Dec 20, 2016

Learnings from Fast Company's Innovation Festival (1/4)

Internal Valorization

I recently attended Fast Company’s annual Innovation Festival. It was an idyllic week of inspiration and optimism, featuring best practices and learnings from professionals across industries. One might think that it would be difficult to find commonalities between the various panels - criminal justice reform, obstacle courses, comedians, mattresses…what could they possibly have in common with each other? And yet a few clear themes rose to the top, regardless of sector.

As each theme is quite weighty on its own, I’ll be tackling them in installments. It’s important to note that when these themes work in concert, they guide some of the world’s most powerful brands, and can play a role in changing the very fabric of our culture, impacting the way we interact with the world around us.

Internal Valorization

Many of the companies and brands at Fast Company’s Innovation Festival placed an unusually high value on people, and not necessarily in the traditional business sense. Many of the speakers remarked that an empathetic culture towards internal teams means that the team carries that culture forward, reverberating through each touchpoint of the brand. Susan Reilly Salgado, the Managing Partner of Hospitality Quotient, specializes in hospitality and making consumers feel cherished, and yet even Salgado spoke about the importance of internal valorization: “[W]e first get all our benefits by curating a great place for our employees.”

A common tool for creating a strong internal culture was the “skeleton” method, and it came up often. Susan Reilly Salgado, Alli Webb, Co-Founder of Drybar, Melanie Whelan, CEO of SoulCycle, Rachel Holt, General Manager of Uber North America, and Jonathan Neman, Co-CEO of Sweetgreen all spoke about the skeleton method, wherein employees are given the skeletal framework of who their brand is, but are trusted to flesh out their own work as they see fit. Give employees - or local branches - the goal, but let each team determine the method to achieve it. According to these speakers, the skeleton method is especially fruitful for brands who have local outposts across the country.

To further the emphasis on personal focus, Both Salgado and Whelan made a point that they don’t hire based on technical skill, but rather on emotional aptitude. Their perspective was that how the employee fits with and speaks to the brand’s culture is much more critical to a business’s success than how efficient they are at accomplishing tasks. While this seems to fit best with our idea of smaller, local companies, Uber has proven that this works best with large scale companies as well. Holt says, “[w]e’ve had, as we’ve grown, to create more structure, but structures which allow local best practices to be rolled out easily.”

Samantha Bee, host of TBS’ hit late night show Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, embodies this principle of internal empathy the most. In fact, the comedian doesn’t really care about anyone else outside of the team creating her show. “We’re only on once a week and we only have 21 minutes, which are so precious to us, so the last thing on our minds is ‘how is this affecting people.’ We are here for the 65 of us in the building, making the show. We want to make a show we’d watch.” And while Samantha’s point of view is blunt, her perspective makes a lot of sense. Placing internal teams at the top allows brands to cultivate their own particular, ownable culture, which can then trickle down. That internal team “lives” the brand first and foremost and can become true brand ambassadors, a strong driver in developing long-lasting consumer engagement. As Will Dean, the Founder and CEO of Tough Mudder views it, “I founded the company and hired the first few people, but everyone you see here is building the brand.”

Valuing internal teams is but the foundation in creating an impactful brand, and over the next three weeks I’ll be adding more layers. Check back in next week when I dive into the second core theme from Fast Company’s Innovation Festival: diversity!

Authored by CBA Brand Strategist, Chelsea Brown



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