Islamic Finance: Employee Engagement, Brand Advocacy and Social Media

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Is there a need for employee engagement, brand advocacy and social media in Islamic finance?

The overwhelming consensus in business is that it is about people and about providing value to people. Over the last decade the business world has changed drastically; the deterioration of trust in the financial sector coupled with organizational practices that demonstrate detached leadership and an ever-increasing preference of people to trust referrals and word-of-mouth more than paid advertising – in many ways, thanks to social media – has resulted in employee engagement and savvy social media utilization.

For the Islamic finance industry the task is more than having a few social media accounts and putting up a corporate message now and then. The challenge is to engage the man-on-the street and have a conversation that leads to business.


For decades Islamic finance has been shrouded in its technical complexities. As trust becomes more and more critical in business relationships, the industry needs to demystify it’s technicalities in order to be able to present simple value propositions that ‘mainstreet’ understands. Similarities with financial sectors like responsible finance from the conventional world need to be explained in simple terms. Such alignment will open a greater opportunity area for the industry.

Employee Engagement

At an organizational level to achieve social demystification the premise begins with employee engagement.

Today employee engagement is a critical strategic organizational requirement for any company interested in achieving their goals successfully. There are many experts available online on how employee engagement can be done. Needless to say for each organization the needs would be different and a prescribed and formatted approach would not work. But that is a topic for another day.

For Islamic finance organizations a good starting point for getting employees on board is with its business objectives. Involving the employees in developing the business strategy and its initiatives creates ownership and trust as the employees themselves have recommended the actions and would be executing them.

With some strategic human resource planning, in the area of both functional and behavioural competencies, the departmental results can be tied back to employee performance and thus provide the employee a direct line-of-sight to results of performance and non-performance. While most do have this, the question to ask is: what is the impact and how is it measured, if at all?

For an employee, having contributed to the business strategy and understanding how self-performance would affect the achievement of the goal, the performance comes in the form of brand advocacy.

Brand Advocacy

Research shows that when an employee pitches for the organization, as its brand advocate, it’s the strongest form of recommendation that works. Whether it’s the CEO presenting to the board or it’s a front-line executive answering customer queries, the interaction creates an experience for the recipient. An experience based on which critical decisions are made.

Effective brand advocacy is only possible when there is complete trust, ownership and understanding of the business objectives. It’s tough to build such brand advocacy but not impossible. Based on the emotional intelligence of the organization, adequate time has to be given to build this up.

The process of building up effective brand advocacy involves use of social media by employees and the organization.

Social Media

The advent of smartphones and internet technological developments has created a distinct shift in communication habits among all. Key among these habits is the use of social media.


S2(Social media data courtesy: We Are Social)

With the world literally living on social media, it’s necessary to get authentic conversations going through this channel of communication in order to create relationships that lead to business growth.

Brand advocacy enables employees to reach this conversation through personal network of friends and family, while an organisational social media account engages directly with the key stakeholders. What this dual conversation does is provide a transparent and authentic platform for a brand to pitch it’s story. As people engage, feedback flows and a genuine rapport emerges through the message of the organization, the brand has a great opportunity to grow.

As we adapt to more technological advances and as the Islamic digital economy goes from strength to strength, it’s time for the global Islamic finance industry to connect the dots between employee engagement, brand advocacy and social media to give people the service they so badly need.

Joy’s Corner

A New Look

In the last two months I have received a lot of requests to have a new blog that focuses solely on how strategy, leadership, employee engagement and its’ communication are interconnected.

Thank you to my 2,109 members here who have helped provide feedback and support in popularizing my posts.  Thank you.

Your suggestions made me develop Joy’s Corner and in the days ahead I’ll put up content that is helpful to you. Please feel free to use the Let’s connect facility and share your thoughts and views with me.

Eid Mubarak

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EID is the combination of 3 meaningful letters:
E – Embrace with open heart
I – Inspire with impressive attitude
D – Distribute pleasure to all


May Allah this occasion flood your life with happiness,
Your heart with love, Your soul with spirituality,
Your mind with wisdom.

People create culture through their behaviour

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An organization is a non-physical entity that is brought to life through its people.

Establishing a culture occurs through people understanding, accepting and developing ownership of the values in order to project a behaviour that reflects the culture of the organisation. This creates brand experience and leads to the brand identity for the organization.

When we speak of people, among stakeholders of a brand, employees are the single most important stakeholders. Yet strangely enough organizations fail to acknowledge this in the brand experience and identity development process. 

An organisation having strong ethics & empowerment, with goals that clearly link to developing individuals and where the employee feels empowered to contribute ideas inspires employees to strive for delivering to the best of his/her abilities. This comes about because the employee likes going to work every day, learns and is appreciated.
It creates engagement.

This engagement leads to specific behaviour that is aligned with the organisational values and manifests as the work culture. Strong teamwork is visible. Positivity is visibly felt and success of individual activities occurs.

Activating a culture creation plan is not easy. It takes time, persistence, consistency and most importantly clarity. Clarity between business goals, functional roles and individual development.

 Culture Impacts Business

As individuals we have our names which give us part of our identity. So also with brands who have their names and logos. But that’s half the job done. As with individuals, our personality and behaviour provide an experience. Together this gives a complete identity, of us, to the other person. Similarly with brands, through employees and their behaviour coupled with organisational processes, a brand stakeholder has specific experiences that lead to having a complete identity of a brand.

The specific experience a stakeholder goes through is purely dependent on two factors:

  1. Employee behaviour
  2. Organisational processes

The impact of behaviour and service quality, in terms of process, creates either a positive or negative perception of the brand in the stakeholders’ mind and affects the buying decision and ultimately on the bottom-line of a business.

Where do we start?


Developing an effective corporate culture is not an external effort. It is purely an internal exercise that needs as much attention and planning for effective implementation, as the regular functions of an organisation.

The leadership of an organisation needs to provide clarity of its business and the brand experience it wants stakeholders to have. This then needs alignment between organisational and departmental goals and desired behaviour of employees.

Changing behaviour is very difficult.

Work habits are part of our individual cultural make-up that we carry with us when we walk into a job. Affecting change requires having a consistent engagement program through which employees clearly feel and get a feeling of pride and value.

Four steps to developing an employee engagement program:
  1. Identify the platform on which the culture would be based. The ethics and social norms it would want to promote and foster among all its stakeholders. Based on this ethical platform determine the values that the brand should stand for.
  1. Inform and internalize these values to the employees by clearly linking them to their work functions and relating back as to how not projecting the same affects the brand and in turn affects the bottom-line. Provide as much clarity to employees here to show the impact on revenue.
  1. Get the employees involved. Get employees to write down, in their own words, how they would project the values in terms of their behaviour.
  1. Ensure measurement. A measurable, performance indicator has to be in place which should be clearly explained to the employee and ensured that comprehension is there.
Keeping the Momentum

Having initiated the program, keeping momentum is extremely important. A structured internal communications program, aimed at regularly highlighting the employee achievements, undertakings and organisational news are communicated, aids the program a lot.

What this does is:

  1. It informs the organisation as to who’s championing the specific activities
  2. It motivates the competitive spirit within divisions and dept.’s to do their bit and get their names on the “communication roster”.

As a team, employees move in one, planned direction, in delivering the desired brand experience. This benefits the brand as all stakeholders receive a positive face of the brand. This, in turn, strengthens their relationship with the brand and leads to increasing revenue.

Why we do not do this?

Current corporate cultures, across Asia, are still largely governed by the old ‘command-and-control’ leadership practices that alienate many of today’s employees.  Instead of people, starting with employees, being the key focal point for a brand in developing its relationships, the focus is on profits through higher sales & lower costs.

Gunning for increasing profits, year on year, is not wrong. Any business needs to be profitable. That’s why it’s in business. But there is a way to be profitable and yet benefiting the community and society it operates in.

We veer away from undertaking a new approach because we are conditioned risk-minimisers & profit-maximisers , through years of learning from the past.

Here’s the catch—as a business leader if you do not put your people first and focus on what benefits them, how can you get them to give a positive brand experience to the stakeholders who matter to you and who pay the revenue the business generates?

 What’s the solution?

Get involvement.

Involvement is the critical element. Intuitively we all understand what involvement is and how powerful a force it can be. When we are told to do something, we do it and then tend to forget about it. But when we are involved in something, we tend to be possessive and own it on an emotive level.  When emotions come into play, passion is there, thereby enabling a strong, positive experience to take place, leading to forming trust. When trust grows, relationships are strengthened leading to repeat usage and referrals.

The question to ask—is there involvement?

Involvement requires that a strong group process is in place. A process where the meetings and interactions take on a deeper meaning than just to meet in order to agree to the content of the meeting. A deeper meaning where one focuses more on honest conversation, high involvement and participation leading to strong, high trust relationships.

Once a strong group process is in place leading to strong relationships based on individual involvement, implementing the rest of the plan in terms of content and communication channels and programs, is not hard, as each independent employee, driving those functions, believe and own it. As a result of which, each interaction is on a more personal, emotive and honest platform. All of which lead to having a positive brand experience output.

What’s the benefit?

By taking the pains of involving & engaging employees and defining the culture, organisations can build up a very strong competitive advantage that results on both a strong brand identity as well as a healthy bottom line.

A positive and enriching brand experience is the output of having involved and engaged employees. Such experiences become the differentiator for a business vis-à-vis its competitor and leads to increased business through referrals and re-purchase thus impacting positively on the bottom line.





Brand experience has a higher impact than advertising

brand+experience+quoteA brand experience is the total experience one has with an entity and the perception one has of that entity. One of the key areas where this experience is strengthened (or destroyed) is the way the brand’s eco system (its’ consumers, partners, vendors) perceive the employees of the brand they interact with.

And this has far greater an impact than the advertising of the brand.

In Asia current corporate cultures are still largely governed by command-and-control practices that alienate many of today’s employees. Whereas employees are (and should be) the key focal point for a brand in developing its relationships.

By putting employees at the center of the brand experience it changes the way senior management think about their organisational culture and the ways that the culture creates rewarding employee experiences which translate into positive and enduring customer experiences.

In-spite of all the talk of ‘people are our main asset’ the road to ‘employee-service-profit chain’ success is mired in obstacles!

If employees are distrusting and alienated from their organisations, what are the chances that they will provide customers and colleagues  with a positive brand experience? And a positive experience is a must in order to have a usage of the brand and, more importantly, to get referrals.

From the organizational perspective employees need to have emotional maturity to understand and align their individual professional goals with those of the business. Often times, emotional maturity is not on par with intelligence maturity in the employee. And knowledge, intelligence and skill are often confused with emotional maturity.

  1. How do we get employees to strengthen and increase their emotional maturity?
  2. How do we get employees to build trust with the brand in order to be  engaged and involved in the organisation’s growth plans?

Engagement programs are one solution. Unfortunately they are just what the term states—engagement, as perceived by the organisation,that is they provide a one-way street of communication. Commanding what should be the perceived brand image communication, providing content to gain a commitment. But not really providing any means of employee development or initiating engagement or involvement from the employee.

The missing element is involvement and having involvement is critical!

Intuitively we all understand what involvement is and how powerful it can be. When we are told to do something, we do it and then tend to forget about it. But when we are involved in something, we tend to be possessive and own it on an emotive level. And when emotion comes into play, passion is there. Where passion is present there is a strong, positive experience taking place.

This is the platform on which trust is built.

When trust grows, through engagement & involvement, the quality of the relationship increases rapidly on the positive scale leading to an enjoyable outcome of interaction between the brand custodians and its stakeholders. The cycle is completed when repeat usage and referrals occur.

This does occur simply because of human psychology. We like being around people who are collaborative, have a positive attitude and are helpful.

Thus when an organisation is managing cultural change a top priority is to have the employees’ involvement.

And this involvement requires that a strong group work process be in place. A process where the meetings and interactions take on a deeper meaning than just to meet in order to agree to the content of the meeting. A deeper meaning where one focuses more on honest conversation, high involvement and participation leading to strong, high trust relationships.

All  simple, effective and, yet in a corporate set up, at times, hard to do elements (for various reasons)

Once a strong group process is in place it leads to strong work relationships based on involvement to a common cause. Then implementing an engagement program, in terms of content and communication channels, is not hard as each independent employee, driving those functions, believes and own it. As a result of which, each interaction is on a more personal, emotive and honest platform.

All of which lead to having a positive brand experience output.

This Ramadan create your legacy

Ramadan Legacy

Finally it’s here!

In March I had written about a talented group of Muslims who had developed a RAP– Ramadan Action Plan. Read about it here.

Now the group has just launched a fabulous app– Ramadan Legacy app— the world’s first fully featured app for Ramadan that provides an excellent way of planning your Ramadan in the digital format. The app aims to enhance your experience of Ramadan through combining smart technology and beautiful design with spirituality and learning, all to help you organise your worship to make Ramadan easy and enjoyable.  It has launched on the Apple and Android App Store on Friday 12th June 2015.

“Ramadan Legacy is a tool that allows Muslims to create, track and build their Ramadan Legacy. Imagine in five years time looking back to see what you felt and achieved five years ago, in Ramadan. It combines smart technology and beautiful design with spirituality and learning, all to help you organise your worship to make Ramadan easy and enjoyable.”– Ramadan Legacy

Winds of change blowing on Islamic finance

A distinct trend emerging in the global Islamic finance industry is the rising number of professionals opting out of the corporate rat-race and entering entrepreneurship. 

The question is why?
  • Does this have a correlation with lack of talent development in the industry?
  • Or with the lack of Islamic finance being used by other industries?
  • Or a lack of professional standards where technical competencies are concerned?
  • Or a lack of vision within the industry?
  • Or the lack of convergence between Islamic finance & the Halal industry?
  • Or simply the lack of tangible progress?

Food for thought for  later as the global Islamic finance industry is, indeed, getting affected by all these issues and needs to address them quickly.

From the professional perspective, to get an insight into what’s driving professionals in the industry to trade-in a secure pay-check for the uncertainty and flux of entrepreneurship, I met up with Mr. Shakeeb Saqlain— CEO of .

Here’s the interview published in Business & Finance April 2015 issue: