It’s Your Humblest Employees Who Really Show Your Company’s Character

“Can you help me?”

“Neither of us knew what help he needed, and the cashier suggested a few things before he figured out the gentleman needed help cutting and eating his meal,” the Facebook post read. “To be honest, I thought the cashier wasn’t going to help, especially during rush hour in downtown Chicago, but to my shock, he shut down his register and disappeared from view.”

In a crowded McDonalds during lunch hour, a man in a wheelchair placed his order. When the food came he asked the cashier for help — and he got it, with the McDonalds crew member helping the man to cut his food.

What do you do when no one is watching?

John Wooden, the late, great former UCLA basketball coach coined the phrase, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”

This McDonalds employee was not looking for praise, and he did not know anyone was looking. The customer who noticed this and took the photo and made this young man an instant celebrity.

What was on exhibit here was a brand ambassador in action. The publicity from around the world for McDonalds and this location — and more importantly, this individual — is Exhibit A for the role your employees pay in this quest for branding.

One employee, one bad move, and you are damaged. One employee, one good move and you are a superstar. That is just how tenuous this situation is. There have been numerous instances of how your ambassadors have changed the dynamics and put everyone in damage control.

Senior leaders vs. employees: Who do you trust?

The 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer, a trust and credibility survey that collects data from more than 30,000 people, found that regular rank-and-file company employees have more credibility than executives. This shows the tremendous opportunities that companies have in getting their mission and values on track and living it every day.

However, one of the other findings in this survey was that the trust of senior leaders was at an all time low of around 40 percent.

The recent situation at Volkswagen is a perfect example of how rogue employees can create a brand disaster. It has been stated that their CEO was aware of faulty programming that would throw off sensors to show that their autos were in compliance. I have always been amazement that individuals would concoct a scheme to circumvent a process, knowing that it is illegal, when the same time and energy could have been spent doing it the right way.

As a result, Volkswagen has lost over $50 billion in value since this scheme came to light. The CEO was let go and I am sure there are a host of others that are on pins and needles waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Minimum wage vs. millions

Money can’t buy character. This CEO’s action will take years to return Volkswagen back to what was a trusted brand. While the McDonalds employee burnished the company’s image, he showed that those on the lowest rung of your organization chart have the ability to polish your brand like no paid mouthpiece could ever do.

By turning employees into trusted brand ambassadors, companies bring their strongest asset and most vocal internal advocates in direct contact with their customer base. They bring rank-and-file credibility, and this offers a perfect opportunity to get them involved as much as possible into your branding message.

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Employee advocacy is a critical element of brand’s success. In the digital age, companies don’t have much social capital, whereas people do.

Scott Kirsner, innovation columnist at The Boston Globe, puts it like this:

I listen better to people directly involved than people paid to pitch. In-person connections are where it’s at. I want to see companies in their natural habitat: when they innovate, not when they have a PR agency.”

People are the brands — and the channel

So how do you cultivate brand ambassadors internally? Well, it begins by trying to figure out what are the values of your company and your brand. In other words, who are you, how do you do it, what does your organization stand for?

Once you can answer those questions, you can look to cultivate these values in your staff by creating an environment where employees enjoy going to work and feel that their efforts are noticed and rewarded.

Covering for the bullies in your organization is not a foundation to build upon. I say that because those words that you discover and use in your branding have to be unconditional. When anyone violates your values you have to send the message that such behavior will not be tolerated.

With employees being the most trusted source for customers, it’s vital that your company’s employees are encouraged to participate in your brand. With an organizational culture designed to attract and reward those ambassadors, you’ll soon see what an asset engaged employees can be.

If you’re looking to cultivate loyalty and create brand ambassadors, start from the bottom up. You will then find your authentic self.

Remember everyone is watching — whether you are the cashier at local McDonalds or the CEO of a multi-national corporation.  In the end, your people are the channel.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.

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