I recently had an experience that got me thinking about the importance of brand consistency and meeting expectations. When I travel, I tend to stay at a handful of trusted hotel brands. I am loyal to these brands because I know what they offer in terms of quality and service. However, during a recent trip, I stayed at a hotel that bore the name of one of these trusted brands but failed to deliver the quality I had come to associate with it. It felt like a classic case of "bait and switch." This got me thinking about how this concept extends beyond the realm of hotels and into the world of higher education organizations. Just like a hotel brand, your division or department has its own brand, and it's crucial to ensure that you're meeting the expectations associated with it.
Failing in the Expectation-Reality Gap
When I checked into that hotel, I had certain expectations based on my previous experiences with the brand. I expected a comfortable room, top-notch service, and a pleasant stay overall. Unfortunately, what I encountered was far from what I had anticipated. The room was subpar, the service lacked professionalism, and I even had to kill a cockroach. I left feeling disappointed and questioning whether I'd stay with that brand again. This disconnect between what I expected and what I received is a clear example of the expectation-reality gap that any organization, including higher education organizations should strive to avoid.
Why Does Brand Matter?
The word “brand” most often conjures thoughts of how a company is viewed by customers or consumers. In the higher ed world, the way the students, parents, alumni, and other stakeholders view our brand is paramount. But do we ever consider how our higher ed employees view our brand and the ripple effect of their perceptions? Much like hotel brands, your division or department has its own distinct identity and brand. Your brand represents more than just your website, your posters, or your logo; it encompasses the values, culture, and the expectations associated with your department or division. Just as travelers form opinions about a hotel based on the behavior of its staff, the cleanliness of the rooms, and the lobby environment, employees form impressions of their departments, divisions, and the institution based on the culture they experience. The culture sets the tone for how employees interact with one another, how they approach their work, and how they view their institution’s values and mission.
If your institution, division, or department considers human capital (the employees) as one of the finest resources, then aligning your brand and culture with employee expectations is non-negotiable. When you fail to address how your employees perceive your brand, you fail to engage them, you fail to appreciate them, and you often fail to keep them. Failing to align your brand with employee expectations has a ripple effect on students, parents, and other stakeholders, and you risk diminishing your institution’s brand altogether. When you strive to align your brand with employee expectations, employees will be engaged and feel like their institution cares about them. This enhances the way your employees take care of students, parents, and other stakeholders. Similar to the golden rule: “Do unto your employees as you want them to do unto the students.”
"Failing to align your brand with employee expectations has a ripple effect on students, parents, and other stakeholders, and you risk diminishing your institution’s brand altogether."
The following 6 actionable strategies will help you understand where you are currently excelling and where you may need to adjust to keep
#1 - Understand Your Brand
Gain a deep understanding of what your brand represents to your employees, encompassing not just job roles but also values, culture, and what employees expect from their workplace.
#2 - Consistently Meet Employee Expectations
Recognize and meet the expectations of your employees, including fair treatment, growth opportunities, a positive work culture, and clear communication from leadership. Ensure consistency in delivering on these promises to employees across all departments and teams, creating a uniform and positive employee experience throughout the department or division.
#3 - Cultural Alignment
Once employees feel that they understand the department or division’s brand, engage them in perpetuating your brand. Your culture should reflect your brand's identity, and employees should be positively contributing to the culture as extensions of the brand itself.
Branding is everyone’s responsibility.
#4 - Feedback-Driven Improvements
Continuously seek feedback from employees to understand how well your department or division is meeting their expectations, specifically focusing on work experience and where improvements should be made.
#5 - Understand the Consequences of Not Meeting Employee Expectations
Be aware of the tangible consequences when your organization fails to meet employee expectations, such as disengagement, turnover, and a diminished institution's reputation and brand.
#6 - Long-Term Employee Experience Building
Meeting and exceeding employee expectations isn't just about short-term branding, but is fundamental for building a strong institutional brand, fostering employee dedication and satisfaction, and essential to employee recruitment and retention efforts.
These actionable strategies can help you meet brand expectations, build positive brand perceptions, and foster a culture that aligns with your brand identity.