Employee engagement vs. employee brand engagement

IABC hosted a speed networking session last night and I facilitated three 20-minute round tables on the topic of employee engagement.  Next table over was the discussion about employee brand engagement.

This raised some interesting questions.  Are the two different? How different are they?

My initial reaction was that they are the same thing.  But thinking it through, of course there are subtle and not so subtle differences.

Your brand provides a very easy, credible, shared-ownership (HR-Marketing-Internal Communications), clear centre of gravity to align and unite your overall engagement effort in a way that is both intellectually robust and emotionally inspiring.

But it’s not the only thing.  Different moments in the organisational life cycle, different market situations, different change imperatives may require something other than brand.  When do you lead with vision? When do you lead with values? When do you lead with commerical imperatives, strategic plans? Is a burning platform a better central organising thought than your brand at a given moment?

The trick, I suppose, is to be able to appreciate the difference and use two of my favourite words — awareness and choice.  In this world of look-over-my-shoulder “best practice” it’s all too easy to do the conference circuit, pick the ten things other companies say you should be doing, and then do them.  But great ideas, inspired and effective approaches don’t often happen that way.  Those come from a different source altogether.

So – should your brand lead your engagement efforts thematically? My basic answer would be yes, in most situations, since your brand should really capture what your organisation and its people truly are and what they deliver to your customers/clients/stakeholders.  Using your brand makes your engagement/change effort a bit more bullet-proof when you get a new CEO or a new internal communication and change manager eager to make their mark on the organisation — after all, they don’t have the authority to change your brand, while they can easily overturn a 12-month-old engagement programme based on last year’s strategic plan.

But, sometimes, you may need to hang your hat on a different peg.  Then you need to think, “What is the problem I am trying to solve with this engagement effort? What is the benefit it will provide to the business, its customers and its employees if we get it right?” Those kinds of questions usually steer me in the right direction.


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