By Margery Weinstein
The employees who make it long term at your company are good at their jobs. They do their work well, and turn their assignments in on time. They get along with colleagues and give you countless good ideas for future growth. But do all of these individuals who are so adept at doing their work and collaborating with peers also understand how to communicate your company’s mission and brand to customers and the public? In the age of Facebook and Twitter, and blogs that rate everything from restaurants to dog groomers, you need a strategy to ensure all your employees leave customers with a positive feeling about your company. Global tax, audit, and advisory firm Grant Thornton, Ltd., offers a case study on taking public relations and image training for non-public relations specialists seriously by creating programming to back it up.
Best Face Forward
For Grant Thornton, ensuring the public sees the firm’s best face is paramount. The organization, after all, keeps a high public profile, regularly appearing on such business cable shows as CNBC’s Closing Bell. Such interactions with the world need to be pitch perfect, so all employees, no matter their role, are given a healthy dose of image education. You don’t have to be a brand specialist at Grant Thornton to know your way around the do’s and don’ts of effective public communication.
“Brand is one of the five key drivers of our firm’s strategy,” says National Director of Learning Operations Monique Brannon, “because of its role in helping us to build a global reputation as an influential and responsible firm, the firm of choice for dynamic organizations.”
Safeguarding the brand includes a tailored curriculum for employees that targets developing an understanding of the company’s commitment to customers. It also includes an education on how the company is marketing itself to the public. “Our global values play a vital role in maintaining our image and brand, as well,” says Brannon. The company even has an easy-to-remember acronym it uses to keep employees on track: CLEARR: Collaboration, Leadership, Excellence, Agility, Respect, and especially, the value of Responsibility.
To protect that mission statement in all learning programs that are created, Brannon and her team have developed a formal process in which new curriculum is picked over with a fine-tooth training comb. “We review CLEARR in all firm learning programs as a way to reinforce what we are about internally and externally,” she says. That means everything from the Webcasts to the face-to-face programs the training department develops are examined for alignment with the company’s marketing and public relations programs.
Stay on Message
Specifically, Grant Thornton looks at the tone of the messages it projects to employees. It isn’t enough that instruction gives employees the tools they need to do their jobs. They also need the right language in mind as they think about their jobs and their responsibility to customers. This starts at the top leadership levels. Company executives are disciplined about using precise and balanced statements in their updates to the workforce. “Tone-from-the-top messages are important ways our leadership reinforces what we want to be known for—quality and integrity—and how to approach that in our everyday work,” Brannon says.
Supplementing this focus on targeted communications, the firm concentrates on honing the image it projects in programming for up-and-coming employees. While it’s
important for all employees, no matter their level or job role in the organization, to understand the firm’s mission, it is even more crucial for those leading others to have the mission statement and overarching brand mastered. The messaging conveyed is carefully tweaked, for example, in the firm’s New Manager and Senior Manager Development programs. The organization instills in these burgeoning leaders an awareness that their job as message carriers to the public doesn’t end at 5 p.m. “As leaders, we represent Grant Thornton 24/7, so, for instance, when we are traveling with our luggage tags clearly visible, our behavior represents the image and brand of the firm,” says Brannon. The firm also lets new leaders know the need to constantly be aware of image won’t end even when they reach the top rungs of the corporate ladder. “This message also is reinforced in our Executive Presence course,” says Brannon, “which has been offered both nationally and at the local office level.”
The education Grant Thornton gives employees on upholding corporate branding and marketing always is being tweaked for improvements. Lessons have been learned in priming workers to be public relations conduits. One of those lessons is focusing on positive reinforcement. Rather than simply chastising workers who fall short of upholding the corporate mission statement, the firm offers workers a public relations training carrot. “At Grant Thornton, we’ve learned that constant communication and reinforcement are important,” says Brannon, “as is recognition of those employees who demonstrate great examples.”
Brannon says the organization knows the red flags indicating an employee requires more training on how to maintain the company’s upstanding image in their interactions with the public. “Feedback from a client, or a potential client, indicating that the firm missed the mark or failed in some regard could be a red flag,” she says. “Annual service quality measurement/survey results, post mortems, or debriefs are the most likely times when such red flags might come up.”
Managing Social Media
Along with age-old concerns, such as an employee’s manner with clients on the phone or during an in-office business meeting, the firm also must contend with the image-
damaging hazards of social media. Fortunately, Brannon says, if a company trains its workers well enough in upholding the corporate image, the potentially damaging effects of social media are manageable. “Increases in the use of social media inevitably bring some heightened concerns over privacy and risk,” she says. “However, I’d have to point to the messaging and reinforcement around our global values yet again as I think it speaks best to how our people conduct and manage themselves on a daily basis, both internally and externally, regardless of the form of media.”
addresses the handling of both client and firm confidential information.
With the training of its employees in public relations seemingly under control and a success, the firm realizes it can’t rest on its laurels. The continued expansion of the business is rife with pitfalls—and opportunities—to continue to improve how employees market the firm’s brands through positive interactions and communications with customers and the public. “For our firm,” says Brannon, “globalization and the emphasis on partner development are key channels where further development and education in this area will occur.”
Training also spoke with Lynne Zappone, senior vice president, Americas HR and Global Learning, at hospitality company IHG, who offers her public relations point of view.
Q: How do you ensure all your employees maintain your company’s image and brand name?
A: A company’s brand and image starts with its employees. IHG is a hospitality company, and great hospitality starts with great people. IHG knows that creating “Great Hotels Guests Love” starts with attracting and keeping the very best people. Several years ago, IHG charged its employees with developing guidelines for how they act and behave with guests and each other. These personal interactions are where the company’s brand and image truly come to life, and they are so important. Meetings commenced among employees at all levels of the organization and around the world, and through this process, IHG’s Winning Ways were born. Our Winning Ways are: Celebrate Difference, Aim Higher, Work Better Together, Do the Right Thing, and Show We Care. Our employees embrace our Winning Ways because they developed them. To continue to reinforce them with employees, as well as educate new employees, we focus our training and activities around them.
All new employees take part in new employee training, which includes learning about our Winning Ways. Ensuring that employees are good ambassadors for the company and our brands, we also make sure we thank employees for what they do each and every day, so they know they are making a difference on behalf of the company. This year, we hosted Celebrate Service, a week dedicated to celebrating and thanking everyone who works at our hotels or offices for their outstanding service to our guests and to each other. During the week, hotels and offices held events and took part in activities to say “thank you.” These included BBQs, staff parties, breakfast giveaways, personalized thank you cards, sports days, and prize drawings.
Q: What are some lessons your company has learned along the way?
A: Employees need to see how they and the work they do supports our company’s goals. Our employee-created Winning Ways have been added to all our training materials—you even can see Winning Ways artwork in the halls and meeting rooms at IHG.
We also saw a need to develop an employer brand: the IHG Commitment. It’s a promise to our employees that IHG will create an environment where everyone can bring their unique personality to the job they do. We call it “Room to be yourself.” In return, we ask our employees to live our Winning Ways. In a specific way, IHG has defined what employees can expect working here. All of our people programs are captured in four “rooms”: Room to have a great start (recruiting and hiring), Room to be involved (community service and employee surveys), Room to grow (training and development), and Room for you (benefits and compensation).
All of our people programs are branded consistently and visible to employees, from our intranet site to our employee materials and throughout our work areas. You can walk into any IHG location all over the world and find our employer brand.
Q: With the rise of social media, what new employee-related public relations concerns have arisen?
A: We understand that social media is a big part of many of our employees’ lives. In training it’s more of an education process on how social media works, how what you say through social media channels spreads and can be taken out of context. There is a global and regional social media director at IHG, and there are policies to address the use of social media by employees. We also are offering training to hotels on do’s and don’ts and the basics of social media/social marketing.