A newly-released study by Baylor University finds that executives in human resources, marketing and public relations generally agree that “building a business reputation from the inside out – with employees giving a company high marks as an ethical place to work” – provides a competitive edge, alongside offering high quality customer service and products.
The study, published in the Research Journal of The Institute for Public Relations, underlines the fundamental new focus on internal branding to support key organizational values. According to researcher Marlene Neill, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences, numerous companies and departments are championing “emotional buy-ins” with employees, tying company core values such as honesty and respect into annual employee awards and job performance evaluations.
“Prominent companies that ‘walk the walk’ they advocate may help reduce turnover, improve performance,” researchers found. This study reaffirms recently published reports in ESM (Engagement Strategies Media) at EnterpriseEngagement.org highlighting the shift in traditional recognition budgets to internal marketing. (Also see: Northwell Health Rebranding a Marriage of Marketing and HR.) This is bound to accelerate the shift in spending from traditional recognition programs or siloed corporate communications and marketing toward more holistic engagement strategies that address and align all of the elements that inspire people to help organizations achieve their objectives. This same type of integration occurred in marketing beginning in the late 20th century.
“While many companies focus on making employees more customer service-minded, promoting core values is a way to engage employees and increase their commitment and loyalty to the organization and at the same time encourage ethical decision making,” says Neill in a recent article about the study.
For her research on what Baylor calls employer branding or internal branding, Neill conducted interviews with 32 executives in PR, human resources and marketing, drawing from 26 companies in 11 states. Several companies are ranked in the Fortune 500, the Global 500 and Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.”
The study reports that organizations spend about $54 billion on employee onboarding, and that part of employer branding is promoting ethics, as well as benefits and training during that process. Another key component, “routine communications” – email, newsletters and face-to-face encounters – is critical for companies who want to inspire integrity, humility, team support and innovation.
At the same time, Neill cautions: “If workers come to believe that an employer does not ‘walk the walk’ touted at orientations and in communications, they may decide that the company violated a psychological contract…That may lead to turnover, job dissatisfaction, distrust and reduced performance, despite good salaries, benefits and chances to advance.”
Some executives in the study suggested that perhaps the most powerful way to avoid these problems is linking ethics to reward systems. “When someone receives an award or gets a nomination, it has to be related to one of the values. And then we have values painted all over the office on the wall, so those are the two big reinforcements,” one HR manager told Neill. “You’re also rated on the values in your annual performance review.”
Other ways to inspire employees and foster ethics include codes of conduct, employee training, ethics audits, ethics hotlines, newsletters, handbooks, testimonials and an ombudsperson, says Neill. Here are some of the executives’ comments from the report as outlined in the Baylor University statement:
- “So our values are supposed to be integrity, courage, curiosity . . . If we’re struggling in an area, it makes me wonder, ‘Are we not communicating well? Are we not being honest? Or are we not being perceived as being honest?” — From an HR manager whose company surveys employees about corporate values
- “Whenever you think about internal branding, you need to think about it over the life cycle of the employee – from the time they are hired and going through employee orientation until the day they walk out the door.” — From the managing director of a PR agency
- “Instead of (an orientation) being 80 percent ‘Let’s get you signed up for your benefits, get your emails and get yourself through the class and out the door and off to work,’ it’s more of a really intense three-day sort of boot camp that is 80 percent oriented toward mission, the members (customers) we serve, the culture we have . . . so you come out of there just fired up.” — From a vice president of corporate communications
The study offers the following recommendations:
- Employers should communicate ethics in a relevant way, such as employee testimonials and historical anecdotes.
- Employers should review their core values to be sure they mesh with policies and reward systems. If not, they should make revisions.
- Employers should review recruitment and orientation materials to include core values.
- Employers should evaluate their ethics programs and see if they should add more resources, such as ethics audits or decision-making trees.
- Employers should do routine surveys to see how employees rate the company’s performance in regards to core values.
- Employees who model ethical behavior should be rewarded through positive job evaluations and awards programs.
Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution.
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