The United Services Automobile Association (USAA) gives each new hire a copy of an actual deployment letter sent to a soldier heading into the field. The Fortune 500 insurance and financial services provider has trainees tote 65-pound backpacks and eat field rations (MREs, in military parlance) as they get to know the company and the active and retired U.S. military service members it serves.
USAA is also known for being a great place to work and a great brand: It is routinely listed on the Fortune Top 100 Companies to Work For list (No. 19 in 2018) and was named a “Best-in-Class” brand by Forrester in its U.S. Customer Experience (CX) Index earlier this year.
“The simple lesson behind the success of… USAA: You can’t be special, distinctive, and compelling in the marketplace unless you create something special, distinctive and compelling in the workplace,” Bill Taylor, author of “Simply Brilliant: How Great Organizations Do Ordinary Things in Extraordinary Ways,” wrote in Harvard Business Review.
USAA has created something special by leveraging the power of brand. At its essence, a brand identifies what matters by providing a clear purpose and values. When properly harnessed, brand gives focus to HR, allowing the organization to target and hire people who share those same values. It can be an organizational North Star that drives workforce accountability and creates a high-performing workforce: If an organization is operating with a shared vision and a shared sense of self, employees are better able to connect their work with that of their peers and move beyond short-term measures of performance. Eight out of ten employees feel more engaged when their work is consistent with the core values and mission of their organization, a 2017 IBM study found.
Brand also makes clear what an organization should be doing – and what it shouldn’t. The fact of the matter is that culture and brand go hand in hand. Most enterprises think of their brand as their outward-facing image to their customers, but a strong brand exerts substantial internal influence, with the ability to shape company culture and set organizational norms in substantial ways.
In doing so, a strong brand gives managers new ways to hold people accountable, with metrics that ultimately are more meaningful and more consequential to the business. Employees can be held accountable for maintaining the integrity of the brand, aligning individual priorities with company vision and demonstrating the brand values and purpose in action. Managers can look not only at how employees are performing but also at how they are laddering up and advancing the broader cause by serving as brand ambassadors.
Consider the case of a sales organization charged with generating leads. How those leads are generated can be as important as how many were generated, because brand reputation can be damaged by tactics that are incongruent with the brand. With brand in mind, you can not only manage leads generated by a particular department but also evaluate how the salesperson won over people and demonstrated your brand’s values in action. Beyond rote financial performance or other traditional means of accountability, you can now look at the whole organization working in a symbiotic manner, toward the same end.
We have found that leaders who successfully use brand to drive shared values and workforce accountability do so by embracing three key mandates:
• Operate with a clear organizational purpose in mind. Brand can both define and help propagate that purpose.
• Put in place HR practices that ensure that individual values are aligned with corporate ones. Recruiting, onboarding and retention initiatives can all be structured to support the brand and its purpose.
• Establish KPIs that support bringing values to life. All employees are brand stewards, and communication is critical. Confusion about any aspect of the brand or metrics will frustrate staff and undercut investment in brand efforts. When KPIs are clearly defined and articulated, expectations are understood, and everyone is driving toward the same goal.
As organizations like USAA have found, a strong brand can help create, support and measure purpose. To maximize this potential, consider using purpose to drive a discussion about hiring practices and accountability. Knowing who the organization is as a brand can help ensure that employees from the front line to the C suite are living up to the brand identity and its ideals.