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Catalyzing an Authentic Culture to Create a Human Brand

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Written by Bryan Kramer 

Customers today demand more depth, emotion, and personality from companies. As a result, it seems every brand is trying to be more “human” these days, but few are getting it right. We proclaim “customers first,” change “we” to “you” on our corporate websites, and post a few heartwarming photos and videos. But that’s not enough. In order to truly transform our brands, we must first look internally and cultivate highly human marketing leaders and teams.

“Human is not just a cosmetic marketing issue; it’s an internal cultural issue,” writes Kathy Klotz-Guest, founder of marketing and communications firm, Keeping it Human. “It’s time to take the palliative organizational ‘human’ medicine internally.”

1. Put emotion back into leadership.

Feeling emotions is what makes life rich. You need your passions. – Daniel Goleman

We are emotional beings and when we are moved, we act.  More importantly, if we are not moved, we ignore, we discard, we move on without hesitation. Take a lesson from Kent Thiry, CEO of kidney dialysis company DaVita. Thiry understands that you take care of customers by inspiring and taking care of employees. He creates one-of-a-kind employee rallies where he somersaults, sings, ziplines, rides in on a Harley and delivers purpose and inspiration with pizzazz by being incredibly authentic, caring and vulnerable.  His heartfelt speeches are often filled with tears of empathy and pride. He delivers and creates extreme loyalty with his core values, rituals, recognition and heart. His results? He has led a company turnaround FROM revenues of $1.6 billion, losses of $56 million and a share price of $2 TO revenues approaching $6 billion, net income of $374 million and a share price near $60. Wow.

2. Be humble.

I claim to be a simple individual liable to err like any other fellow mortal. I own, however, that I have humility enough to confess my errors and to retrace my steps. — Gandhi

According to a Catalyst study, humility is a critical leadership factor for creating an environment where employees feel included. When you admit mistakes, learn from criticism, don’t pretend to have all of the answers, and empower your employees to learn and develop, your employees are more likely to feel included, innovative, and be willing to go above and beyond the call of duty. The Harvard Business Review states that when “…leaders showcase their own personal growth, they legitimize the growth and learning of others; by admitting to their own imperfections, they make it okay for others to be fallible, too.” In The Surprising Rise of the Human Executive blog post, Todd Wilms, VP of Digital at Neustar, notes that Cisco CMO Blair Christie has confidently and repeatedly stated she can’t possibly know all the answers. “What is important is acknowledging it, and defining the action you will take through that uncertainty.”

3. Champion people.

There are two kinds of people in the world – those who walk into a room and say ‘Here I am’ and those who say ‘There you are’. – Abigail Van Buren, Dear Abby columnist

Put your employees at the center. Seek to understand them before asking them to understand you. “True leadership is about empowering others to achieve things they didn’t think possible,” says author Simon Sinek. “Exceptional organizations prioritize the well-being of their people and, in return, their people give everything they’ve got to protect and advance the well-being of one another and the organization.” Shining the spotlight on others doesn’t diminish your accomplishments – it actually makes them shine brighter.

Employees are the biggest strength and competitive advantage your company has – something Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly understands. Each Halloween, he wears an elaborate costume – not because he wants all eyes on him, but because it’s part of the Southwest culture. “I’m like most people, I don’t want to be the center of attention,” Kelly said. “But in my job, I know that at times I’m going to be. Halloween’s not just about me. For me, it’s just an enjoyable part of something our company loves to do.”

Kelly’s quote underscores the fact that being a highly human executive is something that must first be baked into our work cultures. It must be part of the fabric. Only then will we have a chance to truly become human leaders who propel human brands.

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