Branding is often seen as an outer skin that puts appropriate face to an organisation and often unfairly many organisations (both public and private) use their brand as a ‘band-aid' to try and change perceptions, rather than addressing the deeper issues surrounding skills and service delivery.
One of the unique challenges that the South African Public Sector faces is that in a relatively short period of time, there have been massive changes to this sector. These changes are entirely appropriate and necessary as the sector has evolved from a previously unrepresentative civil service to one that is representative of the New South Africa and the total demographic of our population. Unfortunately in some areas, the cost of this transformation has been too great a loss of technical skill, as well as service ability and understanding. One must recognise that this is not a problem specifically aimed only at the public sector- massive change in any organisation will more often than not create great disruption in the operational running of the business.
One of the great opportunities that faces branding the ‘new' South African Public Sector is the ability that branding companies have in offering appropriate advice to these parastatels and to align these organisations more appropriately to their brand. I would suggest the following pointers:
- Recognition that the brand perception needs to be addressed through perceptual and hard delivery. In other words organisations need to be honest with themselves and identify potential issues that need to be addressed.
- Leaders must create a vision of what the organisation strives to be, and lead by example in appropriate behaviour.
- Organisations need to build a brand programme which appropriately positions the organisation in terms of it's journey towards their desired ‘brand state'. For any organisation to be successful (whether it's public or private) stakeholders need to recognise that the brand is the core of their business and staff need gain a realistic perception of their current state as well as future goals and strategies.
- To educate and empower the staff and stakeholders in an organisation so that they can understand its brand positioning and provide them with tools to deliver on the brand promise. A Brand Engagement Programme is the process of entrenching the brand, its values and ethos throughout the depth and breadth of the organisation, including, most importantly, your people. In a nutshell it is encouraging your employees to ‘live the brand' and creating the appropriate ‘infrastructure' around them to enable them to do so. This means they eat, breathe and sleep the values that your brand conveys, but more importantly, truly believe them! Branding in the public sector must be a holistic effort that involves not only the marketing department but every individual within that organisation.
- Consistency is key, not only with your brand but with your employees too! The most successful public service departments around the world are those that are able to adequately deliver on a continuous basis by having public servants who are technocrats and are removed from any political affiliation. In other words they are employed to do a specific job, regardless of their political affiliation. Unfortunately in South Africa we have eroded the ability of our public service sectors to deliver as we continuously change these public servants and as a result continuously train new staff to complete the same job when there are political changes. Public perception of our public service sector is that staff are chosen because of personal favour rather than their ability! This is an important consideration to bare in mind, no matter how powerful the brand, it can't provide technical expertise to public servants!
There have over time been initiatives that have addressed many of these issues. In 2003 The Brand Union developed an Employee Engagement Programme called Batho Pele (People First) with values such as “I belong, I Care and I Serve” being rolled out to 1.2 million public servants across nine provinces. This initiative is a giant leap in the right direction but it can't work in isolation and needs to be the thread that is continuously weaved into all departments of the public sector. Unfortunately, in many departments the leadership ethos and behaviour was more “I want, I take”, and thus the Batho Pele programme has struggled to make the impact it should.
Brand Engagement Programmes are living programmes which need constant attention and updating in order to remain relevant and successful. Also, and most importantly, they need leaders who create the vision, inspire others and live by the brand behaviours.
All is not doom and gloom and there are many public service departments that have got it right. Take SARS for example. A couple of years ago, SARS was criticised for its poor service delivery and today I can gladly say that these criticisms no longer exist. A new head (our now minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan) certainly steered this ship back on course. He gave clear direction that was communicated throughout the organisation, giving staff a greater understanding of what SARS stood for and backed up this revised brand strategy with technical support and skilled staff to carry SARS into the public domain.
Another department that (I would say) is on the road to better health, is the Department of Home Affairs. In the past they were clouded with very negative public perception but I believe that programmes have been put in place to improve process and skills in the department, and service is beginning to improve. The result of this ‘new vision' within Home Affairs is that the perception is moving towards the more positive aspects of the department. There seems to be a better understanding of where Home Affairs needs to be in terms of service delivery and staff is buying into the brand ethos.
Changing public perception is no easy task, especially when ‘all eyes are on you', but the solution isn't as difficult as many may think. Recognise potential shortcomings within your department; create and share a vision for the future of the brand; build a brand programme that realistically positions the organisations current state and future goals; engage your staff and remain consistent with your staff in order to retain key skills. By remaining brand focused you will come a long way in improving service delivery and subsequently public perception.