Organisational Energy and Branding
Ever wondered why some organisations just seem more energised than others, and some brands seem to ooze energy whilst their competitors remain in a rut?
For years marketers have ignored the role which emotions play in shaping corporate behaviour, and the effect of this behaviour on brands. This article explores the role which internal organisational energy and relationships have on brands in the marketplace. Based on social network analysis research this article aims to highlight the powerful role of internal networks and relationships on brands and their performance.
As marketers we’ve become quite familiar with the concept that an integrated and consistent marketing approach goes a long way to developing and delivering a successful brand. Creating a highly energetic brand, however, requires an understanding and management of the energy that flows throughout the system – the energy that links businesses and all their stakeholders and which manifests itself in the way in which these stakeholders think, feel and behave towards the business and its products or services. In other words, as marketers we can’t just rely on the work and effort which we make to manage and create brands in the consumers’ minds, but rather need to address all the organisational stakeholders. We have to be cognisant of getting staff to believe in the brand and live its values, the media to latch onto it and praise its values, suppliers to want to be part of it and investors to want to invest in it.
So marketing becomes the central glue that binds the organisation and its network together, not just a departmental silo. But how often have we heard this? The need to ensure that businesses are aligned under a common vision, and that they have values which articulate what they stand for and that define their culture? More often than not, marketers engage with internal audiences in blanket approaches to promote collaboration. These often yield disappointing results. Additionally, as a result of today’s flatter organisations, productivity and efficiency demand effective collaboration within and across functional, physical and hierarchical boundaries. So although marketers often concern themselves with external relationships, they often pay little attention to assessing and supporting the linkages among employees within their own organisation.
These “invisible” social networks don’t appear on any formal organisational chart – yet significantly affect performance and innovation, according to Cross and Parker (2004). Although most marketers and managers would acknowledge that social networks are important, they usually don’t understand how these networks really work, let alone how they impact on their brand’s energy.
The diagrams below contrast a traditional formal hierarchical structure with an informal social network. A social network is defined as a specific set of actors and their relationships. Social network analysis applies statistics and mathematics to understand the patterns of relationships among actors and the implications of these relationships.
Of particular interest to marketers, should be the use of social network analysis to understand the relationship between any brand’s stakeholders, be they internal or external and how these relationships impact on their brands. Often overlooked, the organisation’s energy has a direct impact on the energy which a brand exudes. This is particularly true in service industries, where the value is largely created by employees living the values that deliver the brand promise and by the other stakeholders recognising this.
So how do marketers leverage these social networks to the benefit of their brands? If marketers are to produce and develop the types of brands that exude energy and produce loyal customers, they need to ensure that the internal team’s emotional excitement is captured, that they engage in their intellectual capabilities and produce a sense of urgency for taking action. In other words, marketing needs to also take responsibility for the internal stakeholders and ensure that they unleash organisational energy and marshall it in support of key strategic marketing goals.
Research suggests that the best leaders first mobilise organisational energy, and then focus it (Tushman & O’Reilly III: 1996). But how do we define a force like the wind, both invisible and powerful? Organisational energy is seen only in its effect: the force with which a company functions. Although it is difficult to directly observe or measure, organisational energy is palpable when put to use – driving the intensity, pace and endurance of a company’s work, change and innovation processes. It is also considered as the interplay between a company’s emotional, cognitive and physical states (Pines & Aronson: 1998). Organisational energy is also related but not identical to the sum of the energy of individuals. Individual energy, especially of leaders, influences organisational energy, and
the energy state of the organisation affects the energy of the individuals, which in turn has an impact on the energy state of their brands.
Companies differ in both the intensity and quality of energy (Bruch & Ghoshal: 2003). Intensity refers to the strength of organisational energy as seen in the level of activity, the amount of interaction, the extent of alertness and the extent of emotional excitement. Symptoms of lower energy are often obvious: apathy and inertia, tiredness, inflexibility and cynicism. Qualitatively, organisational energy can be characterised as positive energy (for example enthusiasm, joy and satisfaction) or negative energy (fear, frustration or sorrow). Although different parts of organisations can be mapped to different energy zones, at any given point in time an organisation is usually in a certain energy state.
Marketers can use social network analysis to find out who the “attractors” in the organisation are, which projects generate the most enthusiasm, and whether any of the internal communications initiatives are having any effect. Social network analysis can also identify energy sappers – individuals, functional or leadership groups that are having a de-energising effect on their organisation, and therefore their brand.
Certain themes have arisen from preliminary social network analysis research done on organisational and brand energy:
• People are energised by interactions in which a compelling vision is created and energy is produced from a focus on possibilities. Marketers should therefore ask themselves clear-cut questions about the current state of their brands, where they are going and the possibilities around their brands’ future.
• People are energised in interactions marked by progress. Marketers should ask themselves whether their brands are stuck in a rut or have a progressively mapped out future. The flexibility to develop within the context of market forces should also not be underestimated.
• People are energised by interactions in which the can contribute meaningfully. Although marketers are often frustrated by team members from other disciplines who are seen to ‘meddle’ in the marketing domain, they should remain open-minded and act as a conduit for the filtering of ideas. Marketing innovation can develop in unexpected areas and it is the ability to harness these potential opportunities that contributes to energy creation.
In short, organisational energy creates the necessary combination of cognitive, emotional and action-taking capabilities and aligns the resulting force to achieve business goals. That is why, without a high level of energy, a company cannot achieve radical productivity improvements, cannot grow fast and cannot create major innovations. It is time that marketers and corporate leaders acknowledge this simple reality and begin to pay attention to how they can unleash the energy their organisations need if they are going to achieve the kind of performance they seek from their organisations and their brands.
BRUCH, H & GHOSHAL, S. Unleashing Organizational Energy. MIT Sloan Management Review, Fall 2003, pp. 45- 51.
CROSS, R. and PARKER, A. 2004. The Hidden Power of Social Networks. Harvard Business School Publishing, Boston, USA.
TUSHMAN, M. and O’REILLY III. The Ambidextrous Organisation: Managing Evolutionary and Revolutionary Change. California Management Review 38. Summer 1996. pp 8-30.
ARONSON, E. and PINES, A. 1998. Career Burnout: Causes and Cures. New York: Free Press.
A few years ago Paula Sartini was voted a finalist in the SABC 2 Lebone Women on the Move Awards and in 2000/1 she co-anchored Summit TV’s “The New Economy”. Today, not only does she run South Africa’s leading branding and design agency, but also manages to find the time to write columns for various publications, speak at conferences and work on her PhD.