Every single business person in the world today is reminded, almost daily, of the importance of their customers', suppliers' and partners' perception of their organization. This is especially important in today's global business environment where first impressions can make you or break you - first impressions that are made in your lobby, from your website and by your employees in non-business environments.
Right or wrong … that's the way it is, and we all understand it. Most organizations have come up with catchy little logos to further bolster the public's perceptions - logos like "I'm Loving It" (McDonalds), "Ideas for Life" (Panasonic), "Working Late, So Are We" (UPS), "Think" (IBM), "Always Low Prices!" (Wal-Mart) & "Enough Dreaming - Time to Ride" (Harley Davidson). These mental images pave the way for possible business dealings long before cold calls and business meetings ever happen.
So life is simple … create great perceptions of the organization externally, then make an excellent first impression and your business will flourish. Your suppliers and partners will all develop a perception of trust, but most importantly your customers will perceive an environment of trust and will begin to recommend you to other companies, starting a networking effect that will grow your business to unimaginable levels of success … end of story right ? Wrong, there is an important part of the equation missing here - the perception that employees have of their organizations, or internal perceptions.
Internal perceptions are much less cultivated by companies, for no other reason than a misguided lack of importance of the issue. Let's take innovation for instance, in this day and age it is very important for organizations to be innovative in the solutions they provide and/or to be the first company to market with a new idea. If the perception (rightly or wrongly) of the employees in such an organization is that mistakes will be punished with reprimand or firing, then the likelihood of innovative solutions to problems or new creative ideas for future business developments will be few … very likely non-existent.
It is my experience that managers in many organizations simply don't consider internal and external perceptions on the same level of importance, this is so wrong, it should almost be criminal !!.
What is at stake here is the future fate of an organization, I am not talking about the "principle or determining cause or will by which things in general are believed to come to be as they are or events to happen as they do - or destiny".1 I am referring to "an inevitable and often adverse outcome, condition, or end - a disaster". 2 Since the fate of an organization ultimately rests in the hands of its employees, why do many companies ignore the internal perception of employees in favour of the external perception ? The answer, sadly, boils down to nothing more than a lack of encouragement. Few organizations know how to encourage their employees, all the while spending a great deal of time encouraging their customers too shoot for the stars - assuming they will take their current partners along for the ride.
This is a recipe for disaster; people (i.e. employees) are critical. The key, in my opinion, is for an organization to make their employees feel, think and act like owners - this can absolutely not be achieved when they have negative internal perceptions. Companies need to have employees that are optimistic, conscientious and passionate. Positive internal perceptions will help support this kind of work endeavour. Negative internal perceptions and the company grapevine will devastate this effort.
Since I used Harley Davidson as one of my perception bolstering logos, I will also use them as my example of what to do in this situation. Harley Davidson has made a science out of making their employees feel, think and act like owners - in fact this effort has been so successful that they have turned this concept into a marketing campaign, and extended it to their customers.
Harley Davidson's Code of Business Conduct (CBC) opens with a caption which reads "Ever since three brothers and a friend began our business over a century ago, Harley Davidson has grown on a foundation of basic values that guide not only the way we do business, but the way we interact with the world around us every day". The CBC then includes a letter form the Chairman and CEO which states "To My Fellow Employees - Once you join the Harley Davidson family, it doesn't take long to get swept up in the excitement of everything our brand represents …… There aren't many companies that can commit to fulfilling the dreams of their customers. Harley Davidson can. It's up to each of us to commit to that goal by demonstrating the highest level of integrity in all our actions. We owe it to our customers, fellow employees, suppliers, investors to our government and society. And we owe it to our predecessors to make the right decisions for the next hundred years". Included in the same article is a list of their values; "Tell the Truth, Be Fair, Keep Your Promises, Respect the Individual and Encourage Intellectual Curiosity". 3 Finally with every Harley motorcycle sold, the buyer receives a package from Harley Davidson which when opened reads "Welcome to the Family".
These types of business conduct statements are not new for many organizations, but you must admit that Harley Davidson's 22 plus years of record-breaking sales makes for more than a good argument to follow (or at least investigate) the idea of positive internal perceptions to achieve ultimate success.
The simple fact of the matter is, if an organization wants to be successful in today's age of lean manufacturing when fewer people are asked to do more with fewer resources, positive internal perceptions are essential to the consistent success of the organization.
After all, if an organization is already imparting a positive external perception to the business world, then expanding this effort to include an enhanced internal perception should be straightforward and will ultimately improve the organization's overall business value … the rest is all details.
1. Webster's On-line Dictionary; http://www.m-w.com/dictionary.htm
2. Webster's On-line Dictionary; http://www.m-w.com/dictionary.htm
3. Harley Davidson - Code of Business Conduct;
Sloan Campbell is a Program Manager at ELCAN Optical Technologies. ELCAN Optical Technologies (ELCAN) is a world photonics leader specializing in the design and manufacture of complex, precision opto-mechanical and electro-optical systems and subsystems for projection display, medical, industrial, automotive, defence, entertainment and telecommunications markets. You can e-mail your comments to the author at email@example.com .
Many more articles in Creative Leadership in The CEO Refresher Archives