Saturday, 25 February 2017

How to instill Brand Loyalty in your Employees!

When I was starting out, Companies, to my mind, were these giant edifices of stone and steel with high ceilings and vast cold interiors, with crisp air of detachment and clipped, formal conversations. 

I felt that I and several other people who went to work were governed by the invisible yet potent forces that swept through the monstrous Goliath we worked for, guiding us tiny Davids by their deft hand of skilful puppeteering.

Soon enough, it dawned on me that there was no such unseen-yet-tangible power that held sway over us and that ‘we’ were the Company. As tiny or big, but significant, cogs we kept the organizational machinery well oiled and moving. 

Over the years I have come to know that employees are the life force of any organization; cold stony interiors, imposingly gleaming exteriors and thick tomes of company bibles and manuals notwithstanding.

While a lot of us, including the Top Dog, make the mistake of thinking that we are irreplaceably important; we come to realize soon enough that our positions are strengthened and our roles made more meaningful by the efficacy, knowledge, cooperation and deliverability of the significant others.

If one must grow, then one must delegate well and help one’s team to grow. If the Company as a whole has to do well, then it can only do so if all the little and big parts work in tandem and with a focus towards the common goal.

Companies would just be buildings and ill-kept ones at that, in the absence of a good workforce. And a good workforce is one that is loyal to the Brand it represents and is in step with the Brand Mission and Vision.

Here follow simple strategies to help you instill a sense of Brand loyalty in your employees - 

1. Pay respect to their designation

Whether it is a bell boy or a valet or the visiting sommelier from that la-di-dah Wine Academy – pay weightage to that brass plate pinned with pride on their jacket.

At my first job with India’s premier company in the Social Expressions Industry, I cannot tell you how proud and appreciated I felt each time the Company owner introduced me to his business associates thus – “Meet Aruna, our Creative Writer.” I felt such a big surge of joy and self-confidence course through my veins making me want to deliver my best.

I often remember two different bosses I reported to at different times when I worked at the Australian Diplomatic Mission in India. Both had distinct leadership and management styles – one was a stellar example of the global best practices and the other falling somewhere at the bottom of the heap with his terrible ways. 

Yet, they both have left indelibly valuable lessons. While one would brush us aside in meetings or go on to say, “This is Aruna from my Department,” the other would make it a point to give the following introduction – “Here’s Aruna Dhir, the Media Relations Officer.” She struck a perfect Ten, first with the full name and then the designation, every time, regardless of who she introduced us to – an upcoming artist from Sydney or Minister Downer, the then Foreign Minister.

Each time I have introduced my staff appropriately – whether it has been our Residence Manager, the able Secretary or the efficient Assistant Manager – I have noticed their body language change. 

The eyes shine, the shoulders square up, the gait gets more professional and the entire deportment reeks of confidence in oneself, self-assuredness and loyalty for the Company they represent.

A designation is descriptive of a person’s role and responsibility and surmises in its few letters the remarkable experience the person brings with him and the journey he has been on so far.

2. Display importance in the role & responsibility they bring to the table

Behind that brass plate is years of qualification, experience and wisdom which enables your company to run smoothly. Show importance, be sincere and mean it.

No person is an island unto himself and no team can work in isolation. It is such an obvious fact that we all would be completely rudderless, disoriented and non-performing if the interconnected webs in the organizational matrix did not bring all the value that they individually create into the big pool of resources which then gives direction, movement and headway to a company’s onward path.

Every role – big or small, front of the house or back of the house, black suited, blue collared or white aproned – brings with it multi-dimensional worth and such amazingly wide range of experience that must always be optimally harvested.

To cite a little personal example – No matter how self-reliant, independent and charge-taking I may be, purely on account of practical reasons and the quantum of work I may be needed to handle, I would find it extremely difficult to concentrate and deliver well if the Housekeeper had not run her magic hands through my office, my Assistant had not helped me pick up some of the balls that I must throw simultaneously up in the air, my Printer had not cooperated in helping me meet the deadline, my colleagues from other departments had not shared information and handled their end of the deal adequately, the General Manager had not given his timely approvals and so on.

With hotels, every minor cog or a big component is essential to the smooth running of the hotel machinery. From Chauffeur to Chef, Doorman to Director – Food & Beverage, Engineering hand to Executive Director, Laundry Valet to Liaison and Finance Controller, Sales Executive to Spa Expert, Concierge to Communications Chief, Housekeeping Head to Horticulture Manager – each individual is integral to the flawless functioning of the hotel. 

Each must be valued for the nous they bring with them. You ignore any part and you end up losing both guests and reputation.   

3. Learn about their fears, inhibitions and reservations

We all have a big set of weak traits, rational and irrational fears, cultural or personal inhibitions that come in the way of our growth.

If I speak about myself, I have this strange, dichotomous conflict of interest. My professional playing field is Public Relations yet I feel I am quite the introvert in large gatherings. 

Once you put the microphone before me in a large setting, I end up speaking rather impressively but put me in a moderate group and I become tongue-tied. For years I have had to battle this strange situation that tears me into two different directions. 

It has not been easy because my area of work pushes me into the feared zone on a multitude of occasions that I simply cannot turn my back on. An encouraging boss and a positive organizational climate have helped me steer smoothly without sinking my ship of reputation.

A rarely occurring case of mental paralysis is quite alright and something that one can get over. I was attending the IXth Commonwealth Study Conference in Australia and was called out to write a formal document on one occasion and participate in a team skit on another. 

Inspite of having been a published writer for better part of my professional life and being known at large for my gregariousness; unfortunately on those two occasions I failed miserably. Neither did I manage to produce any coherent literature, nor did I shine out in my parts so much so that the Team Lead ended giving me monosyllabic words to utter all through the performance. 

Thinking back about the episode still makes me feel terrible about myself. Yet, my Australian Group remembers me for a lot of my other facets and not the two sore thorns in my flesh; perhaps because they were one-off and not a common pattern. 

A mature organization, wise HR people, considerate colleagues and an understanding boss can play such a huge role in ensuring that the employee gets the better of his weak spots. As a step further, they can help him build a success story on the behavioural boulders by the right intervention and assist him in winning his personal hurdle race by turning the stumbling stones into building blocks. 

It is the Supervisor and Company’s moral obligation to combat those demons on a war footing along with the team members. There are no perfect employees. Perfection is a sense of perpetual aspiration. 

A good boss and a great organization can always manage to harness the strengths, weed out the weaknesses to turn the entire team into an envious group of people who deliver one tour de force after another.

4. Build on their strengths

Every employee has a mixed bag of strengths running through the direct – Writing skills, Business acumen, financial proficiency, good in Sales, impressive academic record, technical knowhow; and the indirect – great with people, attention to detail, pleasant demeanour, good in crisis situations, multifariously talented.

I remember my first mentor with a lot of fondness and gratitude. She nurtured us like cherished plants, watering our desires to grow up, feeding us with excellent experiences that she would squarely put on our table, support us only that much and then nudge us to become more accountable, fertilize us with splendid ideation meetings encouraging us to think out of the box, knowing well that we would bear rich fruit.

An Assistant I taught everything from scratch had this Buddha like disposition and she was great with people. She was a wonderful team mate during crisis and was a perfect foil for my Type A personality. It was such a wonderful outcome to help hone her professional skills and fan her inherent facets. The Department fared better as we went along aiding and equipping her; allowing her to blossom.  

Whether it is team building or crisis management or being good with numbers or great in handling difficult people; find the mojo of the employee and turn it into a major strength; which the employee, the team and the Company at large benefit from. 

5. Put thought and feeling into your gifts to them

We all have been recipients of gifts from our bosses and colleagues and givers of similar gesture to our teams. Even though we are told to not look the gift horse in the mouth, just how many more duty-free shop bought Toblerone packs can we eat, how many Pierre Cardin pens will we stash away and how many more perfume miniatures will we pass on as a gift from that trip back. 

Gifts without thought are the number one reason for that other bad habit – what comes around must go around.

Whether it is confectionery from your trip back or Xmas gifts, let the gift speak volumes. Skip the standard chocolate routine (for all you know, the recipient may not be a confection lover) or the other cheap (by that I am not hinting at the price at all) or common gifts. 

Gifts should be thoughtful; even when they are the inevitable chocolates. Focus on suitability – do not try to shove square pegs of inconsiderate and indifferent gift boxes into round holes of individualistic personalities.   

One of my sales colleagues once got me a lovely crushed silk scarf from his trip from Hong Kong. Even after more than a decade and a half, I love the little piece of cloth and enjoy wearing it. Did it cost him a bomb? No. Do I still remember him, even after not having worked with him for more than ten years? Absolutely yes! 

Well, gifts should have this sort of effect on the recipient. That is why they are or should be given in the first place. 

Back in the early 90s, on one of my first few business trips, I was travelling to Mumbai with my Australian Boss. We were staying at the Taj, on the same floor, in suites facing each other’s. 

Imagine my pleasant surprise when my boss dropped in, took one look at my room and ordered me out of my mine and into hers. The reason – she had a sea-facing room whereas mine had a view of the mesh of scaffolding that had been put up and hid indiscreetly by the equally ugly tarpaulin. 

My generous boss wanted me to have the nicest experience at one of my earliest hotel stays so much so that she was happy to shift to the room with a crappy feel. 

One of the nicest gifts I have received was from the Hotel General Manager - my immediate boss at the luxury chain I worked for. It was when he withdrew his name from his place at the prestigious Summer University put together by the Hotel Chain’s Centre for Learning and Development. He put my name instead knowing that it was one of the greatest lifetime experiences for me and that I was very eager to be part of knowledge enhancement. 

He said he had been a part of one too many and felt that I would gain a lot from the interface; which I did, with faculty from some of the finest international management schools. 

But the greatest lesson I learned was to be thoughtful about my team, about being genuine and kind, about nurturing the team and giving them positive growth opportunities and yes being selfless.

The above two bosses have left such a mark on me that I enjoyed the companies I worked for largely because of them. The two have taught me some wonderful lessons that I imbibed into my own style and that I often quote and refer back to when writing out case studies for others to benefit from.

Like I said, companies are not concrete and mortar. Companies are caring set of people who create outstanding organizational climates for all those around them. And strategies to instill a deep sense of Brand loyalty in one’s Brand Ambassadors are one of the most crucial and profitable best practices.

Picture Courtesy - Google Images

Friday, 24 February 2017

How to win employees and influence them!

Back in the 80s, when I was in School, two writers significantly became the flag-bearing keepers of our soul. They, with their path breaking works, became mentors to help us iron out the intensely complicated relationships we had personally and officially.  

For any teenager coming out into their own and for young professionals wanting to get a foothold in their work settings, Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peale became the guides who would coach us to weed out differences, work towards a state of harmony and make our equations less chaotic and more conducive. 

Carnegie’s bestselling book, ‘How to win Friends and Influence People’ became a bible for a whole generation when it was published in 1936 and stays relevant till date.

The success of such books has always underlined the fact that it is absolutely essential to get along with one’s significant others and develop a healthy, mutually beneficial and psychologically rewarding relationship with them. In the work atmosphere, employees become one of the biggest and most important stakeholders.

When one is younger and perched on the first few rungs, one is brash enough to think that things will not function smoothly if it were not for one’s brilliance alone. 

As you move up and along, you realize that there are several people and things that contribute to your growth process and keep you in the reckoning. It is the other employees, your company colleagues and inter / intra departmental teams that help pave the path for your company’s and your advancement.

I have seen the wrong set of employees break the best of places and happy, positive, motivated teams take even small establishments to great heights of fame and fortune.

So how do you win employees and influence them positively for the greater good of the Company and the people that make it what it is!

Here are five simple tricks that pack quite the punch - 

1. Call them by their name

With this practice I have seen strangers step easily into my circle of acquaintance. They feel that they have an equation with me. Leave alone educated, well-bred folk, even the construction workers I have been dealing with, for the better part of the year, feel identified and accepted. Imagine what this simple habit can do with people who are well-exposed to education and are advanced enough by experience.

The moment you address someone by name, they feel recognized. It is an affirmation of their vital presence. It signifies that they are important enough for people to recall their name. It is a vocal acknowledgement of all the things – background, experience, responsibility – the name brings with it. 

Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts have made quite the art of this corporate philosophy. Many Four Seasoners have told me that it is imperative for all senior executives to memorize the names of all employees and their spouses. 

Think about how much positivity, a sense of bonhomie and professional bonding, mutual respect and just the right dose of familiarity this injects into the organizational climate, decidedly making it a better place to work in.

When you call somebody by their name you establish a direct line of contact with them and make them more accountable to what your need or expectation is of them.

Calling somebody by their name is the easiest way to show respect and the quickest strategy to convey inclusion.

2. Get to know them

In the service industry at large and in hotels in particular, we end up doing long hours and work on shifts that never seem to end.

When an organization is so much about people – on either side of the table – it makes a whole lot of sense to invest in this software and make genuine efforts to know the team members.

That is why there are employee meets, Annual Sports Days, birthdays that are celebrated collectively, Employee-of-the Month Recognition, Staff parties, Team events, Departmental outings. Also the formal appraisals and reverse appraisals. Make use of these tailor-made occasions; or else create special opportunities to really get to know your people.

Learn about their ambitions, aspirations, drives; encash it where necessary, employ the talents where they fit in and carve a path of succession for them.

Your people pool is one hell of a goldmine of talent and experience that can help you reap rich business benefits. In turn, you give fillip to the vertical and horizontal growth trajectory for the people who bring power to the organization.  

3. Get to know them up, close and personal

That is why Bowling events, Staff day outs, Quarterly Picnics and the like were invented. 

That fellow in the starched uniform is actually a fun guy with a special talent for singing or mimicry. He is the heart of any party. That lady Housekeeper who makes the beds perfectly has a great hand with origami. No wonder then that she churns out jaw-dropping works of towel art that take the breath away of guests from around the globe.

At almost all the hotel chains I have worked with, there are these two important fixtures on the HR Events Calendar – the Annual Staff Party and the Departmental get-togethers. 

The Human Resources, Sales and PR Departments go all out to make these events a resounding success by creating fantastic party themes and mini events that keep the evening buzzing right through and by going to lengths to ensure wonderful gifts for as many employees as possible. 

At one such event, my Assistant won the ‘Miss XYZ Hotel’ title, the euphoria of which stayed with her for a long time giving itself away in the spring in her step, the twinkle in her eye and a radiant smile. From iPods to Chanel first edition scarves to trips to Maldives or Dubai – we have had hotels think up the best tricks to make these bonding events difficult to forget. 

Then there are the out-of-station get-to-know-your-team trips from which colleagues come back knowing an impressive lot about the boss or the direct supervisor or the cubicle neighbour – all in the way to create happy, productive, non-conflicting work atmospheres.

If you know your people well you not only know what keeps them ticking, you have the knowledge to utilize their best attributes in the right place at the right time making them feel more involved and appreciated. 

You can also do an easy SWOT analysis to see what are the traits that can be underplayed or aspects that can be trained upon to improve or shoved under. 

I knew this Sales colleague who was extremely good with numbers and had a keen business sense. He was always the one to make the FRM presentations for his Director. He went on to do due diligence for the Hotel Owner in his next role and eventually moved into international strategy and business development for a multinational chain. 

On my part, not only my command over the language but my interests in training saw me offer tailor-made capsules to a wide range of people from the telephone operators to chefs, engineers to the HR folk.

Therefore, knowing your employees is an integral baseline to a happy organization and a healthy bottom-line.

4. Get to know their family and the family dog

This actually happens at some of the best international chains. Even the Dog bit is true, I am told by an ex-boss who worked for Four Seasons for a long time. 

Not just Indians and Asians, I have seen people from all over the world gush over their families and enjoy sharing about their spouses and children. Making an attempt to know the families has several pluses. 

With the family getting to know the place of work, it infuses a happy and healthy energy for the organization in the minds of both the team member and his significant other. In the times of professional exigencies – in the tough-scheduled, round the clock hotel jobs this is more a rule than an exception – the family is much more understanding of the occupational pressure and willing to support. The employee on the other hand is less stressed and more mentally free to engage in the work at hand.

A French boss was so proud of his lively wife and would talk about her with such glee. The rather nice lady had a bent for interior designing and readily extended help to the F&B team when they were doing up one of the restaurants for a food festival. 

Then there was this French-Australian Executive Chef whose Australian wife would help us put up a great show during Melbourne Cup celebrations or the Oak’s Day with her wide network and first-hand knowledge.

Knowing the family of your people provides you with so many more options to connect with them at different levels. It helps you become that little bit more familiar, which comes in handy when you wish to dissipate tensions, reinforce bonding and ensure the two-way loyalty – the company’s towards its employee and vice versa.

5. Get their family into the work place

I think this is the nicest and surest way to seal bonds, earn loyalty, reinforce brand affiliation, cultivate trust and leave an increasingly warm feeling for the Company in the employee. There is also the bonus - that of turning the family members into extended brand ambassadors.

When I was about eight, my Dad would take me to his office on certain days of the year and fill my day at his place of work with a set of unforgettable experiences – I could watch him work, have a site visit when he was in meetings, get to draw exciting stuff with those official red and blue pencils, walk the corridors with him and meet people who handled different roles. 

At the end of the day, I was so proud of what my father did, happy to see a wonderful place of work, learn about new things and in the process have an ineffaceable impression from the first-hand experience that would definitely stay with me for a long time.

Many years later, I was a visiting fellow to the United States and was meeting with the head honchos at the World Bank. On the day of our visit, guess what they were observing! A happy, energized, exhilarating Daughter’s Day Out! The biggest conference room had been done up for the special visit of the little VIPs. The Buntings and the balloons had been put out to give a facelift to the dreary room, the activity stations had been laid out and the elaborate menu planned for the lunch party. 

But most of all, I am telling you, I saw all the executives – even the senior most – strut their stuff about to impress their little wards in a fair attempt to leave lasting impressions. The working Mom or Dad was showcasing their company and their work to their impressionable children; in turn the kids would have one of the finest and enduring lessons on the goings-on at the World Bank. 

I truly believe that getting the family into the work place through the various HR tactics – Kids’ activities, rewarding meritorious children with certificates, gifts and scholarships, get-togethers where spouses are invited, Christmas and New Year parties where the employee’s family is the special guest – is one of the strongest ways to keep the employees happy, proud and bonded with the brand, which they would truly wish to promote from their heart.

Do take a minute to share with me the tactics you and your Company have employed to win over your employees and to keep them engaged and positively influenced. 

I would love to hear about all the great things you do.

Picture Courtesy - Google Images