sent a communication from their CEO about how they are handling Corona virus, ensuring my safety and taking care of their employees.
So, what to do?
I was talking to an esteemed peer of mine in this field. He had been asked by a business owner whether to tell their employees, or not, that a layoff was likely and imminent. My peer’s advice was, as usual, spot on. Be authentic and transparent. Being authentic and transparent says something about the character of the business leader and organization, even to those who will eventually lose their jobs in the layoff. Being authentic and transparent demonstrates care for the employees by providing longer lead times to develop contingency plans. I have yet to meet any leader or organization who hasn’t claimed to care about their employees. But being authentic and transparent demonstrates this genuine care.
In the Employer Branding space, we have been talking for years about authenticity and transparency being vital to our employer brands. Now is the time for every Employer Branding Leader to step up and be the strategic voice for authenticity and transparency. Now is the time to be proactive, even audacious, in identifying gaps for Executives between who the organization says it is and how they are being experienced. It is a business necessity to ensure that what we say and what we mean are trued up for both employees and customers. It will protect our organizations, build trust, retain talent and engage our employees to deliver the best brand experience to our customers.
Employer Brand Leaders have the profound opportunity to serve their organizations in these uniquely challenging times. You can do so by acting as a voice of the brand and the employee with an understanding of how both ultimately serve the customer. It is an honored role that will leave thumbprints on the organization well after our world has weathered this crisis.
Are you seeing a gap? Not quite sure about next steps for your organization? Reach out to HeatherP Solutions for a no-obligation consultation conversation. We are here to help! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a time to talk.