The Lipstick Disconnect

The Lipstick Disconnect
November 1, 2017 Eva Van Krugel

Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with a colleague about organizations who may market themselves and their products reasonably well, but are in fact putting lipstick on or fronting the organization with window dressing to disguise what’s really happening on the inside. Unfortunately, all too often this is the norm that many can relate to – working in an organization that might present well on the outside, but has dysfunction and cultural disconnects on the inside, inhibiting growth.

Promises, promises…

As former CEO of the Coca Cola Company, Muhtar Kent once said, “A brand is a promise. A good brand is a promise kept.”

In some cases, brands might be promising great things that tangibly compete in the marketplace, but if the inner workings of an organization from culture to knowledge to innovation (and more) aren’t sticking to the promise made, the organization might have some quick wins, but won’t sustain.

We hear, see and talk a lot about the customer experience as a top priority. If organizations have HR and talent leaders working on culture and leadership training, marketing working on brand strategy and senior leadership teams working on the vision, mission and business planning, how does customer experience sync up to the brand promise? Further, how does the brand promise in the marketplace sync up with the inner workings?

Many of us have seen this kind of scenario in action – the one I call “the lipstick disconnect” – when an organization sells well on the outside, appears credible, if not downright appealing, but there’s trouble on the inside.

There’s a disconnect, so where do we begin to fix it?

Fixing it starts with acknowledgement from the forces at the top that there’s a disconnect. Then there is a vast toolkit to explore to begin to resolve the gap. There are books, white papers, conferences, executive coaches and facilitators, customer experience specialists, innovation labs and more.

There is also research. However it seems much research is prioritized to focus on external influences on an organization and not often enough looking at the inner workings for brand consistency inside and out.

Research can help, but it’s useless without understanding the ‘why’.

What is troubling are the one-off research surveys or ‘pulse checks’ that go out to select team members to remedy tactical problems – for example, “do employees have the tools they need to support delivery of the company’s purpose?”. Right there is a perfect opportunity to dig into the reasons for their responses.

  • How do they define ‘tools’?
  • What is it about the current tools and resources that work well, and for what reasons?
  • What is desired into the future to best support their roles and for what reasons?
  • If they were the C-suite, what tools and resources would be implemented to further enable employees to deliver on the organization’s purpose and goals?

Remember yee old faithful Start with Why principles from Simon Sinek? Answering these questions gives greater context than determining people might need new computers and software to do their jobs day-to-day. Instead, these questions dig deeper into “purpose enabling” within the organization.

If more organizations coordinated the effort at a macro level to dig into the true human reasons behind their perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, observations – with smarter research – the “lipstick disconnect” might start to bridge. This could be done with any number of approaches, and if you’ll pardon my inexcusable bias, the value of qualitative research could be the clincher to grasp reasons why team members say and do what they say and do. With time, there might even be consistency inside and out on the purpose of an organization, that reflects across all touch-points.

Customers and employees deserve better.

Huge kudos to organizations already seeking and acting on knowledge to bridge this very gap, challenging the lipstick meme. Here’s to you! Way to set the bar, because your people and your customers deserve it. Besides, it’s the honest brands that win the game.

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