Why Empowerment Drives Branding — with Jeremy Miller and Sarah Young

Dec 7, 2021 | Podcast

“Branding from the inside out” is one of our #1 beliefs at Sticky Branding. In this episode of the Sticky Branding Podcast, Jeremy Miller and Sarah Young discuss why empowering your team is so important.

Every great brand is built by people: smart, ambitious, creative people. And it’s a leader’s job to engage their team and draw out each person’s full potential to grow a Sticky Brand.

Jeremy Miller is a Strategy Coach, bestselling author, and the founder of Sticky Branding. He works with organizations from around the world to create branding and growth strategies that slingshot their businesses forward.

Sarah Young is a Strategy Coach and author. She guides Sticky Branding’s clients to create marketing strategies that move the sales needle.

In This Episode

  • Strategy without execution is just dreaming.
  • How to shift your mindset to leading through empowerment.
  • The importance of strategy and planning. Sarah and Jeremy go head-to-head on the challenge of not having a vision. If a leader can’t see what’s coming next, it’s hard to empower their employees.
  • Why you need to connect with employees as individuals.
  • How to build relationships with your team, and how that investment fosters empowerment.

– [Announcer] Brand X, Brand Y, Brand Z. Not one sticks. Watch it again in slow motion.

– Welcome to the Sticky Branding podcast. In this show we are unpacking how companies grow sticky brands. My name is Jeremy Miller. I am the founder of Sticky Branding and host of the show. Today I have invited Sarah Young, my colleague and strategy coach at Sticky Branding to come back and bang it out with me on a really key topic that we believe is so critical to the idea of building your brand from the inside out, and that is empowerment. And it’s actually baked into the values of our business which is empowerment equals performance. So, Sarah, welcome back to the show.

– Thanks so much, Jeremy, excited to be here.

– So, we, as I said at the start, this is something that we believe in deeply. It’s actually if I go even a step further, it’s the core principle of Brand New Name, my second book, which is how do you unlock the creative genius of your employees to name anything, whether it’s a product, a service, an idea, a campaign, you name it. And I believe that in every organization there is immense creative talent and often times it’s just simply going untapped. But, this is something that I think you’re as connected to, so let me just start out with a broad question. From your perspective, what does it really mean to empower your people?

– Love this question. So, I think it’s so important when you hire people that you hire the right person. That’s number one for starting with empowerment. But, empowerment to me means letting go of the control and top down approach and becoming equals, talking, sharing, trusting, and kind of building that relationship with your employees so they have the purpose, they know what they need to do. They have accountability and you reward them through advancing, responsibility, those type of things, but really looking at them as not just a worker, but somebody that you wanna grow your skills and grow the business with.

– What does that mean? So, I get that from the soft tissue side of things. What I mean by that is just connect with people, knowing them as people, having that kind of a relationship, but what does this actually mean from a performance perspective, both for the, or all three levels, the leader, the company, and the individual, the employee?

– I think empowerment is a two way street. So, Jer, you and I talk about this all the time. If you wanna be empowered you have to empower. I think as a leader when you hire someone like myself or someone that’s motivated to grow and excited about the company and the purpose, it’s really important to kind of tear down those walls, set quarterly goals, have a plan in place, but also check in. Hold employees accountable and then when they do a good job, let them know. I think often things get busy and there’s just times of maybe not as much recognition or appreciation, but it goes both ways. You need to appreciate your leader and your leader needs to appreciate you. And I think that if everybody’s on the same page as far as strategy and purpose, there’s nothing that you can’t achieve.

– I feel like you’re pointing these comments directly at me right now, where I simply measure our success based on what was our next success. So, it’s the old salesman’s mentality, you’re only as good as your next deal. So cool, pat yourself on the back and now go do it again. But, I think that’s challenging, that, that being able to sit and, and pause and acknowledge the, the wins. It’s, I agree it’s incredibly important, but I also know that just from my own leadership style, that the horizon is often the thing that shapes everything.

– Yes, and 100%. If you can’t see what’s coming it’s extremely hard to empower employees, which is why we talk about it every day, every week, strategy. You have to have a strategy in place. You have to be checking in. I believe in weekly huddles. I’m pretty sure we’re on the same page. We do it with all our clients. But, the conversations and keeping everybody on the same page, in the loop, what’s going on with the business? What’s gonna change? Where do we wanna be in one year, three year, five year? It gives that motivation, not only to a leader to trust that things are getting done, but to the employees. If we know what you want and what you need by when, let’s go for it.

– Now, I’m gonna date myself. Coming in as a Gen Xer in his mid-40s, empowerment has this ickiness to me, especially when I talk about millennials. And I’ll preface this with the perspective that I don’t think there is a lesser generation. I think every generation is different simply by the constructs of how they grew up. But, empowerment comes with this word entitlement when we look down to younger professionals that the, we have the break room with foosball and food and all this other stuff, and/or the other side of it is, an employee has an expectation of these entitlements that don’t necessarily tie back to performance. How do you overcome the entitlement side and the ickiness side of empowerment?

– So, I totally agree. I think empowerment can sometimes come across as cheesy or kind of a catch phrase. I think what’s super important to remember is that while bonuses and advancement is really nice and a goal for probably most employees, and things like foosball and massages and all that kinda fun stuff. I think what’s really important when you look at empowerment to make it less icky and less pie in the sky is what would this employee benefit from? So is it leaving a couple hours early? Is it a Friday off in December to do some Christmas shopping? Is it just a bouquet of flowers? Or is it honestly, just a pat on the back and saying, I really appreciate you, you’ve been doing a good job. Often times bonuses and things that people start to expect become a problem. If an employee expects things from their leader, when you hit a hard time like COVID, it’s gonna go real bad because that stuff gets depleted. Everybody needs to kinda get on the same page and leaders really need to look at, how can I invest in these people, this person’s skills and strengths with just even just appreciation goes a long way? I think fancy things are often what people turn to as oh, this’ll really make people work harder, but it just makes them kind of expect it, and that kind of hinders things in the future.

– When I think of what you’re talking about here, it gets complex, it actually gets a little bit scary, especially if you’ve got a large team. When I look at some of Sticky Branding’s clients, we have organizations that have grown exponentially quickly, even in the last year. One of our clients doubled their employee count and went from 45 to 100 employees in nine months. And in that transition it almost went from a family culture where the business owner knew each and every person very well, knew their families, and had deep, deep connections. But now, at 100 employees, that kind of connection is fractured, it’s lost. And while the effort is still made to, to get to know people, when managers are hiring employees that ability to have that personalized empowerment and the personalized recognition becomes harder and harder. So, I guess what I’m kinda getting at is, are you saying that empowerment only works if it’s personalized and individualized? And then, how do you do that at scale, if that’s the case?

– No, I’m not saying that at all. That’s impossible for many organizations. I think what I’m trying to say is it’s important to do your annual review. It’s important to get on to the floor with your workers and ask people how their grandma’s doin’ and what are their kids up to? It’s important to just make that effort. If people feel just like another number, that loyalty is gone. If you make them feel like you care they’ll stick around, and it doesn’t need to be fancy watches and big award ceremonies and those types of things. If people deserve to be recognized, have donuts one day and get everybody in a room. Celebrate birthdays. It’s, I don’t think it has to be as fancy as people are thinking, but it’s just remembering who your team is made of and then just making that little bit of effort here and there.

– I like that. It was something I learned a long, long time ago. If I go back to my previous life in Leap Job and running a recruiting agency, we used to get opportunities to walk the floor of lots of different manufacturing facilities. And the thing that was always so striking is I’d be getting a tour from the president or the business owner, and there was two types of cultures. There was the one type of culture where the employees would literally put their eyes down and like physically retreat, even though they were at their work stations, they would try to make themselves as small as possible just because they were, I would assume, afraid, not afraid, just they didn’t have that trust or connection to the management. Another one is that the other culture where when the owner walks the floor people brighten up. They joke, they laugh. I actually see this frequently. One of our clients, and you know them well, Sarah, but it’s Fruitland Manufacturing. Chris White is the CEO and he’s one of the guests on our podcast interviews, and every time I watch Chris walk the floor he stops at people’s desk. He asks them how they’re going. They might joke around about baseball or things like that. And the thing that is more intriguing is that people actually ask him questions. They’ll, they especially through COVID, they’d be like, hey Chris, what’s goin’ on with this? Or, do we have to do layoffs? And they would actually, literally ask him that from their floor stations as he was touring the plant.

– And how inspirational is that, that they felt that comfortable, safe, and trusted him to ask, ’cause often times and even in past experiences, I personally haven’t felt that way. And so, I think Chris is someone to look up to. If you can connect with people, even just walking through the floor, or on holidays, or that type of thing that they feel comfortable to kind of, I don’t know, ease their concerns, that’s huge. That is empowerment through and through.

– So, this is where it gets multi-faceted. So, it’s communication, it’s culture, it’s performance, it’s clarity of job, it’s clarity of strategy. You’re making me feel overwhelmed now. How does a company actually execute on this and we don’t just simply give it lip service?

– So, I think and I, this is what we do at Sticky Branding specifically, as you know all too well. I think it is starting with strategy, what are your goals for this year? What are your goals for the next three? Who’s in charge of what? And then, checking in quarterly. If you check in quarterly you can make goals that are achievable. And with your weekly huddles and different meetings and conversations you can check what’s working, what’s not working and there can be open, honest communication and people aren’t afraid if they don’t get something done, this or this happens. It’s a honest, rolling conversation and kind of list of action items that I think really helps. And then, I think on top of that it’s the recognition and appreciation as things get achieved. So remembering to celebrate by bringing donuts to work or even sending an email congratulating who did what well, that kinda thing. And then, just keeping on investing, getting to know your people. If somebody’s havin’ a hard time remembering, but it really comes down to strategy and it really comes down to checking in and staying on top of where you and your team are.

– And I think I’d push it even a step further. This is something that I’m passionate about it. It’s like Brand New Name. When we are trying to create a naming project often times the first place a company would look is they would outsource it to an advertising agency, or they hire a consultant because we’re not creative enough. And I truly disagree with that premise of that. I think inside every organization, as I’ve said before, immense creative talent. But, how we ask for that and participate in it is key. So, the way Brand New Name works is it’s a naming sprint where you get all of your employees involved and then over the course of five days you get everyone to contribute, say five good names a day for five days, and you gamify it. We have clients for example, that will give away Amazon cards or Starbucks gift cards. Others on the actual selection process, if your name makes the short list you get a free vacation day. And if your name is selected you might get say box seats to the Seahawks. These are actual, real awards that companies have done. And it creates a vibrancy and an energy in the organization because how often does a say a line cook in a restaurant get to participate in the brand strategy at corporate? Or, when do accountants and service people and other people get actually able to participate in strategy? And so, the way I think, start to think about this is not simply on an HR leadership management perspective. We’ve been taught management principles for decades in terms of being better communicators, giving accolades and principles. But, how do we create the opportunities so that people are able to contribute? ‘Cause as you said earlier on, I like to say this all the time. Empowerment is a two way, two way street. So, unless you create opportunities for people to step up, then the accolades aren’t going to create the step up.

– I could not agree more. And I think it all comes back to knowing who you hire. What are their strengths? Setting them up for success through you know, knowing what’s going on, having a plan, having a strategy, but also then just letting them figure it out. If someone is given that freedom and that trust, they will figure out the problems and they will come back with solutions and things will get done.

– So, let’s change gears for a second. One of the obstacles to empowerment is communication. We see that in a very specific way in the marketing world, where there’s this communication gap between leaders and doers. Can you speak to that?

– Yes. So, there’s definitely a communication gap. I think, this is a very interesting topic, too, because I’ve come from both sides. So, I think when people hire marketing they expect a grand change. They’re in a spot where they need to see things happen. And often times when people like me come into an organization things are in need of a lot of work and there needs to be strategy and big discussions and kind of an overhaul. And so, when it comes to leading and doing, the leader needs to know what they want. They need to have some sort of plan in place and goals, and it’s only fair when you’re hiring someone or bringing a marketing person into the team. But also, as the doer, you have to have the gumption and resilience to let things that maybe are challenged or not taken on right away to go back and explain and do the research and really put in that extra work to show the leader, this is what we’re gonna do. This is how we’re gonna do it. And by XYZ date if it’s not working, this is what we’re gonna do next. So, it’s kind of both sides need to be prepared and both sides need to be given the opportunity to be vocal and have a voice and have that communication amongst them that’s very transparent and open. Otherwise, it ends up in disappointment often times, unfortunately.

– And I think the underlying root of this is it’s actually imagine you’re speaking two different languages. And part of the translation issue is that leaders versus doers, or leaders versus marketers, are looking at things through two horizons that really conflict with each other. A business owner or a vice president or president will be looking out say three to five years in advance and talking about the things that they want to do and what the brand should be like and how are they gonna be running the products and services and what they need campaigns to look like. And then, the marketer’s looking at this through the lens of say, the next 90 days. The thing that I find so interesting about marketing is it’s actually one of the least creative industries in the entire world. People think of marketing as big ideas and creativity and design and all that stuff. At the end of the day most marketers look like project managers. They are similar to engineers and accountants and others in that their job is to get the work done. And so, that big idea versus the immediate execution creates these gaps and the way I often hear it talking with business owners, and I feel this the same, is you’ve got an idea. You wanna run after something. You want to chase it and all you hear from your marketing team is no. It’s so frickin’ frustrating ’cause all they’re saying to you is we can’t do that, and you wanna throttle them. And this empowerment thing becomes a credibility gap for me in that, that the more times you hear no, the more times you hear I can’t execute this, the more times you can lose faith in the capacity of people to do more than they actually could.

– I think that’s fair. I think it’s, it’s different views. So, I completely agree that you hear no, and you probably hear no from me all the time. Jer, we need to slow down. We can’t be doing this right now. We need to focus on this. We need to, 100%, because as the doer, if you’re not getting stuff done you’re also gonna be in a world of hurt when the idea person is like, why didn’t this get done? So, it’s kind of a fine balance, but I also think that no is not necessarily no. It’s not right now. And so, that’s where the communication kinda needs to be bridged. It’s never no, this can’t happen. It’s how do we get through this quarter? Where do we wanna put this into the plan? What’s the priority? You know, how does it fit? How can we work together to make this happen if it can’t happen this week? We don’t wanna lose the ideas, ’cause as marketers ideas are everything. If we don’t have them we’re kinda dead in the water. But, how do leaders and marketers work together to kinda find that balance of, this is an awesome idea, but right now the plate is full, can we do it in Q2? Does it fit later on this year? And what does that look like? Do we need more help? Is it something your marketer can take on? Is it the leader’s gonna take? It’s kinda those open conversations. It all comes back to communication. It all comes back to, instead of shutting down when you hear no, it’s not right now, but when?

– I think that’s a brilliant place for us to end. As a last step on this, if, if anyone is interested in where to start, the place I would recommend is actually with Sarah’s E-book, Empowerment Equals Performance. We’ll put a link up on the show notes, but if you go to stickybranding.com it’s in the free guide section. And so, she’s laid out some of the key principles that we’ve talked about today. And this is really attitudinal. You have to make the choice and the decision as a leader, as a business owner, or even as someone who manages people, that how do I help everybody rise up? And I think one of the common threads of all this podcast has been every brand is built from the inside out. It’s built by people, smart, ambitious, creative people. But, it’s incumbent on us to harness that talent, to harness that power, that we don’t live in a society and a culture that is top down. We need to figure out ways to live in the complexity and unlock that talent. And so, starting with a culture of empowerment, I believe is really one of the critical decisions that you need to make to grow your brand. So with that in mind, Sarah, thank you so much for participating in today’s show. It’s always fun to have these chats. And everybody else, thanks for tuning in to the Sticky Branding podcast. Be sure to subscribe to us wherever you get your favorite podcasts. These are all available as videos up on YouTube. Be sure to again, like, share, and follow us. And then visit us at stickybranding.com for more ideas, best practices and services on how to grow your business into a sticky brand.

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