An inherited team can make or mar the brand of a new executive—and of the organization. Leaders would do well to give their teams a clear idea of the brand they want to establish and the team behaviors and characteristics that manifest this brand.
When I help a C-level executive transition to a new leadership role, I often need to remind her that her team represents both her brand and the organization’s brand. Not giving your leadership team a clear idea of the brand you want to establish for your organization and the behaviors that manifest this brand can undermine your efforts and create confusion in your team.
It is striking how few leaders clearly articulate the critical brand attributes they want their organization to manifest. If the organization’s brand is poor, fix it quickly; within six months to a year, the brand you inherit becomes yours. Every new CxO should, early during the transition, have conversations to define the go-forward brand, set the context with critical stakeholders, and drive behaviors and actions that make the brand a reality.
A first step to triangulating on a new brand is to interview existing stakeholders and customers and take an inventory of terms they would use to describe your existing organization. For instance, you may hear that finance is usually a naysayer to the business, it’s unable to support critical investments, or it can’t provide critical information or useful insights for critical decisions. Negative as well as positive descriptions offer opportunities to transform future interactions and reset the brand. In this instance, providing timely, insightful, and accurate information may become part of your desired brand.
A second approach is to consider your goals for the organization. For example, CFOs often tell me they want to make finance an effective partner to the business. This may be the overarching goal. But as the brand defines how you are perceived in the delivery of the goal, you next need to ask yourself what terms you are likely to use in describing the delivery of this overarching goal. A CFO might say, “I want my finance folks to be trusted, confident, and insightful when being a partner to the business.” These descriptors are helpful in creating a brand statement.
A third approach is to brainstorm with your team on how to define critical brand attributes. This approach, most importantly, involves your team in the brand definition process, enabling it to take ownership of the result. Engaging the team to frame brand attributes also expands the set of descriptors for the brand. For example, members of the team may add the need to be perceived as a fair and objective organization.
Adding these descriptors, you could now frame the new desired brand: “The finance organization consistently delivers timely and accurate financial reports and insightful analyses to support business decision making and value creation. Finance is a confident and trusted partner to the business that is fair, objective, and transparent in its processes.”
A key responsibility of the new executive is to analyze and potentially reset the context of the brand in the company. This may require breaking prior patterns of the organization’s interactions with critical stakeholders and internal customers.
For example, as a new group CIO, if you find a business leader has created a shadow IT organization in the business unit leveraging the cloud and other technologies—neither involving nor ignoring your staff in these initiatives—it could prove a challenge for your team in achieving its brand aspirations. The solution is to explore renegotiating your staff’s participation in this business unit’s IT-related initiatives. If unsuccessful, you have to decide whether to escalate the issue or to temporarily dial down services to this business unit while exceptionally serving other businesses that are more cooperative and enable brand development. Either way, you will have to renegotiate the environment.
The brand is defined not by what you say but, rather, by what your organization’s key stakeholders observe. As you reset the context and receptivity of a new brand with key stakeholders, you will also need to ensure your team undertakes the behaviors and communications to manifest the new brand. They will also need to manage the behaviors that undermine the brand.
Once your team has taken ownership to manifest a new brand, you may need to tackle redefining the visuals, shifting rewards and incentives, and role modeling to achieve your branding goals.
In a business context, visual perception often trumps auditory and other perceptions. Computer support personnel dressed in business casual in a formal environment could convey the wrong impression. The casually dressed computer support guy may be brilliant at restoring a nonfunctioning computer, but when he arrives on the executive floor, he may contribute to the perception of a team without professional discipline. Similarly, logos, consistent visual identities, and formats of reports and presentations can all serve to emphasize professionalism and attention to detail.
Leaders will have to be role models for the desired behaviors. If the goal is to be responsive to customers, leaders themselves need to demonstrate this trait. If the team is to be perceived as insightful, leaders need to show that they value insights from their staff and perhaps even generate valuable insights for their clients.
Incentives and rewards are essential to reinforce the desired behaviors that represent the brand you want to create. Rewards can be varied—from recognition in newsletters of a job well done to smaller monetary awards. Implementing incentives and rewards will also require measurements to validate the incentives. For example, if you want to improve the brand in terms of responsiveness as a CIO, it is important to track the times to satisfactory problem resolution and strive to bring down the time. Complementing incentives and rewards with tangible measures of behaviors and desired outcomes enables you to track progress toward the consistent delivery of your organization’s brand promise.
The takeaway: Your team becomes an expression of your brand—so explicitly express and co-create the brand you desire with your team. Triangulating from multiple perspectives on key desired brand attributes, ensuring key stakeholders are receptive to a brand reset, and aligning rewards and incentives and role modeling critical behaviors to manifest the target brand can more systematically help change perceptions of your organization.