When policy, practice don’t match (Guest Commentary)

Mission statements, marketing can't just be collection of words
By Evert Akkerman
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/20/2014

Organizations need to be more aware of the expectations they raise when advertising their mission, vision and values on their websites.

By building an online presence, companies seek to position, brand and market themselves to attract customers to their products, clients to their services and employees to their workforce.

The problem is many companies don’t put enough thought into the design of this online footprint. They seem to think the actual content doesn’t matter. As long as there is a website and a mission statement — any website or mission statement will do — then values are optional: “There, we have a website like everyone else, now let’s get back to business.”

Quite often, the web content is hopelessly outdated and riddled with errors, as no one bothers to update and proofread content once it’s online. The latest press release under the “News” tab is from September 2011. Job postings that closed months ago are still up.

Some PR people and marketing departments seem to think customers won’t actually read what is written and won’t care whether a company lives up to expectations. HR people seem to think employees and job applicants don’t actually read the posted HR manual and hiring policies.

But a credibility gap will arise when the general public, potential customers and job applicants feel that an organization doesn’t care.

Building a brand is not just a matter of setting up a website or massive advertising campaigns. A brand is built one experience or one hit at a time. When a touchpoint occurs, the individual consumer, client or job applicant forms an opinion of a company or organization.

First impressions last. Let’s say ABC Inc. states that it strives to deliver the ultimate customer service. If a potential customer, inspired by a radio ad, calls for further information and is then treated rudely by the receptionist or someone in a call centre, that’s it for the customer service experience.

And good luck trying to change that caller’s mind by sending out flyers or e-coupons. The disappointed caller may also share her experience on Twitter, Facebook or a blog.

In the realm of employment, organizations tend to present themselves as dynamic and fast-paced, while personal experiences and anecdotal evidence reveal it is obvious many are in fact static and slow-paced. New hires usually find this out once they are already onboard. On their websites, companies tend to state something along the lines of “ABC Inc. is a progressive organization that is focused on continuous improvement and innovation. We offer a collaborative team environment with a dynamic culture and standard of excellence.”

The hiring policy, if stated, tends to say, “We will hire and promote on the basis of candidates’ qualifications.” Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Let’s say ABC Inc. posts a job for an administrative assistant and it receives 300 applications. Let’s assume HR invites 10 applicants for an interview and hires one of them. If the company does not at least acknowledge the other 290 applications with an automated “thank you” message — saying, for instance, “Only selected candidates will be contacted for an interview” — it runs the risk of leaving 290 bad impressions.

Each of these 290 disappointees may still be a future employee or customer of ABC Inc. and they will take this first impression with them wherever they end up. Employers should be mindful of the fact that people can handle a yes or a no, but won’t put up with zero communication — it is just not good marketing.

Organizations need to realize that employees, clients, customers and guests talk to their family, friends and neighbours. “How are things at work?” is a common topic at every family dinner, neighbourhood barbecue, birthday party and chance meeting at your favourite grocery or auto parts store. So is every negative customer service experience, which people share with their personal network over and over.

If ABC Inc. states on its website that new ideas are welcomed, its customers are its business partners and it wants to help employees reach their full potential, it needs to back this up with action. If a customer comes up with a better or faster way to deliver products and the company doesn’t even acknowledge this idea, the customer may go somewhere else. If new employees want to sign up for courses that are relevant for their jobs and ABC Inc. brushes them off as too expensive, the employees will realize they won’t be reaching their full potential with that employer. People want to see congruence between values stated and values lived.

Every company wants happy employees, a good work environment and a positive culture. To achieve this, values need to be lived. Policies need to be enforced consistently and management needs to avoid condoning.

When a company’s policies on product quality, customer service, employee performance and hiring standards are routinely breached, it may as well not have these policies at all. If employees engage in bad behaviour and others see them doing so with impunity, everyone in the company knows the behaviour is being tolerated.

When employees are not doing their jobs and play the system, and management does nothing to stop this behaviour, it will likely be repeated. Meanwhile, the people who do take pride in their work feel punished as they have to pick up the slack.

Where actual behaviours diverge from stated values or policies, employee morale erodes. It’s like a cancer that spreads until the entire organization is rotten. This is usually the stage where management starts wondering what happened to their once-great momentum.

Mission statements and values cannot just be a bunch of words. The key is that before you post your mission, vision, values and policies, you need to actively work on matching behaviours.

Evert Akkerman is a Newmarket, Ont.-based HR professional who has worked extensively in the private and non-profit sectors and founder of XNL HR. He can be reached at info@xnlhr.com or http://ca.linkedin.com/in/evertakkerman.

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