There is a lot of fear in the world nowadays. Not just due to global events or certain political figures, but because of Society in general. People are afraid to be themselves or to speak their minds out of fear of backlash from Society: Youths warned not to express themselves for fear that their peers bully them. Innovators silenced because their employers fear failure or upsetting the status quo. So many voices out there go unheard out of fear.
Fear can be the death-knell for a company, too. For a new brand entering a competitive market, it is far too easy to find yourself obsessed with playing catch-up; your focus switches from growing your business to keeping up with and imitating those who are more successful. For a time, such practices are necessary to get a foothold — but then you start to lose yourself in the process.
In the words of the Twelfth Doctor: ‘You take a broom, you replace the handle, and then later you replace the brush. And you do that, over and over again. Is it still the same broom? No — There’s not a trace of the original you left.’ (Doctor Who, ‘Deep Breath’)
Companies often get distracted with the bells and whistles, lusting after what their competitors have without thinking of why they need it or whether or not it is relevant to their core message. Then they lose sight of the core message altogether; from there on, everyone is just waffling about with no genuine direction or reasoning. It is a waste of time and, more importantly, a waste of resources.
Regardless of what your message is, your company and its employees — from CXO to entry level — need to know what their work accomplishes. Embrace it, print it on employee mouse pads, stick it on the inside of the bathroom stalls — do whatever! It needs to be accessible and worded in a way that explains why people should take pride in their work. Then, once everyone has been hyped up, it is time to review how the company operates.
Fictional Company Example: Leaf Plate
‘Leaf Plate’ is a wholesome family-run company that provides pre-made vegetarian dishes to its subscribers in their local community. They proudly promote eco-friendly attitudes and the protection of animals — it is the message, the mission of the business that resonates with its customers. But when you walk into the Leaf Plate headquarters, you’ll find a staff party sponsored by the company that serves beef patty burgers and there isn’t even a single recycle bin in sight!
“But our competitors’ company parties serve burgers!” Someone will wail in protest, and sure! That’s a legitimate comparison and I’m not saying that people should police what their employees eat. The thing is, there are plenty of ways that Leaf Plate can still have what the other companies do without straying from their company’s values. That means offering alternatives to just burgers or only offering tofu burgers and spending a tiny bit of money to add recycle bins to the office. The point is, Leaf Plate has to show that they at least try to practice what they preach. Some employees might not be happy with tofu burgers, but leadership needs to stand fast and hold everyone to it. Unafraid of criticism. Proud of your company message. Without fear.
It seems a simple concept. It is a simple concept. But getting everyone on board, especially those with ‘old-fashioned’ views of your industry who may be more resistant to change, will be the biggest challenge. You cannot change the perception of your brand externally if it is not first changed internally. You must work with and clearly communicate to all branches of your company to ensure your values are acknowledged, embraced, and promoted with pride if you are going to stand against criticism and scrutiny. Hold fast, dare to be different, and do not succumb to the fear of standing out. Innovation takes courage.