You don’t have to have a GCSE in the legacy of Marvel Comics to appreciate the link between the popularity of heroic figures in popular culture and testing social circumstances.  It’s no great surprise that the Golden Age of Superhero comics coincided with the aftermath of a catastrophic World War.

 We’re all aware that these are troubled times. It may be popularity polls and shareprices rather than bombs that are dropping these days but as world and corporate leaders struggle with economic crises who wouldn’t welcome a caped crusader who could clear tall buildings in a single bound?  If they also had the answer to the credit crunch plumping out their codpiece, all the better.

 Back in the real world, we’re more likely to bump into a bumbling Clarke Kent, a nerdy Bruce Banner or a super slick Bruce Wayne if we’re really lucky, than a Super or Batman.  The heroes who are most likely to live and work around us every day, however, include police officers, doctors, teachers and insurance underwriters, personal assistants and copywriters. They’re often the little people who are able to rise above the universal and altogether natural concern for the self and put the needs of others first in their list of priorities.  They too fight for health, safety, growth and excellence in their own modest way.  But like their comic book counterparts, they’re not forced or compelled to heroic acts. They do it because they choose to.

 Organisations count on there being enough of these workaday superheroes in sensible shoes quietly making a stand for truth and justice within the corporate rank and file. If they aren’t wearing their pants over their tights or aren’t sporting a natty cape and tiara, however, how do you spot them?

 Well, if anyone is prepared to willingly bear a brand on their breast there’s a fair chance they’re going to be substantially engaged with that brand. But what does an engaged employee actually look like? While there are variations and eccentricities, the most common traits exhibited by engaged employees are that they are:

           Receptive (they are open to opportunities to be involved)

          Involved (they are part of the programme not recipients of it)

          Proactive (they innovate without being asked)

          Energised (they do things)

          Achievers (the things they do tend to be fruitful)

          Advocates (they are proud and happy to recommend the brand)

 Delve beneath the surface of the Times Best 100 Companies poll and you’ll encounter these characters and characteristics in spadefulls.  Having worked with a number of the organisations in the top 50 I can confirm that in each case:

           the Top Team were advocates of a culture-led approach to brand management

          they developed a very clear business case for change

          they understood the current culture and were clear about the desired future culture

          they involved and engaged all employees in the development of a compelling story about the evolution of the business

          they “professionalized” their internal communication function and ensured that line managers in particular were skilled communicators

          they insisted on partnerships between the external and internal facing communication/engagement functions

 Doesn’t sound anything like where you work? Well next time there’s a corporate crisis just pause for a second, try and look beyond what the emails from the CEO and army of middle managers are saying and consider why the otherwise unassuming and bespectacled Jane from IT always grabs her coat and heads for the stationery cupboard when the going gets tough. After all, someone keeps the supervillains at bay and the systems running!

 Ian Buckingham is the author of Brand Engagement – How Employees Make or Break Brands.

& Brand Champions – How Superheroes Bring Brands to Life.  If you have any legendary stories to share about everyday brand champions and corporate “derring do” drop Ian a line ([email protected]).