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Planning a People Promise


James Devon


25 Jan 2023


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Planning a what?

The concept of having a tightly defined brand centre-of-gravity is a long-accepted norm for marketers. This Brand Purpose (not in the ESG sense of the definition) forms the glue that binds activities together to form a coherent whole.

The implementation of Brand Purpose has generally been looking out from the brand to its customers. But brands are increasingly (and urgently) identifying the need to look in another direction, towards its people; towards its present and future employees

A business can only be as strong as the talent and motivation of its people. Brands need to understand and truly embrace how they acquire, retain and motivate the people that they employee.

Even before Covid-19, changes were afoot, with trends swelling and swirling to create strong tides of change. Like many things, the pandemic accelerated and amplified proceedings to mean that brands need to act now or face a talent exodus with little hope of high calibre replacements.

In short, brands need to make sure they have their People Promise. And quickly.

Parking people’s pay.

People expect to be paid well for a job well done. And why not? Without an appropriate package, there is no point reading on. Let’s park pay from this conversation, but remember that it’s not something that can be buried.

Instead, let’s focus on DEI, flexible working, economic slowdown, employability, upskilling, mobility and the threat of AI. All are trends on the horizon in this discussion. But the most critical area of all lies in ambition and, thus, motivation.

The dial has shifted to a more holistic sense of balance in life as the primary driver. There is a general sense that people want a good life, of which satisfying work is a part – but only a part. People are demanding time with family and friends, the ability to work remotely, and to be part of an organisation with a shared sense of mission. They are willing to simply walk away if balance is not achieved. Which is why having a strong People Promise is so crucial.

Brand Purpose and People Promise

If a Brand Purpose should guide all behaviour in a business, why do you need a People Promise? Why do you need both? The truth is that most Brand Purposes do not contain an explicit promise for employees (both current and future) as they are brutally focussed on customers. Ultimately the choice of where to work is selfish: Am I rewarded? Am I growing? Do I like it here? Does this job reflect my values? These questions are answered with the People Promise.

The Brand Purpose and People Promise must, of course, be intimately related. Viewing them as two sides of the same coin is useful – the same essence but with one aspect facing the brand’s people, with the other facing customers.

A People Promise without the Brand Purpose swiftly becomes a generic “this is a nice place to work” without any sense of differentiation or distinction. If I’m the type of candidate that can take a pick of dream jobs, then you had better have something extra that will woo me away from those dreams.

The premise of the promise

The People Promise must be unequal in favour of the person. Beyond a mutually beneficial handshake, a person must be left in no doubt that, whilst they will have to give something of themselves, they will be receiving far more in return.

Understanding what makes a brand’s people “flourish” is a helpful means of approaching this challenge. What does flourishing mean to them? How does the brand help them to flourish? It’s likely that personal growth, a sense of a common, meaningful mission, and a balanced lifestyle will feature somewhere in the answers.

A pervasive promise

As with a Brand Purpose, the People Promise must spread root and branch through an organisation. It should be part of recruitment marketing, guide HR policies, inform the benefits packages, and be the beating heart of the inspirational town hall sessions etc.

And it should be permeable. When you’re inside, it’s easy to see what’s inside. But to those outside, there’s an opaque membrane barring a vision of what it’s truly like to work for a particular employer. An air of secrecy is good for M16 and the CIA, but not if you’re a regular employer looking to recruit and retain the best talent for your needs.

Brands need to create channels of visibility; ways for the insides to leak out and show themselves. Social channels and people case studies have big roles to play here. This is particularly important at the junior end of the scale when people are getting used to the world of work in addition to getting used to particular employers.

People Promise please!

The apocryphal story of JFK visiting NASA and asking the janitor what they did there is pertinent to the People Promise. The response is a perfect example of what each and every NASA employee needed to give of themselves in order to earn the promise of the shared mission. “I help put man on the moon”.

Brand Purpose is an accepted truth. Brands and marketers need to add a People Promise to this for the business to thrive when the market for talent is becoming more and more demanding. Haemorrhaging talent is one of the key risks to every business. A strong People Promise not only stops the bleeding, but also makes future lesions much less likely.

James Devon is the Chief Strategy Officer of MBAstack, MSQ’s customer acquisition and engagement agency

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