A mission to motivate staff

Mission statements are failing to hit the mark, with research revealing that employees feel managers value customers more than staff.

New research commissioned by Corporate Edge shows that most employees know their company has a mission statement. But are staff motivated enough to bring this vision to life for customers?

While the recruitment and retention of talented people has always been a concern, a number of studies suggest consumers’ buying decisions are in part based on how companies treat their employees. Hence the reason many companies are starting to look more closely at how they communicate with and motivate their staff.

So how do companies, particularly those in the service sector, ensure that employees not only understand what the corporate brand, philosophy and values are but feel motivated sufficiently to act as a bridge between what the organisation says it stands for and customers’ experience of the brand in action?

The Corporate Edge study of managers and staff in marketing, human resources and communications departments sheds light on current practice. The era of the mission statement isn’t dead. Nearly two-thirds of those questioned in the quantitative study claim their company has a stated purpose or mission statement.

This figure is even higher when it comes to company values. It is encouraging that more than half the sample felt that both the mission statement and their company’s values were “very relevant” to them in their job.

But while a high proportion of managers claim their company has a mission statement and values, the figure is substantially lower among other staff, particularly those who deal directly with customers – arguably the most important group.

Of the companies which have a mission statement or stated values, general staff see them as less relevant than managers do. This suggests either the content is not sufficiently compelling or differentiated, or that the way the message is communicated needs improving.

The study looked at how corporate philosophy is communicated to employees. It showed that most organisations still favour the old-fashioned methods of internal memos or posters on office walls, rather than more interactive forms of communication.

This is particularly interesting given that Industrial Society research suggests team briefings are by far the most effective form of internal communication.

The Corporate Edge research concludes that only one in seven companies use line managers to communicate mission statements and values.

Content is critical when it comes to persuading employees to adopt the behaviour suggested by the corporate brand. According to Corporate Edge, a lot of managers believe mission statements lack focus and are uninspiring, and company values are often seen as generalised statements that all companies share. Managers site “integrity”, “teamwork” and “customer focus” to illustrate the interchangeable nature of corporate values.

The statements organisations make about themselves need to fit with the reality of company behaviour – especially that of managers. Internal branding and development programmes come unstuck at the first sign that they are mere window-dressing. “People are our most valuable asset” is a phrase that is often used in company reports, yet more than one in three non-managerial staff believe managers see customers as more important than employees.

And more than one in five non-managerial staff believe customers have a more favourable image of the company than employees do.

The implication is that the increasing number of employee-focused programmes will only work well if staff feel valued and recognised by managers. In other words, companies need to display “on brand” behaviours when communicating and managing employees.

The research suggests companies need to shift their perspective fundamentally if brand messages or values are to be more than statements on the boardroom wall.

Even well-intentioned phrases such as “internal marketing” suggest there is an “us” – the managers – who market to “them” – the employees.

Companies would do well to turn their organisation charts into brand charts, where the people who express brand values every day through their interaction with customers are at the top of the pile and senior management’s role is to support and reinforce the message.

Factfile is edited by Julia Day. Corporate Edge associate director Nick Jones contributed

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