by Cassie Hughes | March 30, 2018
In this era of unprecedented transparency, your employees and your culture have become your brand. Businesses are now like glass boxes: Stumbles with customers and missteps within your own four walls are almost immediately visible on social media and critiqued on a public stage. Despite that, most companies continue to focus primarily on marketing their brand to potential customers, while largely ignoring the critical audience inside their own walls. But those that start inside and build a strong, engaged employee base and workforce who are connected to and passionate about their brand values see the most success. In fact, companies with highly engaged employees outperform their competitors by 147 percent.

Employees are your best advocates -- they carry the flag for your organization, represent it to the outside world, and are the first point of contact for prospective and existing customers. When they feel engaged, valued, and connected to your brand and your company's mission, they champion it to their networks and beyond, and especially to, your customers. 

It's important not to confuse engagement with parties or perks or an annual rah-rah all-hands. While those moments of fun are important to create camaraderie, they don't necessarily connect employees to your values or the higher shared purpose they crave.

For sustained engagement, incorporate these best practices:

Invest in perks with meaning 

Ping-pong tables, kegerators, and nap pods get all the press when it comes to attracting and competing for young talent. But the perks proven to move the needle on employee engagement are the ones that help your workers fulfill their potential, like opportunities for greater flexibility and autonomy. Some corporate culture pioneers like Salesforce and Google have cracked this nut by offering work-remote options and encouraging employees to dedicate time to pursuing passion projects or philanthropic endeavors. Google famously allows employees to spend 20 percent of their time on a project of their choosing. This not only stokes creativity and engagement but has resulted in the creation of valuable products, including AdSense and Gmail.   

Tie recognition programs to core values

The best way to ensure your employees understand and feel connected to your brand values as well as a larger sense of purpose is to celebrate them. At companies with recognition programs tied to core values, 93 percent of workers agree the work they do has meaning and purpose. Bay Area-based healthcare network, Dignity Health, believes that humankindness has the power to heal -- they live and breathe this mission and actualize it through every facet of their business, but they know what matters most is that their employees feel connected to this purpose. Their annual week-long celebration, Act of Humankindness Week, fosters connectivity by celebrating those inside their walls who demonstrate compassion in both big ways and small, and empowers their employees to nominate one another for humankindness awards. Peer-to-peer recognition is also a tool SurveyMonkey uses to engage its team around its values by facilitating a survey (of course!) that encourages employees to nominate their peers based on the company's five core values and recognizes the honorees at their company-wide meetings. 

Convene and celebrate your people around your values and they will embody and exemplify them as representatives of your brand.

Engage employees like consumers

Often when a new campaign or initiative is launched, employees are among the last to know, even though they are the first who will be asked questions by customers. To get them excited, engage them like consumers with a "wow" moment that surprises, delights, and educates. For a relaunch of one of Pepsi's water brands, they held an experience at their headquarters that brought to life the idea of "streamlining," including clever desk drops, branded golf carts offering lot-to-door service from outlier parking lots, and streamlined elevators and cafe lines to help them speed through their day. Pharmaceutical giant Novartis borrowed a strategy from social media, and begun using gamification a few years ago to educate its global network of employees on the brand's values and family of products. After year one, they reported a 12 percent increase in employee satisfaction.

Your people are your biggest asset, and when nurtured, become your best champions. Prioritize building your brand inside your own walls and watch your business grow.

Cassie Hughes is an experiential marketing innovator and human engagement expert. She serves as chief strategy officer for Grow Marketing, which she co-founded in 2001 to create immersive live experiences that ignite emotional connections and fuel advocacy for top global brands, such as Google, BlackRock, Target, GE, and PepsiCo. In 2017, she co-founded Root + Rise, a new division of Grow Marketing exclusively dedicated to helping brands activate their ethos from the inside out, for stronger brand health and bottom line impact.