For a successful corporate culture, "Get the brand in their souls!"
These are some of the wisest words I ever heard from one of my all-time favorite clients. ”If you want to have a successful, functioning, engaging corporate culture”, she once told me, “everyone must live the brand. It must be in their souls.” By this, my client meant that truly excellent, thriving corporate cultures don’t just happen. It’s not about framing the new Core Values and putting them on the wall, or issuing a company-wide memo about Mission-change and expecting a surge in up-take. (I once witnessed such an attempt in a large, multinational corporation, which shall go unnamed.)
It’s about understanding human nature above all --that “change” and “new” are two great words, so long as they don’t apply to you. And it’s about giving people the opportunity to experience, and embrace, what the brand --whether new and evolved or vigorously refreshed -- now means to them in their daily jobs. They need to feel the “personal stretch” that changes may require; they need to know how the changes affect daily performance expectations; and they need a little time to get over the “shock of the new”. Because change can be a shock to their systems.
This defines both the challenge and the opportunity of “getting the brand into their souls.” This is true in a full brand relaunch or even in a corporate reset. Wishing change won’t make it so: If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
1. This is what must happen
Ahead of her time, my client knew that corporate culture change is the equivalent of internal change management, (and the yin to the yang of external corporate marketing and communications.) Following a major brand (Octagon) relaunch of her company, she realized that she needed to take everyone in the company through an engagement journey – an AIDA+, beginning with Awareness, “I know what we stand for”, and moving the company through Interest, Desire and Action, to Advocacy: “I believe in what we do and I recommend our brand.”
This would not be easy as she knew in her particular situation, from internal employee surveys, that she faced two cultures, an “old” vs. a “new” culture divided by attitudes and behaviors; and from customer surveys cited in the national press, she knew that her company was seen as slow-moving and bureaucratic in the face of sharper, powerful competition moving in from abroad. The evolved Core Values had to be lived; the radical new Vision had to be undertsood, and employees needed to understand their personal stretch ASAP.
II. Our experience: This is what it (always) takes
In the case of our client, and we believe in all cases of internal change management and corporate culture evolution, this means a full-on commitment to bespoke, corporate training sessions: among teams, across teams (depending on issues); everyone, all levels, receptionists to CEO; all colors of all collars worn. Here are four different, tried-and-true exercises we have used and evolved in corporate culture trainings over the years –- that, indeed, began with our favorite client’s corporate training program, now some 20 years ago.
1. Vision exercise:
A company’s Vision is its Northstar, its cynosure: where everyone is headed in the next three-to-five to 10 years. It’s what shape you want to give to the markets and cultures you operate in; what statement you want to make about the human potential you impact. It should be rallying, exciting for audiences internal and out! A new Vision is especially important for a company’s long-term business success.
Below is a purposely simple, generic example of how to apply a company’s Vision to a typical customer situation. It is designed to prompt participants in training sessions to imagine how they might employ their own company’s new Vision to a customer situation, and how the new Vision invites a stretch—"going the extra mile”—to make a greater impact on the customer and the level of servicing.
Of course, participants can apply this model to a wide range of situations, from market development to competitive differentiation. The idea is to immerse participants in the company’s Vision, so they begin to see its broad applicability and effectiveness, thus providing a powerful start to their embracing it.
Variations: Ask participants to articulate their company’s Vision to a reporter, or to someone they have just met at a dinner party; or to recruit a young person to work for the company based on the the company’s inspiring sense of purpose.
Result: It is Vision as excitement, differentiator, community-builder as well as business-builder.
1. Core values exercise:
Core Values capture the ethos of an organization, its courage and convictions. We have written much on the power of Core Values to unite and ignite internal audiences and to stir external audiences to sharper, more eager engagement because of the company’s convictions.
Below is another (deceptively) simple exercise: participants are asked to write a letter to themselves from a happy customer. Then they are asked to evaluate: Which Core Values did you exemplify in the letter? Which Core Values mattered most to this customer? Could you have employed more Core Values, more deeply, in the service of this customer?
Result: Core Values become personal commitments.
1. Mission exercise:
Mission is highly correlated to a company’s Vision: What does everyone, every day, need to do to make the Vision a reality? The Mission exercise, cheekily called the 4Ps, is best conducted among teams and departments, or among those staff who routinely work across other departments. It is designed to help teams of people drill down into the company’s Mission, and align their daily work to the Mission, so it becomes critical to their operations and productivity. With emphasis on Problems, Purpose, Particulars and People, it is highly specific to individual teams, with results differing team by team, division by division, department by department. This is normal.
Together, working towards the company’s overall Mission, individual teams define and articulate for themselves:
- Problems: What problems do we need to solve and what changes do we need to make to deliver on the Mission?
- Purpose: What are the benefits of the changes to the our team, our company, to me?
- Particulars: What specific initiatives are necessary to ensure the changes can happen, e.g., more training?
- People: What do I, my team, we -- need to change to make the Mission critical to all of us?
Result: a jointly-crafted business plan for individual teams and divisions to ensure they fulfill their Mission and help drive the company’s Vision. Clarity, inspiration, collaboration, co-creation and marching orders all in one.
2. Barriers & risks exercise:
Every company, like every person, has certain flaws and weak points that need a certain vigilance. Be frank; ask yourselves, What could we as a company change and improve in our working habits? What in our cultural attitudes and behaviors could honestly use a re-fresh, a re-set, or a re-make?
Typical cultural issues we’re all familiar with, and have doubtless encountered in many forms and iterations, include:
- breaking down silos and walls between departments;
- being more customer-centric;
- being more pro-active and taking the lead when problems arise;
- developing a sense of urgency for timely delivery, thoroughness and thinking problems through;
- balancing turf and ownership with when to reach out to people who can help;
- insuring inclusiveness of all team members, especially those in international locations, with different mother-tongues, in different cultures.
More recent, COVID-sourced issues affecting corporate cultures, include: feeling isolated and professionally languid; experiencing zoom-fatigue; keeping focused and purposeful outside normal structures of place and strictures of time.
There is no time like the occasion of a corporate culture re-set to put all of the new brand elements in play to help address these issues. What brand assets, singly or in combination – from among Vision, Mission, Core Values as well as Promises, Positioning, Target Audience Insights and Brand Personality -- can help transform lagging attitudes and behaviors into flourishing ones, and help overcome identified barriers and risks to success?
We highly recommend the use of role-plays to address these kinds of corporate issues. Participants are assigned roles and situations to work through with colleagues, literally acting out common problems and seeking solutions with the help of the new palette of corporate intangibles. Constructive commentary from among viewing participants is invaluable to assess, assist and point towards superior resolutions. Role plays of participants in online and zoom settings have the added advantage of being both medium and message. Consider videoing as many of the role plays as possible for broader corporate re-use.
III. Critical supports
Once the cultural change management training has delivered company-wide Brand Advocacy, as above, the job is still not done. In fact, it morphs to ensuring that key mindset and behavior changes that now drive Brand Advocacy remain fresh and alive. There is no finish line! It is a grand mistake to think or do otherwise.
As in the figure below, actions produce effects. Consider that actions such as leaders “walking the talk”, building engagement, aligning systems and structures, and identifying competencies and improving skills, will drive critical, lasting effects in mindset and behavior changes over time. Every company will interpret and implement actions for the specific effects and objectives they require. But doing so, following up to plan and purpose, is the sine qua non of a truly effective, enduring corporate cultural change program. And following up, and following up. Because dynamic corporate cultures are living entities and need care, nurturing and cultivation, in order to remain so. We cannot repeat this message enough.
Very specific actions:
In our experience, equipping staff to fully understand and behave in new ways always requires key, additional, specific support. These tried-and-true actions and materials are hidden gems, worth their weight in gold. Never forego any of them!
- CEO’s kick-off: A company-wide announcement of the new brand and culture signals this is serious corporate business and should be taken seriously by every employee; the announcement should include confirmation of the Management Team’s full support of everyone’s participation in the up-coming culture workshops, reinforcing their importance, as well as commitments to bespoke corporate milestones and progress-markers for the next 12-18 months.
- Continuing Management support: Management “walks the talk” by demonstrating the Core Values in their daily interactions and by participating in their own culture workshop as a team. Consider filming and disseminating clips of this workshop as it can have enormous impact on up-take and engagement in company-wide training.
- Corporate materials: Creation of the company’s Brand Book and corporate brochures to explain the changes and help guide people through “talking points”, reliably generates awareness, embrace, pride and confidence.
- New meeting policies: Internal meetings of all levels afford a substantial platform for encouraging new attitudes and behaviors. On finishing internal meetings, for example, try asking: Which Core Values did we demonstrate in the meeting? Which other Core Values should we have employed for even more results? Did we fulfill our Mission today?
- Employee rewards: These are bespoke to all companies, but are usually recognition for an employee who best “lives the values” or who notably promotes the Vision and Mission through his/her individual words and actions. Such rewards, always to be cited in company newsletters, are at once tactical and strategic support for the new culture.
- Employee surveys: Conducting employee research, both qualitative and quantitative, to track progress on company-wide adoption of the new corporate culture has never been more critical. Consider that new questions will need to be added to surveys, e.g., I see our Management “walking the talk”; “I witness strong demonstration of our Core Values (e.g., Simplicity and Transparency) in procedures and information flow.” Be sure to loop-back findings to upgrade and evolve on-going company actions and trainings.
IV. Internal impact: employee satisfaction
Good news! Expect a positive trend in scores for employee satisfaction for all your efforts following the company’s cultural workshops and brand re-launch. These are verbatims from our favorite-client’s brand and culture workshops, proof positive of how much people value being part of a thriving, caring, dynamic workplace; and of how important it is for the company to “get the brand in their souls”:
- “The Octagon (basis for the company’s brand and culture change) is a marvelous tool for us to use as a backbone, that’s the beauty of it. We use it in all our work. It’s helped us grow towards one culture”
- “The CEO and the Management Team are 150% behind our work. Branding is no longer a project, it’s what we do”
- “We had 95% participation in the “Living Our Brand” Workshops and these were vital to the change. People had something to say and contribute and influence Management”
- “We now hire according to our Personality, we have training plans for individuals, job descriptions have changed, our culture is so much more one, we only want to go further”
- “Everything we do in HR is affected by branding, in every single procedure we use. Our employees have never recorded such high motivational scores, job satisfaction has never been so high”
- “Vision and Mission planning is business planning. Every division has to put forward a plan based on them”
- “We end meetings by asking which values we’ve demonstrated, which ones we could stretch further to. I have said, in a disagreement, ‘you’re not demonstrating Simplicity’ and instantly my colleague understood my dispute”
- “We have become internal consultants, and prophets of our Octagon”
V. Ultimate test: customer satisfaction
“Nothing seems more obvious to me than that a product or service only becomes a brand when it is imbued with profound values that translate into fact and feeling that employees can project and customers can embrace”
- Richard Branson, CEO, Virgin Group
Richard Branson’s assumptions have been confirmed by countless studies and surveys over the years. Correlations between confident, happy work forces and loyal and happy customers, shareholders and stakeholders abound.
We have always seen these correlations as the hidden power of strong, internal corporate cultures. They set off a logical, but not always obvious process, in four phases: a common brand and culture, that all employees understand and share daily generates, among so many other things, efficiencies in communication and workflow; these in turn lead to competitive advantages in, e.g., partner relationships and customer preference and loyalty; and these ultimately, cumulatively, lead to what we have called “metrics that matter”: profitability, shareholder value, desired business outcomes.
It is not only that a vibrant, engaging corporate culture is an end in and of itself, it is also a powerful generator of differentiation, competitive advantage and sustained business success.
VI. The ultimate “metric that matters”: Share price of your company
Over the years, a significant number of our clients who undertook re-branding and cultural change initiatives had an end-end goal in mind: launching an IPO and/or being acquired. And so it was for our favorite client, who attributed her company’s successful purchase for a record price (four years after an unsuccessful effort for a much lower price) to the transformations that re-branding and culture change meant for the literal value of her company: Better brand, better workplace, better, more valuable business.
“Our share price is up as a result of this process. We wanted to be acquired, and 3 years ago when we tried, our shares were at 5+. Today, three years later we have been acquired, and our shares are 10+. This is one of the reasons we went through this process, and it is definitely a big part of the change in our value.”
As if you needed any more proof, let’s wrap this up easy. “Getting the brand in their soul” is a recipe that -
- Needs senior management embrace
- Needs to be measured to demonstrate ROI
- Needs to be tied to customer satisfaction
- Needs to be tied to external positioning and messages (its own blog!)
- It never ends:
- Listen-respond model helps identify evolving project requirements
- Milestones are critical to progress.
Now over to you to get on with it in your company. Best of luck!