In our last installment Brand Advocacy: It Starts From The Inside, we addressed the importance of driving brand meaning through focusing efforts inward, toward a brand’s first stakeholder – the internal audience.
This article addressed the intersection of brand, place and culture as key elements that interact to create brand experience. We also covered how culture is one of a company’s most coveted assets, leading to stronger financial performance and competitive advantage. In this installment, we will break down the concept further to describe the dynamic nature of culture for brands and how to unleash its power within organizations.
In Fish Can’t See Water: How National Culture Can Make or Break Your Corporate Strategy, Kai Hammerich and Richard D. Lewis say, “Culture is to humans as water is to fish.” Considered from this perspective, fish swim, breath and live their lives surrounded by their environment, but they don’t often notice the water they’re living in. Water for the fish isn’t something to be contemplated; it just is. The same can be said about culture for humans. We live and interact with it every day, but don’t often take time to consider the impacts and implications on our daily lives. Yet, culture is unavoidable and essential: a powerful catalyst driving our interactions and understanding of our world.
Company culture is no different. It can either bind together or drive a wedge between employees. It can make fans through great experiences or foes through unintentional slights or brand missteps. In short, culture is the gas that runs the engine of organizations. Yet many companies are allowing culture to be defined on-the-fly and by happenstance. When it’s so central to an organization’s success, more brands today are recognizing the importance of creating culture, analyzing what their organization represents and assuring that their communications are in alignment with what the brand really means and stands for.
Inspired by the Burke-Litwin Change Model and Schein’s 3 Layers of Organizational Culture, our process identifies three vital components to culture: espoused values, working climate and underlying assumptions. Espoused values are what a company says it believes and encourages other employees to embrace in their daily work lives and interactions. These principles are then translated into standards of behavior that are expected and promoted within the working climate. The underlying assumptions are the underpinning ideas that are often accepted on face-value as true or right. These building blocks of culture must be developed and work in-tandem with one another to foster a thriving corporate culture.
But where does culture begin? In business circles, we’ve often heard the phrase “It all starts at the top.” While that may be a glib way of laying all business failures at the feet of a few in leadership positions, in culture development, it’s actually true that leadership really matters. According to Developing Front-Line Leaders Starts At The Top, author John Baldoni reports that a study of 300 HR managers by Development Dimensions International with HR.com found that among survey respondents “69% say it [weak leadership] caused lower rates of engagement; 65% say it caused a loss of productivity; and 59% say it resulted in higher turnover of themselves or team members.”
At Adrenaline, our process centers upon the belief that culture does start at the top. Leaders must communicate vision, mission and expectation with clear eyes and strong hearts. The values of any organization are articulated by strong leaders who are ultimately the enablers and creators of a brand’s culture. Leaders are responsible for establishing values that represent the beliefs and values central to the culture. These principles are infused into everything a brand does, both internally and externally. So, what makes a strong leader who can be the living, breathing embodiment of what the brand stands for? We expect much from our leaders, yet often haven’t given them adequate tools and processes to effectively inform and infuse cultural change.
While it’s true that some people seem to be natural born leaders, most leaders know that effective leadership doesn’t manifest magically or succeed by hook or by crook. What the most beloved leaders know is that coaching and mentoring are powerful ways to inspire and engage employees, creating an army of passionate leaders within organizations who believe in the brand cause. After all, a winning team needs more than a head coach to play its best on the field. Involving employees in learning, leadership and development ensures that corporate culture is being carried by more than just one dynamic figure at the top of the organization.
Adrenaline has developed a Leadership Culture Program to help brands connect their team members with how the organization’s vision, mission and leadership influence their culture. The transformative program encourages team members to be more consistent within their leadership and management roles and their responsibilities. From this, employees can create and develop their skills through self-directed and ongoing learning efforts. The program helps brands provide team members with the tools, resources and strategies to accomplish the following:
- Enhance effective leadership skills
- Distinguish between leading, managing and coaching competencies
- Develop a consistent strategy and method for coaching, customized to the organizational structure
- Build and sustain effective coaching techniques
- Implement a coaching template for consistently providing developmental feedback
- Embrace positive language for coaching individuals and team members
- Bolster communication skills to enhance clarity and motivate others to excel
- Create a healthy accountability framework for individuals and the team
- Cultivate character attributes to enhance interactions and attract followers
- Build collaboration culture for the management team
Through hands-on learning and collaboration, the immersive sessions foster leaders who are ready to make changes and prepared to implement learned strategies with enhanced confidence about the direction the new strategies are taking the brand. Lyn Murphy, Co-Founder of PeopleSmart High Impact Training and Consulting, says that coaching coaches is vital to creating coaching talent that is sustainable, “If the coach’s coach just thinks training alone is the answer, they are wrong. It’s what happens after training that creates the behavioral change and increases confidence in coaching skills.”
Following an effective cultural training program, companies can expect that their company’s espoused values, working climate and underlying assumptions are aligned with a leadership team committed to creating a positive, meaningful culture for employees and the brand alike. Leadership cultivates the development and delivery of vision and values that make the brand what it is. The team fosters an innovative environment where members develop skills and tools to deliver on brand promise. Once cohesive, the team operates in an environment of respect and cooperation. When all elements align, employee engagement is heightened and a brand begins to live its values – to walk the walk.
The cultural framework helps organize concepts of cultural change into manageable, digestible pieces, but the process of culture change management is both ongoing and iterative. With every new employee and every new challenge, brands must look at how their culture is poised to respond and deliver on brand promise, value and meaning. The transformative culture processes Adrenaline has developed for Brand, Retail and Leadership are tightly focused on developing the leadership and team members to answer that call. By investing into the growth of a brand’s values and climate, an organization is ultimately shaping their underlying assumptions. This culture is passed down from generation to generation of employees and builds upon the legacy of the brand, day-by-day and brick-by-brick.
Just as fish will always need water, humans will forever be awash in culture. Unlike much of societal change, where individuals may feel powerless in their ability to shift cultural norms, companies today are in a unique position. They can make changes within their organizations through mentorship, coaching and learning activities that support and align with their values and vision as a brand. Having a finger on the pulse of what an organization represents internally and presents externally can give brands a big edge in the competitive landscape. Adrenaline’s VP, Account Executive, Heather Milliman says, “Leadership and culture will forever be inextricably linked together. Success does not hinge on just one element, but the way leaders and teams interact and support each other. Sustained mentorship and culture programs bolster future growth of both the organization and the people within it.”