HR Management & Compliance

Change Marketing. Q&A with Neil Bedwell, Founding Partner at Local Industries

To thrive in business tomorrow demands constant change today, and experienced leaders know that the hardest part of change is convincing people to change with you.

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A recent Gallup survey revealed that two-thirds of people are disengaged at work. Neil Bedwell, Founding Partner at Local Industries, a Change Marketing consultancy, believes that this a problem of belief. That employees don’t believe in the company vision or their role in delivering it. He calls this mass disengagement the “next wicked business problem for every company”. He also believes marketing offers a new perspective and approach to solving it.

Neil will be speaking at TalentCon on March 13. As a preview, we asked him to share a few big questions that HR leaders often ask around this new field of Change Marketing—and how he responds:

#1. Why do you believe marketing is a missing piece in employee experience work today?

Most people (even some marketers) misunderstand what marketing is. Common definitions usually focus on advertising or communications, which while important, are only tactics driven from a bigger marketing strategy.

My favorite definition is, “Marketing is the orientation of everything we do around the end user.” In consumer marketing, the end user is, well, the buyer or consumer of your brand or product. For employers seeking to improve engagement, the end user is the employee.

A Marketing approach to employee experience means designing the experience around your people. Understanding employee needs, solving their problems, helping them achieve their goals. Yet most employee engagement efforts we see are designed around the company needs and how employees can better serve the business. The end user focus is the missing piece.

#2. What made you switch focus from consumer marketing to employee engagement?

I spent 15 years as a consumer marketer and experienced life on both sides of the table, as a brand client and a creative agency leader. Over the years, I’ve seen cultural dysfunction—driven by disengaged, misaligned teams—eat great ideas in every organization. I realized that culture and engagement were sometimes bigger drivers of success than a great creative strategy or idea. And the problem of disengagement was a bigger one than marketing effectiveness for many businesses.

#3, What can Marketing & HR leaders learn from each other?

There’s a long list, but here are two things that I believe can really make a difference for employees, particularly in large, complex organizations:

HR leaders can teach marketers about cross-team collaboration. My experience working with HR teams at leading global companies across a range of categories has been consistently impressive when it comes to both geographic and functional collaboration. HR team objectives, strategy and work have proven easier to align than marketing team engagements and the resulting work is significantly better for it.

Marketing leaders can teach HR teams about emotional insight. As consumer marketers we seek to understand as much as possible about what makes our audience tick. What motivates them, inspires them, turns them off. The smartest brands have access to 1000’s of data points.

In comparison, most companies know relatively little about their employees, and almost nothing from an emotional perspective. The focus is all on rational information—salary, tenure, skills—rather than behavioral insight. Humans are emotionally driven, even as employees. Imagine what we could do for positive employee engagement if we knew as much about employees as we do about consumers.

#4. What’s stopping closer collaboration between Marketing and HR?

I believe it’s a genuine misunderstanding of true cultural roles each plays and the similarities in the capabilities both need to be successful. A marketer’s view of HR tends to be about compliance, governance, formal training. HR practitioners view marketers as disengaged from the business and focused on making a splash out in the world. If both groups took a long, hard look at the value they bring to the business, both would see that they share a role in deepening the business’s understanding of human behavior and unlocking the intrinsic connection and impact that employees have on the customer experience, and vice versa.

I genuinely believe that an enlightened, collaborative CPO & CMO will be the driving force behind the next wave of disruptive businesses.

#5. What’s the one thing HR leaders can do to improve employee experience today?

One word. Impact. As we design smarter, faster, more efficient systems for HOW people work we are engineering out the reason WHY people work. It’s not salary or benefits (they are just one of reasons we chose one company over another). Humans work primarily for impact. To make things better. To create, build, deliver, repair. Impact on others is how we measure if our contribution, our lives, matter. And we all need to know we matter.

The good news is that it doesn’t take a change revolution to help employees find and feel impact. Just a revolution in mindset. What if we connected head office employees to attribution data that shows how their work helps customers? Forged stronger connections between front-line employees and the back office to make them feel part of one, connected team? Created incentives based on individual and team impact rather than process compliance. Helped employees craft their own missions rather than all adopting one nebulous common vision?

Impact is created and measured daily be every high-performing business. Our job is to remove the barriers to knowing and feeling that impact for every employee.

Neil Bedwell is a Founding Partner at Local Industries. Follow Neil at @neilbedwell and follow Founding Partners at @insidelocal.