If you have ever ridden the Underground in London, you are familiar with the female voice that comes over the loudspeaker and asks you to “mind the gap” between the train and the platform. The tone is always polite, yet firm, as if Mary Poppins herself were whispering in your ear.
I find myself repeating these three words during discussions with CEOs around how well (or not) their workforce is engaged in and aligned around the vision of their brand. “You need to mind the gap,” I tell them. “What gap?” they ask. “The gap between what you think, feel and envision for your brand and what employees are seeing, hearing and experiencing in their jobs,” I reply. (Pregnant pause) “Oh, yes,” they murmur, “that one.”
Most CEOs and corporate leaders know this gap exists but don’t know how to properly bridge it. They have deep understanding, vision and plans for their brand, but they also recognize that most of their staff have no real sense of any of these things and are, therefore, not working in unison around them. Often, these leaders address the situation through some sort of internal branding process, boiling their thinking down to some simple slogan. They then emblazon this slogan on a mouse pad or t-shirt, which everyone gets at some all-company pep rally. And while the intention behind these efforts is noble, their long-term impact is fleeting, because after the buzz wears off, people are left wondering, “So what does this all mean, for the way we work, for me, for my job?”
Pushing a slogan down upon a workforce is one way to get them momentarily over the gap; but it won’t hold, because for most of them it’s just a collection of words, likely replacing a previous collection of words. For a brand vision or corporate narrative to really mean something to employees and impact their behaviour, they should be pulled into the creation of the vision while it’s still unfolding, not pushed into it after it’s completed.
If you want to effectively mind the gap between you and your employees, invite them to bridge that gap in their minds first. Share your brand thinking with them while it’s still in progress and ask them to connect the concepts you’re uncovering to the realities of their current jobs and possibilities for the future. This will ground those concepts and make them real for your employees. It will give these concepts meaning, shaping how employees think about them, feel about them and, ultimately, act on them. More than anything, it will bridge the gap between what you see in your mind and what they see in theirs, and then there’ll be no stopping you.
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