Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Do the right thing with greater purpose

Paul Hitchens, Creative Director of Verve: Author of 'Do the right thing with greater purpose' in Brand & Reputation Management special supplement for 'The Times', Raconteur on 13-12-16. For full article - http://raconteur.net/business/do-the-right-thing-with-greater-purpose

Monday, 18 April 2016

The seven essential management skills for employer brand strategists

The seven essential skills that an employer brand manager should master or acquire if their brand is to flourish and bloom:
  • Ambassador – Employer brand managers must aim to be exemplary Ambassadors for their brand and practice the organisation’s values. They must be ‘on-brand’ at all times, lead by example and be mindful of contradictory behaviours. Success is achieved by guiding and nurturing a positive ideal and not by aggressive policing and enforcement.
  • Collaborator – The effective management of the employer brand strategy requires the full commitment of everyone in an organization and depends upon the collaboration of all departments from HR to marketing, finance to research & development. Employer brand managers must be collaborators building bridges with all stakeholders.
  • Innovator – Successful employer brand managers have an innate curiosity about their brand, its marketplace and relevance to the world. They embrace new ideas and are not afraid of change. Those who aim to have a long career need to be innovative or champion innovation through their employee culture. A brand that does not innovate is stagnant and in jeopardy of its future.
  • Emotionally intelligent – The ability to sense the mood of the brand and its relationships between colleagues, suppliers and key stakeholders with empathy and confidence is essential. Employer Brand Managers must be aware of the brand’s impact on the world and its effect on its market environment.
  • Communicator – Employer brand managers must be excellent communicators able to evangelise the brands message across a multitude of different media and situations. A consistent tone of voice and articulation of the brand narrative, are required online, across social media and in person one to one. If the choice of words, attitude or point of view vary from medium to situation the audience will sense a discord.
  • Curator – The employer brand manager is a curator of brand meaning. They must possess an aesthetic sensibility that is in tune with the brand’s essence. Every expression of the brand is an opportunity to bring its intrinsic nature to life. Offices, retail environment, online presence, whatever the circumstance, these disparate touchpoints represent employee experience opportunities. The effective curator will see the bigger picture and align these touchpoints into a seamless brand experience.
  • Futurologist – You won’t need a crystal ball, but a keen interest in new developments and an open mind as to what may be possible can pay dividends. Don’t leave new technology to the youngest member of the team or ignore new opportunities. Your brand needs to be where your audience expects it to be.
In a competitive market, employees will take great care in how they invest their time and career. Is your brand making its presence felt through ethos, culture and values? Are you offering something more than just a salary?

If you are interested in building a compelling employer brand please join me for the next Employer Branding Course with Symposium Training.


Presenteeism and leaveism at the Workplace - Wellbeing & Stress

When cracks appear in the façade of a brand it’s usually the people that work there that pay the price. If a brand is only skin deep it’s only a matter of time before the truth will break the surface. In the wake of some spectacular global brands and institutions taking a big fall it’s their values that get questioned; the values they were built on or the values that crept in. High standards and excellence cannot be sustained by long hours and fear of job security.

Julia Hitchens, Founder of Verve, examines the signs and implications for Employer Brands. -


Sunday, 17 April 2016

How to manage your brand’s reputation

The media loves a brand disaster story. From politics to sport, banking to automotive engineering, journalists are regularly inundated with stories of once respected brands that have been exposed for malpractice.

What indicators reveal how vulnerable a brand’s reputation is?

Read Paul Hitchen's new blog on 'Brand Reputation 'at the Chartered Institute of Marketing's Exchange Website -


Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Does KFC have a secret recipe for employee engagement?

The BBC’s ‘Billion Dollar Chicken Shop’ is the latest fly on the wall documentary to take cameras behind the counter and into the lives of KFC’s staff. What stood out immediately from this television programme was the positive, happy attitude of their staff that, despite generally receiving minimum wage salaries, were motivated by the praise of their colleagues and a vibrant culture of recognition. The KFC culture appeared as valuable as its mysterious ‘Blend S’ and a winner’s medallion awarded for employee excellence, is coveted like an Olympic Gold medal.

Today’s KFC brand started in the great depression of the 1930’s and was the dream of one man, Harland Sanders, who saw the potential to franchise his fried chicken concept and the first franchised Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant opened in Utah in 1952. In 2014, KFC sold over 700 million pieces of fried chicken in the UK and enjoys a global turnover of 23 billion dollars. The success of the concept is truly global and its single largest market is China where it pioneered the western style of fast food. Great brands are built on emotional engagement and to succeed for so long and continue to grow requires more than just a trade secret blend of 11 herbs and spices.

KFC must be smiling as it brings home buckets of awards for its employment practices. The fast food restaurant has drummed up accolade after accolade celebrating three consecutive annual wins at Britain’s Top Employer Awards by 2014 and the brand has appeared in the Top 25 UK Best Workplaces list for five years in a row. It is these successes that must have prompted the BBC to investigate further and film its serialized documentary examining its success.  James Watts, Chief People Officer at Yum Brands (KFC’s Parent Company) said: "We believe that as each year goes by we move closer to our ambition of becoming the best company in the UK for training and development, and to being famous as THE great place to work."
KFC’s HR strategy of positive praise celebrates a job well done and reaps benefits through employee performance and sense of wellbeing. The ‘all hands to the deck’ approach means that managers are not averse to rolling up their sleeves when the going gets tough which proves to be a great leveler and improves staff morale. Employee recognition pays huge dividends when individuals feel valued and themed incentives like ‘winners medals’ are a physical confirmation of their personal efforts n the context of a team dynamic.  The sense of group mentality in each restaurant is palpable and each franchise competes nationally to prove itself by achieving performance targets and the honour of recognition at the annual General Manager Conference Awards. Can positive praise, performance recognition and good line management be the secret ingredients to a culture of engagement? As one KFC employee said. “It’s not rocket science, it’s Chicken and Chips, that’s all it is!”

The government backed movement ‘Engage for Success’ identifies four themes "Strategic narrative, engaging managers, employee voice and organisational integrity" that collectively contribute to successful employee engagement. These themes emerged from extensive research conducted by David Macleod and Nita Clarke published in 2009 as ‘Engaging for success’.
‘Engage for Success’ summarises these themes on their helpful website - http://www.engageforsuccess.org in the following bullet points -
  • “Visible, empowering leadership providing a strong strategic narrative about the organisation, where it’s come from and where it’s going.”

  • “Engaging managers who focus their people and give them scope, treat their people as individuals and coach and stretch their people.”

  • “There is employee voice throughout the organisations, for reinforcing and challenging views, between functions and externally, employees are seen as central to the solution.”

  • “There is organisational integrity – the values on the wall are reflected in day to day behaviours. There is no ‘say –do’ gap”.

These four enablers of engagement were clearly observable in BBC’s ‘The Billion Dollar Chicken Shop’. What ever your feelings are towards the fast food industry its impact on the nations economy and the number of people it employs and supports is phenomenal. KFC employs 24000 people in UK and Ireland, has over 870 restaurants (all equipped as learning zones) and promotes 1500 people each year and the fast food brand has created an advanced apprentice scheme with City & Guilds. KFC fosters a strong family bond where personal development and recognition prove more motivational than salary. Not a bad legacy for a brand that started as a road side café in Corbin, Kentucky back in 1935.
Author: Paul Hitchens Creative Director - Verve Brand Consultancy

Friday, 12 December 2014

Countdown to zero engagement

Zero Hours Contract - Zero Employee Engagement?

How long can an employee hope to feel engaged with a brand that has only the most tenuous of commitments to their relationship and potentially leaves the employee at the beck and call of the employer? The recent political debate over zero hour employment contracts has drawn comment from across the political divide. Exact statistics as to how many people are affected appear to be spurious and the definition of the contract itself can be vague. The Office of National Statistics states “In general terms, a zero-hours contract is an employment contract in which an employer does not guarantee the individual any work and the individual is not obliged to accept any work offered”. The zero hours contract appears to require zero commitment from both parties and here rests the crux of the matter concerning the employer brand because brands are built on trust.

As the political debate has ensued, household brand names and familiar icons of the high street have been identified and vilified for their use of such flexible employment contracts. There is no doubt that zero hours contracts can work both ways to the advantage of employer and employee in certain circumstances. Students and people approaching retirement age may find the flexible nature of these contracts is suited to their lifestyle, but for individuals who depend on these jobs for their living, such terms may prove insecure and unsatisfactory. If a brand relies on an elastic work force it is essential that the employees are happy with their working arrangement and find that it benefits their lifestyle. Unhappy or compromised employees are more likely to become disaffected and have a negative impact on the morale of their colleagues. Strong brands are consistent but if the employer brand experience is sporadic it continuity will suffer and engagement levels will be compromised.

When a familiar brand name is associated with unfair conduct it will influence the public’s perception and affect their reputation. Strong brands have values that drive the behaviour of the employees and build a culture of performance. If you build a brand on a peripatetic workforce there will be reduced opportunity to create a cohesive and engaged culture. Any attempt to build a values based culture will be significantly harder when the workforce ebbs and flows according to demand. It stands to reason that a transient workforce will be less inclined to feel like a brand ambassador. Strong brands acquire meaning because they stand for something in the collective consciousness. A brands reputation is built on the consistent delivery of the brands promise and any question mark over its ability to deliver on that promise can erode confidence in the organisation and the integrity of the brand.
Since the global credit crunch the world’s brandscape has changed dramatically and this has been very visible on the UK’s high street. The disappearance from the highstreet of household retail names including; Comet, JJB Sports, Phones 4U, Habitat, Focus DIY, Principles, MFI, and Zavvi/Virgin Megastore stand testament to the challenging times. Levels of trust in the banks and institutions are at an all time low and the media spotlight on corruption and unfair practice demands a new era of transparency and openness. The latest political debacle about zero hours contracts is another example of how brands may potentially be guilty of contradicting the ethics and values they espouse in the treatment of their employees and suppliers.

Vince Cable, UK Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, has introduced legislation that will free workers bound by strict zero hours contracts that have previously prevented them from working for other employers. This move has been criticised by some pressure groups who accuse the government of not going far enough to protect people on the outside edge of the mainstream workforce who depend on these types of jobs. It’s part of a change in the jobs market that was identified in 2000 by the author and social activist Naomi Klein in her seminal book ‘No Logo’. She described ‘a sense of impermanence blowing through the labour force’. This change has affected everyone from office temps, retail, restaurant and technology contractors. Fourteen years ago Klein stated that every labour battle of the decade had focused on enforced casualisation. 

Today critics cry that a part-time, zero-hours workforce that receives minimal training and investment, contributes little tax and won’t help to pay off the nations deficit.
The challenge for the employer brand, if it is to continue attracting, retaining and engaging the best talent, is to demonstrate commitment and a degree of certainty within the flexible terms of the zero hours contract. If this is not achievable it will be a case of zero hours and zero commitment, which will impact on the brand experience and hit the bottom line. The fundamental building block of any brand is trust.

Blog Author: Paul Hitchens
Paul Hitchens, the author of this blog, delivers a number of Brand Workshops.

Find out more about how branding can bring out the best in your business. You are invited to join Verve for our new workshop in London on the 11th of February and Manchester on the 12th of February:

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Employer Branding: Does your brand have candidate curbside appeal?

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression

Mercedes-Benz World is a brand centre par excellence as befits a world-class automotive brand.  SME’s may not have the same resources but can benefit from the same virtues of hospitality, attention-to-detail and experience by gaining a better understanding of their brand.

You can't judge an apple by looking at a tree. You can't judge honey by looking at the bee, sings Bo Didley in the opening lines of his 1962 hit, ‘You can’t judge a book by looking at the cover’. Potential candidates for a new job may make their mind up about your organisation before you get a chance to meet them. Pre-judgment is something we are all guilty of and our first experience of a potential employer may prove hard to change. As the saying goes ‘you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression’.  

According to the government, Small and medium sized enterprises (SME’s) employed 14,424,000 people in the UK in 2013. The trading estates of Britain are the heartland of the UK’s SME’s and my experience as a Brand Consultant is that these estates are often uninspiring locations.  They can be dull, unimaginative places, but millions of people work in them. These businesses can have a great product or service but their presentation and hospitality lets them down. If these organisation’s were hotels, they would turn guests away in their droves, an issue that the Hotelier and TV documentary presenter Alex Polizzi understands in her business programme ‘The Fixer’.

A significant number of SME’s in the UK do not pay enough attention to their brand and the experience it provides. They may have a great offering, but this is not always reflected in how they engage with the outside world. I have frequently met business owners and senior management teams whose eyes glaze over when you mention branding. They are proud that they have had success through their networks and personal contacts, and they maintain that customers buy from them personally and that the business brand is not an issue or priority. Their own personal branding is typically good, but they do not follow this through to their corporate identity and employee experience. They may drive a prestigious car and take care of their appearance but they pay little attention to their brand. The brand ethos should be reflected in every aspect of the business and its employees.

If a potential employee has no previous knowledge of a business their strongest feeling will come from their first experience and as the saying goes, ‘you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression’. That ‘gut feeling’ has an important part to play in positioning a brand and if the experience is found lacking then the perception of the brand will flounder.

How good are we at judging character? The rise of the talent show as a popular entertainment format has been a phenomenon throughout the first decade of the millennium. Shows like Pop Idol, The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent have been compelling viewing for many people and have catapulted unknowns into familiar household names. In April 2009 the ITV talent show Britain ’ s Got Talent clearly illustrated how first impressions can be so spectacularly wrong. When Susan Boyle took to the stage, many people in the audience were cruelly mocking her. Susan Boyle did not match the stereotype of a successful female singer. She wasn’t young and glamorous. As Susan Boyle began to sing ‘ I dreamed a dream ’ from the musical Les Miserables the smirking expressions present in the audience changed to open-mouthed shock and awe. The panelists Piers Morgan, Amanda Holden and Simon Cowell were clearly impressed. History was made and Susan Boyle’s remarkable singing voice attracted international attention and was one of the most viewed clips on YouTube and a successful recording career beckoned. The media at the time described the moment as a modern parable, teaching us not to judge by appearances. Are we not all guilty of judging a book by its cover? Is your business a Susan Boyle brand? There are many businesses that have a fantastic product or service but their branding lets them down. A business may not get the opportunity to prove itself like Susan Boyle did and its image becomes a stumbling block to success. The audience was obliged to listen to the contestant but if the singer had been a business brand, would the potential customer or job applicant have given the organisation a chance? Estate Agents speak of curbside appeal, but would a prospect have opened the door or would they have taken one look at the exterior and moved on?

Potential employees need to ‘get ’ the brand or how can you expect new customers to understand its premise. You need to make sure that everything you believe in and stand for is communicated clearly. It is not easy to do this, as branding is so much more than a logo – people, hospitality, environment, design, colour, imagery etc. all play a part. Your brand connects with the senses and should be mirrored in every aspect of your organisation, from the product or service to the environment, people and culture.

Everything that a potential employer does to attract a prospective employee should be part of a consistent brand experience from an applicant’s initial awareness of the employer, through their application process, interview, selection and induction. The whole procedure should be viewed as a critical experience that tests the mettle of the brand at every touchpoint. An unsuccessful or disappointed job applicant will carry away an insight of the brand that could prove to be harmful to the brands reputation.

Ask yourself:

  • Is the recruitment process from awareness to on boarding, consistent with the brand and does it enhance the brand experience?
  • Is the recruitment procedure simple and easy to understand and information freely accessible?
  •  Are your candidate facing employees ambassadors for the brand?
  • Are recruiters properly trained and aware of the recruitment procedure?
  • Will candidates be kept up to date with their application process?
  • Are all communications in keeping with the brand?

Touchpoints are the myriad of interactions between a brand and its audience that tests the brand’s integrity. Collectively these touchpoints form the brand experience from which the audience appraises the brand. The audience includes employees, suppliers and customers. Brands are only as strong as their weakest link. Find out more about how a deeper understanding of the brand can create richer experiences. You are invited to join me for my new Brand Experience workshop designed to help you get to the heart of your brand:

Blog Author: Paul Hitchens

Find out more about how branding can bring out the best in your business. You are invited to join me for my new workshop in London on the 11th of December and Manchester on the 12th of December:

Successful Brand Management In A Day - The Brand Workshop London and Manchester

Book Tour - Brand Workshop

A special one day workshop presented by the author, Paul Hitchens. This fast paced workshop will follow the book with interactive exercises and real world examples. Each delegate will receive a complimentary copy of 'Successful Brand Management - In A Week'.

BOOK HERE 11TH December 2014 London

One day workshop >> £395.00
 + VAT

Telephone: +44 (0) 1932 352353

Website: http://www.verve.co.uk/book_events.htm 
Email: info@verve.co.uk

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