Building a behavior Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2009
Keith Gerson, President and Chief Operating Officer, PuroClean Keith Gerson, President and Chief Operating Officer, PuroClean

Keith Gerson discovered a thing or two about leading a company while rocking on stage in a cover band.

“I’ve learned so much about the performer’s uncanny ability to connect with an audience,” says Gerson, a rocker by night and the president and chief operating officer of PuroClean by day. “A good leader definitely has that ability.”

Gerson’s performance-honed charisma has helped him unite 1,050 employees in 236 franchises under a single vision. He led the company, which provides emergency property damage restoration, through an assessment to define its brand.

But he didn’t stop there. Gerson continues to measure whether the PuroClean brand is living up to its promise.

“If I’m right that your brand is people’s perception of who you are, then basically a living brand is a pattern of behavior,” he says. “It’s not a stylistic veneer.”

As a result of the ongoing branding, PuroClean keeps growing. After reaching 2007 revenue of $51.2 million, the company grew 34 percent in 2008.

Smart Business spoke with Gerson about how to brand your company with a vision.

Gauge employees’ conceptions. One of the first things that I did when I came into the company was to take the organization through the complete assessment and definition of the brand and come out with an articulation of what that meant and then ensure that everybody gets on same page.

I started by going out with five questions to all of my employees. The five questions were basically:

  • What is it about the culture that you think we should preserve and why?
  • What is it about the culture that you think we should change and why?
  • What do you hope I will do as your president?
  • What are you afraid I’m going to do as the president?
  • What advice do you have for me?

If you did nothing else, the answers to those questions could be the basis for the development of your strategic plan. But I took it a step further, and I shared the answers that I got from our entire system with my network leadership council. I had 10 franchisees, five of my executive team members and some outside experts that had industry experience or marketing experience.

Assemble a branding team. I identified people that I knew were influential within the network. We publish who our top performers are on a monthly basis on our intranet site ... but that’s only part of it. You’re going to have people within your organization that are not necessarily your best performers but certainly have a lot to say.

This is just learned and observed by asking the questions, ‘Who do you respect? Who do you listen to within the organization?’

The other way is just watching where and how people interact. You can really see who people tend to gravitate toward.

Define and differentiate your business. You have to define your business scope: What’s our area of business? What’s our mission? What’s our basis for making decisions? ... What’s the environment we’re going to create? What are the principles behind our actions? And ultimately, what do we want to be known for?

This brand exercise helped us do a better job of articulating who we are and what we stand for in a way that is no longer what everybody else is talking about.

Your brand is not your logo. It’s not your products. It’s not your services. Ultimately, your brand is being able to communicate these things in a meaningful way that differentiates us from our competition and that really reflects who we are.

Share the vision. The second thing was to communicate that vision often. I started blogging on our intranet site, sharing the vision of who we are and where we’re going, [giving] frequent updates in terms of where and how we were living by the strategic plan and sharing the constant progress and the successes and the challenges.

In addition to that, I started to publish a newsletter. The newsletter is sent out to our franchisees. [It creates] a sense of inclusion by having franchisees participate in the development of stories, sharing new happenings.

You have to inspect what you expect. To that end, we set up a number of tracking systems. We have, for example, a bulletin board on our intranet system. We encourage franchisees to weigh in on where and how these various initiatives are going for them, challenges that they’re having, being able to ask questions and get honest answers.

It’s important to have key performance indicators and to track them on a regular basis.

Measure customer response. Oftentimes in [customer] surveys, you’re asking the wrong questions and the answers aren’t going to the right people.

There’s only one question that matters, and that question basically is, ‘Would you recommend us to a friend or associate?’ (Our survey) asks two questions. First, on a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend PuroClean to a friend or associate?

If somebody answers with a 9 to 10, we ask the follow-up question, ‘What did we do well? If somebody answers 7 to 8, we ask, ‘What could have we done better?’ And if somebody answers from 0 to 6, the question is, ‘How did we let you down?’

Break down the survey response and attribute it back to ... the person that actually performs the work. [We can] track the performance of each employee on the basis of how they interfaced with the customer.

HOW TO REACH: PuroClean, (800) 775-7876 or