Monthly Archives: May 2009

What’s The Story With Your Mission?

You may have seen this photograph before…it’s one of the most famous of the 20th Century and certainly of the Vietnam War. Aside from sheer terror captured by the photographer (Nick Ut), it’s the story behind the photo that propelled this image to infamy. This story became a lynchpin of the anti war and anti napalm movements in America.

Stories have always been critical to the success of social movements. They’ve been used to incite action by exposing injustice the way Rodney King’s story was used to provoke riots in LA and eventually became a symbol of the bubbling tension between the distressed black community and white law enforcement. And they’ve been used like fables to articulate the moral framework of a movement.

Consumer brands have very sophisticated stories. Apple established a narrative condemning the drab and oppressive PC establishment while mobilizing their forces to fight for creativity starting with the <a href=”″>1984 spot</a> and continuing today in the Mac vs PC spots. Stories of Harley Davidson’s popularity with the Hell’s Angels have given the brand an enduring culture of rebellion.

What’s interesting to me about the stories that consumer brands tell is that almost all of them are completely made up – fabricated by genius spin doctors at ad agencies. Whereas NPO’s and causes have real stories to tell, many basing their very existence on the founder’s personal quest. However, due to the inequities of the media market, we hear so few of them.

One of the ways NPO’s do attempt to tell their stories is by utilizing the ubiquitous and oft-insipid mission statement. These statements are too often stripped of the real storytelling elements and exist only as a regrettable corporate necessity. It’s too often an opportunity missed.

What’s your organization’s collective identity? What does it promise? What are the stories that define your cause? Do they just highlight the importance of your work or do they have a moral framework? Are they capable of mobilizing people?

The good news is that it’s easier than ever to tell your story. Getting an audience on the Internet is not a monumental feat (the fact that you’re reading this is a testimonial to that.) We have a forum for accessing the population so it’s now about understanding how to use this medium for effective storytelling. So I pose the question: what are the best practices for storytelling via web 2.0?

In my next post I will dissect the traditional elements of storytelling and explore their applications in the web 2.0 world. In the meantime, check out <a href=””>BRANDEMiX</a&gt;.


So What Makes You So Special?

From Geoff:
The latest from Geoff: In my last post, I discussed one of the ways to create a culture around a cause. A concrete mission can energize a community, but it’s only the first step. The key to creating a movement with staying power (one that is magnetic enough to have people seeking you rather than the opposite) is brand.

This term gets thrown around excessively so let me explain exactly what I mean. In essence, brand simply refers to a company’s promise. It’s a set of expectations that a particular product will do certain things or make you feel a certain way. That’s why we expect to jump high when we wear Nike and why we expect to be treated like cattle when shop at Circuit City.

Often times, brand is literally the only difference between 2 competing products. Why do we buy Claritin when the Duane Reade brand is right next to it for half the price and it’s the exact same drug? Because we have higher expectations of the Claritin brand.

But what if you don’t sell products? What if you run an NPO and there are 4 other organizations with the exact same mission (or even the same name) as yours all vying for the same donor. What makes you special? Your mission and your brand cannot be the same thing or you won’t have a differentiating proposition regardless of how noble it is.

People already feel empathy for your cause. They know homelessness is bad. They know children in third world countries need clean water. All of this has been programmed in by society. But in order to get them to buy-in emotionally, which is where the real power is, they must be connected to your culture and your people. What separates you from the 4 competitors is the personality of your organization. It’s the way you go about accomplishing your goal. It’s how your people act, talk, think, and do. That’s your brand.

Social movements grow their influence by branding their followers…both literally (with a branding iron) and figuratively. They give them names: Beatniks, Hippies, Carpetbaggers, and Trekkies. They have a specific method for accomplishing their mission: non-violent opposition, civil disobedience, art and music. They can even have a unique way of dressing: bell bottoms and tie-dye, baggy jeans and ‘Tims, dreadlocks and red, green, and yellow.

Social movements have such distinct cultures that people cannot help but identify with them. Consumer brands are starting to tap into this as they brand their employees. That’s why only “geniuses” work at the Apple store, only Baristas serve coffee at Starbucks, and only geeks can fix your computer at Best Buy.

So what would you call your people? How is your way of accomplishing the mission special? How does your organization’s culture make you special? These are the questions that can turn your cause into a movement. To get a head-start check out BRANDEMiX.

What Would Your Janitor Say

In the midst of the space race in the 1960’s, president Kennedy was given a tour of the NASA facilities. Along the way he encountered a janitor and asked the man, “what do you do here?” The man replied without hesitation: “I’m putting a man on the moon.”

The beauty of this story is not merely in the unity-of-purpose that NASA exhibited, but also in the clarity and simplicity of that purpose. The objective “put a man on the moon” was so beautifully unambiguous that even the janitor could connect with it and articulate it, despite the fact that the objective its self was thought to be absurdly lofty at the time.

When the objective of an organization is conveyed with that kind of concreteness and certitude, the members of that organization are instantly empowered. Each individual suddenly knows exactly how to do his/her part in accomplishing the end goal, and the mission becomes a rallying cry rather than a verbose corporate header.

Social movements are powered by the same principle. The more concrete the objective, the more passionate the following. “Bring our boys home.” “Overthrow the Ch’ing and restore the Ming.” “Legalize gay marriage.” “Bring back Family Guy.” All of these goals are cut-and-dry. Success is yes or no, not shades of gray. As a result, these movements have all amassed large, highly engaged followings. Oh and most importantly…they all accomplished their goals (or are on the brink).

Companies have started to use this kind of thinking to align their employees around their brand. They’ve found that the best way to create a cult following of customers is to create a cult following of employees.

Movements don’t have customers…effectively everyone is an employee. So if you want to turn your cause into a movement, start with the people who are already in your organization. Presumably, they’ve chosen their job because they inherently care about the cause, but are they doing a job or are they putting a man on the moon? Once you build that culture of change, the movement will start growing organically as employees become recruiters and advocates.

Being concrete and vivid when expressing your raison d’etre is only part of the equation, the rest of which I will address in subsequent posts. For a head start in galvanizing your organization from within, check out BRANDEMiX.

The XYZ’s of ERP’s

Don’t Derail your Best Source of External Hires: 5 Surefire ways to screw up your Employee Referral Program

It’s no surprise that CareerXroads’ 8th Annual Source of Hire Study finds Employee Referrals are the best, most cost effective sources of external hires. I was surprised to learn that 31% of the 45 participating companies (all with 5000+ employees) claimed to make 1 hire for every 1-4 referrals. That’s pretty impressive.

It’s been well-documented that people (employees, vendors, alumni etc) make more qualified referrals because the people they refer are seen as reflections of themselves. But Employee Referral Programs also contribute to reducing turnover. People that “sell” others on their company are also subliminally “re-selling” themselves by continually reciting all the reasons they like working there. It keeps the Employer Value Propositions top of mind.

Successful employee referrers also contribute to creating a better internal culture. Chances are, they’ve just received a sweet wad of cash for successfully recommending their friend or former colleague, and now the two may be found happily exchanging productive ideas or work anecdotes at happy hour.

So why would HR want to mess with such a sure-fire formula? While no one would ever admit to intentionally thwarting the almost guaranteed efforts of a referral program, I’ve seen it happen time and again when consulting with major companies. Instead of going for the win-win, the program flounders.

Here’s how yours can too:

1. Don’t give employees selling tools
2. Keep them guessing about the status of their referral
3. Make referral rewards as small as possible, and make employees wait forever to get them
4. Overcomplicate the process of referring candidates
5. Set it and forget it

I’m sure your own company’s program doesn’t share any commonality with the list above. Here’s what’s considered best-practice:

1. Accentuate the positives. Don’t just wait for award season- over-communicate what makes your company a great place to work and break it down by geography, discipline or compared to your greatest rival. Send messages out as frequently as possible, and put together an integrated strategy that combines an online toolkit with table-tents in the cafeteria. Make sure your employees are the first point in the communications cascade for all your Press Releases and open-to-fill so they have an understanding of business strategy and talent needs.

2. Don’t forget to say “thank you.” Keep referrers in the loop about where their candidate is in the process. No one likes the black hole. The best-in-class employee referral programs offer a small incentive just for referring someone- even if their referral isn’t hired. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but hopefully it’s something that can stand out in the workplace- like a branded jar of candy- to get people hungry for one of their own.

3. Pay a bonus worth giving. Employee referral bonuses might range anywhere from below $500 to above $5,000 depending on the difficulty level in finding the candidate. It doesn’t have to be the same reward (or even a cash reward) for every level – you can tier prizes for exempt/non-exempt and even “heat-up” the prize at mission critical times. Think about how much you would pay a recruiter for finding you a candidate. While it may be higher than you’d pay someone internally, be generous. And pay out half on the referree’s hire date and half at the 3 month anniversary. Don’t be a buzz-kill and make people wait a year for $100.

4. KISS (Keep it simple stupid) Tie referrals into your ATS and keep your rules and regulations to a single page (or virtual equivalent). Signatures and special forms just slow things down.

5. Make your program fun and refresh often. There are so many fun ways of engaging everyone collectively around employee referrals. Posters, pay stuffers, online widgets, social networking badges, screensavers and quarterly drawings are just a few of the things you can incorporate into your program. Send out a notice with the offer letter and galvanize the spirit of your new hire by letting them become your company’s brand ambassador.

If you’ve already got the basics down, consider these suggestions to turn up the heat:

  • Open your program to external sources- Pay awards to friends of friends- people who know people but may not be employees.
  • Donate to my favorite charity- Enable employees’ bonuses go directly into their charity of choice.
  • Tier it up- Add quarterly bonus drawings and increase the prize based on total referrals for the period. This is a sure-fire way to get everyone working together.

The tangible and intangible benefits from a successful employee referral should make revamping yours first on your to-do list. BRANDEMiX can help.

Send a Salami to your dog in the Army

Armed Forces go Social

For Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley and other Army brass, a new era has brought a new language — and new tools like online social networks Twitter and Facebook — for seeking out young recruits and spreading the military’s message.

Showing off the videos during an interview at his office at Fort Monroe, Freakley said some of the questions were surprising: Can I have a dog in the Army?

The Army isn’t the only branch of the military with Facebook friends or that has a following on Twitter. The Air Force has also established a Facebook page, Twitter feeds and a blog, while the Marine Corps is using various networking sites mainly for recruiting purposes. The Navy is “experimenting” with several forms of online media, and some of its commands are using Twitter, a spokesman said. Even the Coast Guard commandant regularly updates his Facebook status while traveling.

Earlier this year, the Army established an online and social media division within its public affairs office. The division’s director, Lt. Col. Kevin Arata, said the search is on every day to find new avenues online to reach not only soldiers, but their families and the general public.The Army has also added to its Web site video games, a virtual recruiter and clips that answer commonly asked questions about life in uniform.