Policies and Rules Can Be Good for Your Culture and You Do Own Your Band Even if the Message is That You are a Hypocrite - Hackstaff, Snow, Atkinson & Griess, LLC

Policies and Rules Can Be Good for Your Culture and You Do Own Your Band Even if the Message is That You are a Hypocrite

Two guys that I really like and respect are Chuck Blakeman of the Crankset Group and David Sandusky of Your Brand Plan.  Each recently posted an article that I found very insightful.  Chuck wrote You Don’t Own Your Brand Anymore and David wrote Rules and Policies Kill Your Culture, Your Brand.  However, I have to respectfully take issue with some of the implications, and I’d love to see a dialogue about it.  So, here I go.

I Think Rules and Policies Are, or at Least Can Be, Good

David is admirably focused on getting business leaders to realize in a practical way that their employees are their business.  As I understand it, the point of the post is that businesses need to make serious efforts to hire people who are fans of the business goals and values, not just good technicians.  If they do that, those employees will join in representing and building the image and brand of the company to the public in addition to doing a good job.  Where I take issue is with the assertion that having rules or policies for social media hurts the business culture because it tells people they are not trusted.

Having rules and policies is about creating culture, having good communication, and providing everyone with notice.  It is about defining the scope and nature of the culture, the priorities of the group, and establishing the community.

Rules and Policies Are Culture, and Help Maintain, Reinforce, and Identify, Business Culture

First, good policies and rules can be made by collaboration with the employees and staff who.  When appropriate, they are an outgrowth of the culture and community – a kind of self-affirming regulation.  And that is the point.  If the values and culture of a business or institution are tied solely to the charisma of particular individuals, without an institution working independently on those goals and values, the goals and values will die or dissipate with the person’s death or resignation.

Businesses Are Distinct from the Employees and Owners

Second, while business entities are made up of people, they are separate from the people who make them.  It is important to realize that a business can have different priorities and emphasize different values than what an individual might personally choose to emphasize or have on their own.  In fact, leaders often choose to create a business or nonprofit that emphasizes one of their values or priorities as a way of giving that value or priority life that the owner cannot otherwise do.  It creates a vehicle with a community that can pursue and develop goals and values while the individuals take care of other responsibilities and priorities elsewhere.  Rules and procedures help to establish this separate identity of the business community, its goals, values, and purpose.

Rules and Procedures Help Give Speakers Authority to Speak for the Business

Third, because the group or community (the business) is different than any of the individuals that make it up, the individuals cannot, by themselves, and without making specific efforts, represent or speak for the community.  Rules and policies help to communicate and establish the common goals and values.  It is not an issue of trust, it is an issue of distinction, discernment, and responsibility.  Everyone has their personal views, stronger or weaker than each other, or their employer.  Some people in a community are charged with speaking for the community, others are not.  Rules and procedures help to establish those lines so that there is notice and communication about who is speaking, the group or the individual.  And it helps to keep employees and management on the same page about who they are together and what they do, versus what private parties and personal beliefs are not representative of the group.

Boundaries Actually Promote Freedom By Establishing the Field of Play

Finally, there are a lot of ways to handle rules and policies, and some are certainly meant to be straight-jackets on employees, but others can be liberating guidelines helping the management, business, employees, and consumers to each communicate more effectively and honestly.  In short, rules and policies have a lot of value and should be carefully considered and implemented by businesses.

I Think You Are Still In As Much Control of Your Brand (Goodwill) as Always, Perhaps More So Now

Chuck also brings up a really good point: Because communications barriers have increased dramatically, businesses no longer have exclusive methods for controlling the publicly accessible information about themselves.  Accordingly, to the extent businesses are putting an image up that is inconsistent with the reality of who they are, they are in trouble of being found out they are hypocrites.  What I take issue with is that you don’t own your brand – as Chuck says.  You most definitely do.

I Think We Should Be Talking About Goodwill

Initially, let me point out that brand may be a bad term for Chuck as it doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to everyone.  What I think Chuck is talking about is goodwill.  Goodwill is defined on Dictionary.com, for example, as “an intangible, salable asset arising from the reputation of a business and its relations with its customers, distinct from the value of its stock and other tangible assets.”  Brand, in my activities as a trademark attorney, is more about building positive communication with consumers when a distinctive and recognized mark identifies the source of goods or services.  Brand certainly contributes to the creation of goodwill, but it is not the same thing.

Either Way, Brand and Goodwill Are All About Business Communication

In addition, brand and goodwill are all about communication with consumers.  Traditionally, the communication has been relatively one sided.  What Chuck gets at in his post is that communication is no longer so one sided.  Accordingly, in order for a business to communicate effectively, it has to engage in those avenues of communications which result in real transfer of information from the business to the consumers.  With this, I agree.

Engaging and Ignoring Are Both Communicative, and Both Are Important, Just Make Sure You are Being Deliberate

What I disagree with is the implication of the post that somehow, because a business has to engage in a different kind of communication, it no longer controls, or owns, its “brand” or goodwill.  Of course it does.  Just like I still own and control my personal reputation and image whether I am writing a blog or talking face to face at a networking event.  Every day, I choose to either respond to or ignore the assertions, opinions, and arguments coming from others.  Just because I might reject a position, does not mean I stop owning my reputation, in fact, it is a key part of defining myself to others—as much as my choice to engage another person is a part of helping to define my reputation with those around me.  No individual, or business, should be required to respond and engage in every assertion or statement made.

What I think Chuck is emphasizing is that disingenuous engagement is communicative and affects the value of a business’s goodwill.  Also, total failure to engage with consumers is communicative and will also affect goodwill value.  But my two cents is that engaging in communication inherently involves both engaging sometimes, and disengaging at other times.  And more specifically, there is probably even more opportunity to shape and influence public perception by effective use of these tools now that business can more personally address concerns and complaints—not less.  In other words, business brand and goodwill have always been about effective communication with consumers which has always been “out of the control of” businesses because no business controls the reaction and thoughts of its consumers, only what it communicates.  This is still the case, just the medium has changed again and businesses can either use the medium to communicate or not.

So my point is that businesses and individuals still own their “brand” and goodwill, at least as much as they have always owned it.  They have trademarks, logos, skills, abilities, reputations, influence, tools for communication and interaction, etc…. The important issue is to realize the framework for modern communication and engage in a comprehensive and thoughtfully integrated manner to continue to influence the public to establish and maintain the value of brands and goodwill.