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Culture: connecting brands to employees

A business’ culture is the collective behaviours, customs & beliefs, of its people. Put simply its “the way we do things around here”. The internal culture that a business creates will affect its customer experience and ultimately, its brand.


By Matt Davies, Brand & culture strategy consultant. CEO advisor. Author. Public Speaker. Podcast host. Facilitator


You could have the world’s greatest product and marketing communications but if your people operate in a culture which demotivates, is disjointed, siloed, chaotic, filled with blame and which encourages the wrong behaviours then customers will notice. They will experience poor attitudes, miscommunication and short-term thinking. Not only that but the business itself will feel pain points. There will be a high staff turnover, a lack of commitment, a sense of fear, a lack of new ideas or innovation and lots of moaning and negativity. It will feel like a constant battle to keep putting out fire after fire. On top of all of that leaders will find it will be hard to attract talent to the company - because the power is and has shifted from the employer to the employee. People talk. Social media is there for everyone to see. Employer review sites will be consulted. You cannot hide.

The one thing everything boils down to is trust. How can your people, your future employees, your supply chain, board investors and your customers buy into your business if they simply can’t trust you? You have to ensure that what you say as a brand is true to the lived experience within your company. It has to be real.

Culture, therefore, is not a ‘nice to have’ add-on to your strategy. It has to be at the heart of it.

But how do you build a culture programme which can truly power your organisation in an authentic way? How can we rally everyone around a powerful idea and use this to ladder all of our employee initiatives into - from recruitment to reward schemes?

My answer to this is to take the principles of brand strategy, typically used to promote a business within a marketplace and use these to fuel a business from within too. The brand becomes the glue to stick everything together - to make sense of it all so you can communicate everything clearly, within and without, and truly live the claims you make.

Great cultures do not happen by accident. You need to do this deliberately and carefully. You need to design your culture. It needs to be defined and communicated. Because if you don’t you run the risk of creating a culture that works against the brand - not for it.

Components of a Brand-Connected Culture

Over the last few years, I’ve been working with businesses of all shapes and sizes to ignite their brands by building purposeful cultures. I find the below components are the essential elements of a blueprint that helps these businesses create powerful cultures:

1. The Big Idea (WHY we exist beyond making money)

The big idea is what unites you. It’s your inspiring rally cry. It encapsulates your “purpose”. Some people call this the brand’s “essence”. It’s a statement which sums up why everyone should get out of bed in the morning - usually, this is done when creating a brand strategy. (In 2020 Mackenzie interviewed around 1000 workers in the US. 70% said that their sense of purpose is defined by their work - so ensuring your big idea is inspiring (and true!) Is essential.)

2. Values (WHAT we believe in)

Values are your articulated non-negotiable guiding beliefs. You will hold yourselves accountable to these beliefs in everything you do. They are a set of specific principles identified to drive “the way we do things around here”. They are principles of the desired conditions of the culture the business needs to make its big idea a reality and live its values - they should also be things which customers truly care about.

3. Behaviours (HOW we will act)

Behaviours are how you collectively intend to act. They are informed by the values and directly translate into the experience that you create for your employees and customers. Behaviours could be set at a high level but they could also be tailored in more detail within specific departments. They become a key component of performance management ensuring that the way employees do their jobs is just as important as the skills they actually utilise to do them.

4. Activities (Our MOVES)

Activities are initiatives the business sponsors & implements in order to foster the desired behaviours throughout the organisation. These are usually; routines, rewards and reminders that are ongoing within a business. They are clearly communicated and cherished.

Once the above elements have been designed and defined you’ll find you have the basis of going to work on your culture and implementing these ideas. You can use them as a lens through which to look at your whole employee experience - from how you recruit, to how you train, to how you off-board leavers. You can use the ideas defined in your culture principles to set leading and lagging tracking metrics. You can use them to performance manage. They become the backbone of your internal training and communications - giving people managers the tools to lead effectively and create a brand fuelled culture.

Creating a Culture Programme

So how might a business go about creating a culture programme if it doesn’t have one? Well, a typical culture programme might be created like this:

Discovery - A period of time is needed to listen. To review where the culture is and try and understand why it is the way it is. Digging deep into the challenges and reasons why people are behaving the way they are is never a bad thing. It’s important to have a clear view of the context and where the culture is right now and not rely on assumptions.

Define - This is where we imagine the future. What is the desired culture? How is it different to where we are today? Why will it be better? How will it serve our brand? A joined-up leadership vision coupled with a definition of the elements of the Culture Components described above should be completed in this phase. During this phase, it is crucial to really the leadership around this. A great way to get everyone engaged is to collaboratively define your Culture Components.

Deliver - Now we have everything, at least in an initial draft format. It’s time to begin to roll out your culture programme. Start by communicating it. Get feedback. Test and Learn. Review training. Review your employee experience. Set the routines. Create the documentation. Keep communicating. Set and collect the data. Live the culture.

So - what are you waiting for? I wish you every success in using brand thinking to ignite and excite your people so that you can build a culture which truly reflects the brands you are building.

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