What internal brands say externally

When a mad man walks naked, it is his kinsmen who feel shame, not himself – Ibo Proverb

Picture this: you are rushing for a job interview with a company that has head hunted you. You’ve worn your best suit and shoes and are pretty confident. As you enter the elevator, you find a man standing inside.

The man gazes hard at you and says,

“your suit looks cheap, that sheepskin rug on your head needs a hair cut and your shoes could do with a decent brushing.” He then steps out of the elevator two floors below yours, turns back and says, “Oh and you have spinach in your teeth.”

Will you walk out of that lift with confidence and swagger? Will you head straight for the interview meeting or will you make a beeline for the rest rooms to give yourself a final head to toe (via teeth) check? Naturally, your confidence will have been given a Greek salad toss. This is what bad managers do to their employees; they constantly chip away at employee confidence, keeping the team in a constant state of flux as the mad man walks naked amongst them.

It is usually the good performers who end up leaving. Bad performers, well, they have nowhere to go and can’t be bothered to put themselves through the ignominy of their poor track record being hung out to dry in an interview process with a potential employer. Bad performers are also pretty unambitious, preferring to hunker down and lie low like the proverbial envelope, hoping that no one will ever uncover the stone under which they slither.

It takes an average leader to recognize that there is something wrong in the organization when good people start to leave. It takes a confident leader to admit that there is something wrong with his or her organization and not something wrong with the departing employees. It takes an authentic leader to admit that the ultimate responsibility for all that is wrong with the organization is entirely up to him: that the buck stops at his carpeted office and rosewood desk. The authentic leader is critical of managers who treat their subordinates in turn badly. The authentic leader views such behavior as a reflection of his own behavior and shudders at the thought that employees can work for an abusive supervisor under his watch.

Take the example of *Linda. Linda is a department head with over a hundred employees in her team. She reports directly to the CEO and knows how to talk the talk so that in his eyes she can do no wrong. Linda’s team hates her. The Human Resources manager became concerned at the high turnover of good employees in her team and coaxed Linda to have a team building event to “break the ice,” “foster amicable relations” and all that mumbo-jumbo that a good human resource intervention entails. Linda arrived an hour late for the session and found the car park at the team building venue full. She proceeded to call one of the employees seated inside the building barking at how disorganized they were not to have reserved a parking for her. The session was then interrupted as some team members went into a tizzy deciding whose car should be moved to give Linda her “authorized space”. Once the session – which had begun despite Linda’s absence – resumed, there was a loud throat clearing noise from the side followed by a sanctimonious “ahem” from very pursed lips. “Don’t you know that it is a career limiting move not to introduce me,” she stage-whispered to one of the team members, who scrambled to the front to ask the facilitator to allow her to introduce Linda – and this is priceless – to her own team members! Less than an hour later, Linda quietly slipped out to go home. The team building was just “not her scene” leaving the rest of the team bitter, angry and completely disillusioned.

You can’t make this stuff up. This is a true story. A brand is defined as an identifiable entity that makes specific promises of value. Linda works in an organization with a very strong external corporate brand. An organization that spends millions to ensure you the consumers are seduced into the brand promise. But you never need to know what the internal brand is. In fact, in your view as the consumer, you are supremely indifferent to the internal brand promise as it will never affect you. Well you are wrong. An internal brand is the set of strategic processes that align and empower employees to deliver the appropriate customer experience in a consistent fashion. In simple words, internal branding is all about how employees are engaged, getting them to buy into as well as live, breath and edify the external brand to deliver an excellent customer experience. But if employees are suffering under the yoke of a bad line manager, hate coming to work and are looking out for any and every opportunity to escape to another organization you can be assured that the brand promise is the last thing they think about. The external brand is bound to suffer as it is inextricably linked to the internal brand. In Linda’s case, her CEO thinks she’s the bee’s knees and has turned a blind eye to her team’s discontent and talent attrition. It is only a matter of time before the external brand starts to feel the impact of the CEO’s indifference. An average leader will fail to connect the dots that a bad manager leads to erosion of the internal brand, leading then to good employee attrition which in turn leads to external brand deterioration. An authentic leader, like the Ibo villagers, knows that the bad supervisor is like a mad man walking naked, feels the shame and tries to cover that nakedness immediately with remedial action. How many naked mad men are walking in your organization today? Only authentic leaders will recognize and eliminate them.

Carol.musyoka@gmail.com Twitter:@carolmusyoka