Your people are your brand, your brand is your culture – and your customers are ultimately ‘buying in’ to that culture. In other words, if your brand promises reliability, you’d better be reliable! Marketing people may ‘own’ how the brand promise is made but it is all of the organisation’s people and their leaders that must uphold that promise. Ultimately brands are sustained from the inside and ‘the inside’ is about organisational culture. The culture of an organisation is now being recognised as a key brand differentiator.
If you have customers (and hopefully you do!), you’re in Show Business. Your people deliver performances everyday that shapes your brand positively or negatively. Work in organisational psychology shows that employees not only act ‘on behalf’ of an organisation, but also ‘become’ the organisation – embodying its culture to people with whom they interact.
Does your company have a culture where people from all functions are on a mission to build the brand, or does it have a work environment where people ‘get the job done?’ Is the brand at the centre of what all your people do, or is that “Marketing’s job?” Some companies get it. They realise the critical importance of building organisational practice that reflects the brand promise to customers.
Place the brand at the centre of what your company does and how your people work together. Sounds like a ‘no-brainer.’ But organisations offer subtle barriers to achieving this. Often the brand promise is just one more message in a ‘spaghetti’ of visions, values, strategies and architectures that people have to interpret in relation to their roles. Other times, when attempts are made to bring the brand alive internally, they founder as the exercise is seen by other functional ‘silos’ as an attempt by Marketing to gain pre-eminence. In many cases leaders do not understand and are not committed to the dynamics of organisational change.
More companies are recognising the need to address the ‘gap’ between brand promise and people delivery. What assistance is available to those trying to reduce this gap? If you have ever been invited to a “Live the Brand” workshop, you will have some idea of the most common solution put forward by agencies in this field. Participants are likely to receive a pep-talk from a senior manager or consultant telling them how to understand the brand, how each person must take ownership of it and then encouraging dramatisation of the brand through exercises or story-telling with a party rounding off the afternoon. It’s sometimes referred to as the ‘sheep-dip’ approach and in one form or another is the chosen weapon of most of the marketing and design led agencies that promise to “motivate and inspire your people to live the brand.” It’s misconceived and it doesn’t work.
Senior managers often talk about ‘rolling out’ the brand to the organisation. But the evidence is that roll-outs consistently fail and when they fail cynicism sets in, making future change efforts even more difficult. Why is this? Mostly it’s the ‘persuasion’ by management that seeks to ‘push through’ change and motivate people to change their attitude. But good people are already motivated and attitude has a relatively low bearing on what people do at work. A study by the Chartered Institute of Marketing indicated that companies that have consistently succeeded in building brand equity view their brand as a central organising principle for all company activities, not just something they sell to consumers.
The evidence is that the organisational context in which people work has a far greater influence on behaviour in organisations than peoples’ attitude. If the conditions for cross-functional collaboration are right, you’ll collaborate. If taking risks for the customer is inbuilt to the organisational culture, you’ll take risks for the customer. That has more to do with context than attitude. And it is a company’s leadership that is the key determinant of the context in which people work.
Why do internal branding initiatives rarely start with the company leadership? Apart from the fact that Leadership and Change are rarely the primary expertise of consultancies offering internal brand solutions, if the brand is not truly at the centre of how people work together in the first place, the chances are this initiative will just be perceived as some new scheme from HR or Marketing.
Also, it requires all managers to trace their decisions, behaviours and conversations with employees through to their impact on the customer promise and the brand. Embracing this exercise is likely to demand that senior managers look in the mirror at their own leadership characteristics and consider how they, often unknowingly, set the organisational context that in turn impacts on delivery of the brand promise. The readiness of people to give their commitment erodes if they experience decisions, behaviours and conversations that conflict with the brand message. In this way peoples’ commitment to building a great organisational brand decreases in proportion to their growing and justifiable cynicism.
The actions of senior managers have a fundamental bearing on generating a culture that supports the brand. At Tesco senior management talk about facilitating a culture that upholds the internal brand promise of “treat each other the way you like to be treated.” They encourage practices such as answering customer product queries by taking the customer to the item rather than just pointing them in the direction of an aisle. This type of practice along with company schemes such as Save As You Earn provide internal substance to brand promise of “Every little helps.” With a brand proposition that includes environmental and social principles, The Body Shop backs up this promise through volunteering and giving programmes for their people and though infrastructure actions such as switching stores to renewable energy.
If the brand promise is innovation, a commitment to cross-functional dialogue and collaboration is key. Generating conditions in the organisation that sustain these qualities requires leaders to display relationship management competencies such as catalysing change, influence and conflict management. Senior managers are often unaware of how their leadership actions and style form a barrier to collaboration and how in turn this can ultimately affect the brand promise.
Some companies are investing in leadership development solutions such as Executive Coaching to support their senior managers effect personal leadership and organisational culture changes that will release the potential of their people to meet the brand promise.
How does Executive Coaching enable this? It starts by building a 360Degree Profile of the individual’s leadership style and the dynamics of ‘how things are done around here’ in the organisation. This feedback is often the first time that a manager firstly sees how their perception of their own leadership style differs to that of other people and secondly, recognises the underlying dynamics operating in the organisation that set the context for how people work. The manager is also invited to express what it is he/she is ‘shooting for’ and ‘standing for’ and how this compares to what they believe their company shoots for and stands for. Most are clear about what they are shooting for, but many struggle when it comes to what they and their company stand for. This is a critical stage in addressing how the brand is aligned internally.
In this context the Executive Coach and manager agree on which specific leadership characteristics, if changed or improved, offer the best opportunity to transform personal and team performance. They agree on a set of results around a key project or initiative and focus developing behaviour changes on this. For example, if becoming a change catalyst is a target competency, the coach will often assist the executive to lead change by working on a Stump Speech that sets out to stakeholders messages such as “Where we’re going, why it’s important, how we’ll get there and who is with me.”
Senior management often mistake their ‘big picture’ view of the business for a ‘complete picture.’ It may be big but it is still only one picture of the company and its brand. The perspective of frontline customer facing people is often overlooked as leaders try to ‘push through’ their strategic changes. Combining individual leadership development with a group process for change among people in the frontline is a powerful means of building commitment for new brand focused results.
Aligning the organisation with the brand promise is not about Live the Brand workshops. It is about how leaders focus their own and their peoples’ ‘day jobs’ on the brand promise and how the organisation builds emotional ties with its people.