This article was originally published in the Brand Leadership Annual 2016.
So you’ve invested in your branding: You have an inspiring vision and values that are beautifully displayed throughout your office. You’ve run workshops and printed t-shirts with a catchy rallying cry. Maybe you’ve even revamped your corporate identity and spruced up your office. But once your brand consultants leave, can you count on your people to change their behaviour and bring your brand to life?
Brand makes a promise, but it is culture that delivers on it.
Ultimately, culture determines your customers’ experience. And what customers say about your brand is infinitely more valuable than what you say about it. All it takes is one bad interaction to spark off a whole chain of criticism – and likewise, all it takes is just one amazing experience to bring you a whole new tribe of converts.
Disney is one of those brands that has a firm place in people’s hearts. Although your neighbourhood theme park falls into the same category of thrill rides and fun experiences, going there is a completely different experience compared to going to Disneyland. Disneyland is that once-in-a-lifetime experience that people dream of, save up for, and brag about.Disney’s theme parks are built upon a culture that involves every employee in creating joyful experiences for visitors. Disney doesn’t call its theme park staff “employees”, but “cast”. Dressed up in grand costumes, the cast are empowered to delight visitors, whether it is giving a crying child a free lollipop from the gift shop or going the extra mile to mend the torn dress of a Belle doll brought by a child to the park.
When culture is done right, employees go beyond SOPs to deliver outstanding customer service. They become part of the brand story you are telling.
Design and build your desired culture
Culture already exists in every organisation. However, most of the time, it happens by default rather than design.
Designing your culture starts with translating the brand’s vision and values into policies, SOPs and guiding principles for daily interactions within the various departments and customers.
Next, you need to get buy-in.
For many companies, this is one of the biggest obstacles to change. But once you achieve this, you will have a loyal army of employees who are willing to go the extra mile, even without instruction.
Winning over both head and heart
It may be generally true that people are creatures of habit and they don’t like change, but look around and you’ll see that people are making changes all the time: they change their cars, mobile phones, hairstyles, and more.
So we can conclude that people don’t resist change… as long as they have the power to choose it.
Getting their buy-in is a matter of giving them that power to choose.
Appeal to their heads by explaining the reasons for change. What is happening in the environment? How is this impacting your customers and clients? How are their needs changing? And what does your company have to do in order to stay relevant and competitive? Explain it, step by step, taking it all the way home to how it affects each individual in the company.
That logic will satisfy their heads. Now, you need to engage their hearts.
Speak about the company vision passionately and frequently. When people feel their leaders’ authentic passion for the vision, they will start to find meaning and purpose in it too. If they don’t feel it, you won’t get their emotional commitment to bring it to life.
The Why, What and How
Now that you’ve convinced people of the Why and secured their buy-in, you need to specify the What and the How. You need to clearly define what it looks like, and how to achieve it.
When goals are abstract or ambiguous, they will leave people in a state of confusion. If it isn’t made clear to them exactly what the change is going to look like, they will lose direction or, worse, apply their own interpretation into it.
The destination needs to be clearly specified so that there is no doubt, no confusion, and no room for misinterpretation.
You may need to use both words and visuals to pin it down. Run workshops and experiential trainings to make sure people really get it. Then you can rest assured that your vision won’t be distorted.
Next, you need to address the How: you don’t want people to struggle with organisational structures, systems and process that are not in line with the new brand and culture. People will get tired and worn out. Eventually, they will blame management for not doing their part. To provide support, structure, systems and processes need to be redesigned to facilitate the new behaviour and make the desired change easy to implement. This shows the employees that the management is not just all talk, but are serious about making it happen.
The power of a purpose-driven team
When your employees buy-in to your company’s vision and culture, they will contribute their time, talent and energy to a cause that is bigger than the next pay cheque. They will drive themselves because they want to, and not because they have to.
Don’t be surprised to see your team coming together, supporting each other and overcoming personal differences to win as one. You can expect discussions to be more robust, brainstorms to be more invigorating, and your company to run like a well-oiled machine.
Once you achieve this level of commitment, you know you can count on them in good times as well as in bad times. Their commitment will bring out resilience and inventiveness: two qualities that can be your company’s lifeline in an economic storm.
Brand is a dream, culture is the reality
At the end of the day, it is your people that make your brand to life. It is your people that determine what experiences your customers receive. And what determines how your people behave is your culture.
For more information on how you can design your company culture, contact firstname.lastname@example.org