Meriwether Lewis set the stage for the Corps of Discovery's success before one single "employee" had been hired. From the outset, Lewis and Clark engendered a communications culture that brought in the right prospects, then kept morale high and increased the productivity of those eventually hired.
More important, Lewis' communication culture not only outlined the day-to-day duties of Corps members, it imbued "employees" with a sense of mission and meaning.
He ruthlessly searched for just the right recruits. Lewis sought the strong, skilled, and eager, rejecting the weak, ignorant, and unmanageable. And through properly communicating his needs, he was able to get the people who could learn and live his "brand."
Prospects were told openly and honestly about working conditions: You will be in hostile territory, surrounded by hostile people. You must rely on your own devices for food and shelter. You could die.
They learned about benefits: "Great personal rewards will be bestowed upon you by a grateful government" if you are selected.
Lewis took his "employees" one step further: You will go, he told them, where no non-natives have gone before. You will help find the Northwest Passage. You will aid in the advancement of science, discovering new places, new species and new peoples. The mission is one of critical importance to the security of the new nation.
It was this open, honest communication of the emotional aspects, the meaning of the job that unleashed the potential of the Corps of Discovery as "brand emissaries."
Why Bother Communicating With Employees?
Sure, you're saying, when it's a matter of life and death, and you must depend on the person next to you for your survival, it makes sense. But, we're just talking about business here.
Well, the same goes for business. Employees are your most important audience, and they hold the keys to your organization's success. Let's examine the facts to find out why this assertion is true.
Companies spend millions of dollars each year developing mission and vision statements, identifying their brand, and then communicating their brand promise through various media.
Employees are the primary "media" in the majority of brand contacts. In most companies, employees don't understand the brand promise well enough to communicate it, let alone live it and articulate it clearly.
Gallup research of 300,000 businesses indicates that 75 to 80 percent of your people are achieving much less and feeling far less enthusiastic about their work than they could be.
If all your employees were "fully engaged," Gallup says, your customers would be 70 percent more loyal, your turnover would drop by 70 percent, and your profits would jump 40 percent.
The research also found that consumers who felt fast food restaurant employees did a great job were five to six times more likely to come back to that brand. At banks where employees stood out, the customer was six to 20 times more likely to continue the relationship.
Additionally, great employees also tend to engender "passionate" customers. For example, customers who praised store-level associates were 16 times more likely to be passionate about the retailer's brand.
Get employees on board from an emotional perspective and they carry their passion out to customers. Passionate customers carry it beyond to prospects through word-of-mouth.
Let's look at SAS Institute, a company with a clear mission developed from today's new realities. In its mission, SAS embraces lifelong learning for employees and service that is focused on customers with improvements driven by those customers.
Employees want a company that understands they have a life outside of work, that they have a need for learning and development beyond the strictly job-related.
Recognizing this, the company built a 200-acre corporate campus, landscaped to encourage outdoor leisure. Thousands of acres adjacent to the SAS campus were made available to employees to buy and build their homes. A private junior and senior high has been opened on campus so parents can have lunch with their kids.
Employees are treated like university faculty and are helped by the company to pursue their own intellectual interests, as well as their job-related ones.
As a result, instead of the typical 20 percent turnover of software companies, SAS has had turnover of less than four percent. SAS has a 95 percent annual renewal rate among its customers, and revenues increased from $653 million in 1996 to $1.13 billion in 2001.
Here's another example.
Springfield Remanufacturing is one company that has taken open, honest dialogue to a new level. CEO Jack Stack believes that when people know how they fit in and how they are evaluated, they will do the right thing. To this end, Stack launched a program that required employees to spend up to 40 percent of their time learning how to understand finances. "The tea leaves of business," Stack said, "are financials. It's much more than just looking at a simple balance sheet."
Springfield Remanufacturing spends more money each year to teach general business and finance than it does on skills training. As part of the program, the company's books are opened to every employee. Each employee is expected to think about ways the company can improve its performance. Quarterly bonuses and employee stock options are tied directly to performance improvements.
This company was once close to bankruptcy and today has grown to a collection of 23 small businesses with combined revenue of more than $120 million.
So, take a lesson from Meriwether Lewis: Communicate your brand position with your employees, tell them openly and honestly what's happening inside the company, and unleash some passionate results of your own.