Leveraging Your Most Important Asset by Dr. Rick Garlick, Senior Consulting Dctr, Maritz Employee Measurement Group

Southwest Airlines is the only airline that has consistently been profitable in an industry that is losing money. It targets a distinct customer segment and a distinct experience. Whenever I give talks and mention Southwest, I usually get someone who will raise their hand and say, 'I hate that airline'.

CHART - Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers They don’t like not having an assigned seat. They don’t like so many kids climbing on the seats. They think the flight attendants or pilots make inappropriate jokes, like a pilot joking he just woke up when the plane hit turbulence.’ My response to that is, ‘You are not their customer. You are not the person they are targeting.’

A company with a strong brand understands whom they are targeting and builds a specific series of value propositions around that customer. If you are going to differentiate yourself, which is absolutely essential in this economy, you have to know what are your values, principles, ideals and whom you want to reach.

Value is driven in organizations by motivating and engaging the workforce, aligning people behind the vision. Companies want to hire people whose personal values reflect the values of the brand. They want people with passion for service and who communicate that to the customer. That creates powerful customer relationships. People come in looking for a particular experience, and when it’s delivered properly, it creates loyal customers, who in turn, further reinforce the brand image that ultimately creates profitable growth for the company.


The brand you create for the customer is also your employment brand. Both employees and customers choose companies with values that reflect their own. About four out of 10 say their company’s brand image attracted them to the company. There was something about the image and reputation of the company that made them say, ‘That’s the company I want to work for.’ When compared with everyone else, those who were attracted to their employer’s brand were twice as likely to believe its products and services were the best, no matter what the industry. They were twice as willing to invest their own money in the company and twice as willing to stay on the job if offered the same pay at a different company.

They become engaged employees, those who go out of their way to serve customers and anticipate needs. They don’t wait to be told. They are motivated. They are not stagnant or burned out. They are productive. They are supportive of management, supportive of co-workers, and they stay with you longer. They serve as an advocate for a brand. They are the best brand ambassadors you can find. They are eager to learn and grow, and most importantly, they demonstrate the brand values. They are the kind of employees everyone wants to build their entire organization around.

A strong employment brand impacts retention, customer satisfaction and profitability. Ultimately the more satisfied one is on the job, the more likely one will remain a long-term employee, be supportive of management and senior leaders and be more focused on creating great service for customers.

It’s a closed loop. Employees join because they like the company; they like what it stands for and as an end result, they are more engaged, more energized, deliver better, differentiating service and that further strengthens the profit and value of the company.

While employee engagement drives customer satisfaction, it’s also true that customer satisfaction drives engagement. If customers are unhappy, it wears down employee morale. Also, how a company is performing financially impacts attitude. When you are working for a company that’s not doing well _ they are laying people off, tightening belts, taking the coffee out of the break room, canceling holiday parties, it ultimately impacts how people feel about their work. Just as engaged employees create financial value for companies; a company’s financial struggles tend to be associated with job dissatisfaction.

Everything starts at the top. Senior leaders have to establish and identify the organizational mission. They have to identify what are the key values that are essential for developing customer loyalty. Who do we want to be for our customers? Who do you want to be? They must identify how those values and foundations are the practical principles behind competitive and economic success, such as “being a partner,” “fun to work with,” or “putting people first.” These statements actually have to mean something influential to how people perform their jobs.

These statements can’t just be catchphrases. Senior managers must act consistently with the values they espouse.

• 8 percent of employees strongly agreed that their “senior leaders act consistently with their words” and 36 percent disagreed. 
• 16 percent strongly agreed that their “leaders inspired their best work,” and 21 percent disagreed. 
• 17 percent strongly agreed their leaders were “ethical and honest’ and 19 percent disagreed.

It’s difficult to act as an advocate for the company when you don’t trust the leaders. Leaders must build a positive organizational culture. Some of the ways to do that is to celebrate successes, express appreciation for the contributions of all, not just some, recognize one another, encourage personal relationships on the job, set people up for success, respect individuality, respect employee boundaries and all employees the freedom to take risks.

Here are some of the success factors to transform a culture:

• Senior management legitimize the culture through their actions.
• Middle managers are committed to lead the effort and model the practices and values.
• Front-line managers take action to reinforce practices and values on a daily basis.
• Embed values and practices into the organization to reach critical mass.
• Produce communications consistent with the values and practices and including market, business and organization information.
• Provide feedback on performance and how people’s actions contribute to the success of the business.
• Reinforce through formal recognition and meaningful rewards.

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