To Build ‘Identity Loyalty,’ Start with Your Employees

By Theresa Minton-Eversole Jun 23, 2014

ORLANDO, FLA.—Identity loyalty. Companies like Nike, Apple and Coca-Cola have it. Does yours? If your answer is “don’t know,” chances are it doesn’t.

What exactly is “identity loyalty,” and how can organizations build it among their employees?

“Identity loyalty refers to the situation where people so strongly connect emotionally with and internalize the values associated with a brand that the brand becomes part of who they are,” explained Americus Reed II, marketing professor for the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

Reed was the speaker at the Masters Series session on June 23, “Identity Loyalty: Unlocking the Key to Creating Productive, Hardworking and Appreciative Employees” at the 2014 Society for Human Resource Management Annual Conference & Exposition.

“They are so committed to [the brand] that they’ll advocate for it and defend it against attacks. This is powerful and is what makes brand equity such a valuable asset.”

What are the HR implications of creating identity loyalty for companies? 

“Building employees’ identity loyalty improves the overall performance of the company,” said Reed, co-founder of consultancy Persona Partners LLP. Many companies experience major disconnects between clearly defining the values associated with their brand and concisely articulating and demonstrating those values to employees. Consequently, they “miss opportunities to increase the value of their brand assets” and build employees’ potential, commitment, productivity and loyalty.

To identify the gaps in employee messaging and the bumps in the road that affect how that messaging travels through the company, Reed said it’s important to conduct a cultural audit, surveying leadership, employees and customers to determine what values they already associate with the organization.

“Why aren’t they internalizing the organization’s values?” he asked. “It’s probably because of the organizational culture. Try to get to the level of insightfulness that allows you to connect with employees in order to get everyone on the same page,” he said.

Next, strategically articulate the company’s defined identity to employees. 

“Appeals to employees’ social values must address the needs of those employees. values and ideals must be aligned, and the organizational culture must foster employees’ relatedness, competency and autonomy—their purpose for doing what they do.”

The next step is to identify and benchmark your super-performers—those whose values best match your company values. 

“To do this, you have to look beyond basic personality testing and to well-validated work constructs such as self-monitoring, moral integrity and work ethic,” he explained.

Learn how these super-performers experience the organization’s brand by examining four factors:

  • Leadership emphasis.

  • Message credibility.

  • Peer involvement.

  • Employee ownership.

“How are the corporate values characterized and displayed in senior leadership behaviors?” Reed asked. “How authentic is the messaging going out to employees about these values? What initiatives have employees organized to demonstrate their ownership of the organization’s value attributes, and to what extent are employees involved in how these values manifest throughout the organization?”

Reed shared specific steps all organizations can take to help nurture their relationship with their employees and to build more identity loyalty.

“Have a documented organizational identity statement, and share customer testimonials with employees,” particularly ones who might be siloed and have little customer interaction, he said. “Make sure ideals are reflected in senior management behaviors and that the merit system is aligned with the brand’s associated social values.”

Reed also suggested that companies host events that continuously help expose employees to company values.

Finally, “incorporate the brand identity into the new-hire orientation process,” he said. “You don’t want someone working for you who doesn’t understand what the company stands for.”

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


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