One higher education client I worked with years ago implemented an entirely new student administration system to run their operations. This change was going to impact almost every stakeholder, including the entire faculty, all students, and most of the administrators. We wanted to name this project something other than “The New Student Administration System.” This seemed impersonal, too long, and didn’t really resonate with the needs of the students – the primary customer. This west coast institution has a large population of international students, which ultimately led us to name the project “Passport,” signaling that the new system would make it easier for students to become part of the institution. With Passport, students gained access to many resources the college had to offer.
Another client I worked with restructured their organization to drive greater customer satisfaction. This leader inherited an organization with abysmal employee morale and double-digit unfavorable attrition. Ultimately, we branded the restructuring effort, “Every Engagement Counts,” to help employees understand that everyone’s work was crucial to the success of the company. Within a year, we doubled engagement scores and slashed unfavorable attrition.
Both examples demonstrate how branding your strategy helps convey the goal of the transformation in the simplest terms. It helps answers the question, “why?”
These brands also clarify the purpose of the transformation in a simple way that people easily understand. The purpose of implementing a new student administration system wasn’t to implement technology. The purpose was to make it easier for students to access more college resources faster and more efficiently. . The purpose of restructuring the organization wasn’t to have a new org chart. The purpose was to dramatically improve both customer service and increase employee enrollment.
How do you develop a brand? There are lots of ways. In the first example above, we held a contest among employees to identify a name and awarded a prize to the winning entry. Sounds cheesy? Maybe, but it was quite effective.
In the second example, the brand came from the leadership team after months of building a stronger coalition among them, and collectively defining more clearly the outcomes they would achieve.
One question that surfaces when I talk with clients about branding is, “What’s the difference between clear purpose and branding?” Sometimes they are interchangeable. “Every Engagement Counts” was both. It expressed clear purpose for the transformation, and it was a phrase that everyone could easily remember, and it mattered to them.
More often, branding comes after clear purpose is identified. Once a leadership team defines clear purpose, it becomes easier to identify a few words or a phrase that embodies the purpose.. There’s no real science here as it depends on so many factors. Here is a process I use with leadership teams.
1. Identify factors regarding the current state of major stakeholders of the change, especially customers and employees.
2. Identify how implementing purpose will impact these stakeholders in both the near term and a few years out.
3. Brainstorm a list of “what will be different” phrases.
4. Select key words or phrases from this brainstormed list.
5. Identify potential synonyms for words that might better describe the outcome in simple words.
6. Pick two or three options; let it simmer over a few days.
7. Reconvene to collectively select the final branding statement.
This process is messy, and you may skip or rearrange steps. It’s the collision of science and art – the structure of a clear purpose statement versus artistic flair to capture the imagination of what is possible with the change.
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Dedicated to your profitable transformation,