If you’ve ever been around a precocious child, you are no stranger to the question, “Why?” And then when you answer that question, it’s followed up by another thought provoking question… “Why?”
Eventually we all grow out of the “but why” stage, yet it doesn’t mean that the question no longer exists in our head. A clarity and purpose as to why you’re doing something drives motivation, especially in the workplace.
It’s no secret that companies spend tons of money researching consumers so they can talk to them in the most effective way. Yet many of those same companies don’t invest the same resources in learning how to communicate to their own workforce.
Recent studies have shown that how companies speak to employees through their internal messages and behavior is a valuable investment in employee engagement. According to a 2011 Towers Watson study, companies with the most effective employee communication have a 48% higher shareholder returns over the last five years.
If you’re looking for a brand that excels in this type of communication, look no further than Nike. Over the past five years its stock price has increased 121%. Perhaps how the brand answers the question, “why,” for its employees has contributed to some part of that growth.
Steeped in a rich brand DNA, Nike takes pride in and communicates its heritage to every single employee who comes to work for the swoosh. As a former MBA intern at the company, I got to experience first hand how Nike engages its employees. Prior to my arrival, I had only been influenced and inspired by their consumer facing stories. As a passionate Nike loyalist, I was eager to see how it all came together from an employee perspective.
The first day you show up on the Nike campus, you are immersed in a 360 deep dive exploration about why the company exists, its vision and its brand maxims. You learn about brand history from senior leaders in the company, many who have worked at Nike since the beginning. It’s without a doubt an awe-inspiring, “lets go out there and kick some butt together,” experience.
The Nike brand maxims are a 10 Commandments type list, although there are 11, that govern employees and emphasizes their reasons to believe in Nike. They are nothing like a typical employee handbook tossed aside after the first day. At Nike, the Maxims have infiltrated nearly every internal brand interaction.
If you’re in a meeting and things are getting complicated, someone will ultimately say “Simplify and Go,” (Maxim #4). A decision will be made and the group will move on. When you’re planning a brand event you may hear, “We are on the offense. Always.” (Maxim #10).
It’s an inspiring call to action that engenders empowerment, drives engagement and creates a mindset synonymous with going to battle. Your colleagues are your comrades in arms. When you and your team are looking to break new ground you’re always thinking, “It’s in our nature to innovate.” (Maxim #1)
The commitment to the messages Nike sends to employees can also be seen at The Maxim Awards. Like the academy awards, the Maxims at Nike recognize superior work. An award is given for each one of the 11 Maxims to an employee or team that has brought the true meaning and vision of that maxim to life during the previous year. Maxim award presenters will often have very famous names such as former NFL player Jerry Rice or Carolyn Davidson, the woman who created the swoosh. Putting the person who drew the swoosh on equal footing as an NFL Hall of Famer sends the message to the employees that both accomplishments and contributions to the brand are equally valued.
You can easily see Nike’s internal brand mindset infused in its external marketing communications. The FuelBand copy such as “I will defy winter and conquer Nike fuel missions,” or “I will crush my personal best,” is the same type of authentic, “on the offense” attitude used internally. With any great messaging platform, the brand repeatedly emphasizes the same messages but with fresh, varied expressions. By doing this, you can immediately see what the brand and the FuelBand stands for.
Thinking you want to try this with your company and have no idea where to start? Start with the answer to the question “Why?” Figure out why your company exists and why it’s important and then reinstate that belief in your company. And if things start getting to complicated, just simplify and go.
Sarah McLaughlin is a Senior Consultant, Verbal Identity, Interbrand New York.