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Overcome the 5 hidden reasons why internal branding fails

In Covert Processes at Work: Managing the Five Hidden Dimensions of Organizational Change (see excerpt at, Robert Marshak describes the hidden dynamics that characterize organizational change at work--things that affect the organization, but which for the most part go unspoken. These include (the following list is quoted):

"1. Politics: Individual and group interests
2. Inspirations: Values-based and visionary aspirations
3. Emotions: Affective and reactive feelings
4. Mindsets: Guiding beliefs and assumptions
5. Psychodynamics: Anxiety-based and unconscious defenses" (p. 5)

Obviously, internal branding is an organizational change. It is therefore critical to pay attention to each of the above dynamics when implementing it. Unfortunately, however, most organizational change programs neglect them, instead drawing on reason, or "rational and analytic logics." Marshak notes that "most organizational change initiatives begin...with 'making the (logical) case for change.' If/when that doesn't work, some organizations try to do an even better job of convincing employees of the need to change. When that fails, "venting" sessions occur to address "irrational resistance." If that too doesn't work, the change effort is either "aborted, abbreviated, or forced." (p. 6)

What can be done instead to implement the internal brand so that it is accepted by the workforce? Translating Marshak, I would say that one has to appeal to all five hidden dynamics of change, in addition to making a logical case for why the internal brand is needed. Specifically:

1. Politics: Show people how the brand will empower them. For example, that they can now make decisions based on the brand that they couldn't otherwise be free to make before. (E.g. for a customer service situation, rather than calling one's supervisor in to resolve a situation, one can act based on the values that the brand promotes.)

2. Inspirations: Inspire people to want to be part of something greater than themselves by buying into the brand. (E.g., a brand promise might be to "make people happy" and the employee can make that happen in their work every day.

3. Emotions: Understand and respond appropriately to the typical emotional stages of reaction to organizational change: "denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance, and finally adaptive behavior" (p. 10) (as Marshak points out, similar to the stages of death and dying formulated by Elizabeth Kubler Ross in 1973). (E.g. don't be surprised if in the beginning people ignore the pronouncements about the internal brand, then express anger, etc. ...give them the opportunity to say what they have to say without marginalizing those who need to express anger or cutting the vending sessions short.)

4. Mindsets: Understand and appeal to the "assumptions, beliefs, and premises" (p. 11) that are prevalent in the workforce. Know the culture that you are dealing with. For example, in a hierarchical law enforcement culture, a brand that encourages transparency and two-way communication is going to be a tough sell. You must be able to overcome the ingrained mindsets in order to move the brand forward.

5. Psychodynamics: Realize that the change is going to provoke unconscious anxiety and unresolved feelings in people and that they will defend against that anxiety in various ways. As Marshak points out, they might "engage in 'fight or flight' behavior (by being argumentative or by avoiding the topic)". Or they might "engage in transference and begin to act as if the leader were a parent." Or the leader might act cold when warmth is called for (p. 14). The marketers of the internal brand must be able to identify and skillfully manage unconscious responses when they see them.

Internal branding is a serious organizational change endeavor. We must manage it accordingly if we want it to be successful. This might even mean bringing in an organizational development consultant if needed.

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