Changing the Mind-set

This article accompanies The Fixers.

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Kevin Finke is a master storyteller and experience creator. Perhaps that’s why he has one of the coolest job titles in corporate America: culture transformation catalyst.

Early in his career, Finke helped create marketing campaigns for Coca-Cola, HBO and other well-known brands. Then, roughly three years ago, he was hired as the interim global brand director at NCR, a global software services company in Atlanta, to wrap up a marketing campaign – Everyday Made Easier – that promoted a new software solution.

Throughout the campaign, Finke observed that employees didn’t recognize their contributions to customer experiences. So after the campaign, he pitched a new marketing strategy to his boss, CHRO Andrea Ledford, who also oversees corporate marketing and communication. Finke made a case that the strategy would connect the company’s culture with its brand and forever change employee perceptions, behaviors and engagement levels.

“My observation was that we had a story to tell externally about what our products and services do for people, but our people didn’t see their role in that,” he says. “I wanted to work on [transforming] the culture and creating brand promise-keepers who keep the promise of our brand every day in how they work.”

Since then, Finke has focused his marketing savvy internally to help employees create stories based on their experiences and build a work culture that lives the NCR brand.

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Company leaders now create more positive employee experiences that span the entire employee lifecycle and think differently about why and how they lead their teams. Just as important, the company’s talent strategy now mirrors its business strategy. But perhaps best of all, employees better understand their purpose and communicate their experiences or stories, which enhances company loyalty, commitment and engagement.

“Kevin has learned how to harness the power of creative storytelling and shared experiences to build and transform cultures in the most meaningful ways,” says Ledford. “He’s also helping us redefine what we do as HR practitioners and inspiring us to deliver on a new value proposition as a more modern HR team.”

Building Blocks

During his first year on the job, Finke began aligning NCR’s senior executives with HR by defining the company’s shared purpose, values and what it wanted to be.

“I worked with a small group of leaders to redefine our values – innovation, integrity, performance, customer dedication, and respect and teamwork,” he says. “It was my recommendation to add courage because it takes courage to live up to these values … and change behavior.”

During this eight-month process, Finke – via HR – solicited the opinions of 400 global company ambassadors about what they wanted to name the company’s “great” culture.  Although hundreds of responses were received, he says, one word kept popping up. “We knew instantly that this would be the word we would call ourselves – ‘iNCRedibles,’ as in an iNCRedible team of employees.”

Shortly after, Finke rolled out another campaign, called “I’m In!,” to help educate and excite the company’s workers about its transformation, culture and company vision.

The company hires approximately 6,000 new employees each year. During onboarding, new hires watch a brief video featuring passionate employees sharing their unique stories about how the company lives its brand.

New hires are also asked to support the company’s transformation and cultural visions through the “I’m In!” campaign, and then sign two business cards shaped like a leaf. One card is attached to the branch of a tree portrayed on a large wall poster at their local office while the other is sent to the company’s corporate office and secured to a three-dimensional, 10-foot-tall artificial tree at NCR’s corporate campus that’s adorned with LED lights.  The tree represents the company’s growth and cultivation of fresh ideas and talent, Finke says.

“The logistics of actually deploying this globally – to people and locations across 120 countries – was a big challenge,” he recalls. “It wasn’t part of our language or cultural rituals to talk about values. And then we were asking them to change.”

Data-Driven Path

Some leaders, however, believed these strategies were a “little hokey,” Finke says. He changed their minds by sharing data, obtained from third-party sources, that demonstrated the relationship between culture, values and business performance.

Last year, Finke negotiated a three-year agreement with Wills Towers Watson to conduct a customized cultural audit involving the company’s new values. Sample survey questions included: Do you trust your teammates?  Do you feel you can be yourself at work?  Do you know how your job is evaluated? More than 20,000 employees responded.

Survey responses revealed that integrity was one of three company values strongly linked to employee engagement. Finke now focuses the efforts of company leaders and teams on these three values to improve engagement levels.

While it’s too premature for results, Finke says, “Things are lining up and now we’re really getting traction.”

Meanwhile, he says, his career belongs at the intersection of HR and branding.

Finke says he lives being a non-HR person in an HR community because it allows him to help people change and transform.

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Carol Patton
Carol Patton is a contributing editor for HRE who also writes HR articles and columns for business and education magazines. She can be reached at [email protected].