We got tremendous feedback at our stand at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s annual conference and exhibition in Manchester last year. The Irrational Project definitely touched a nerve for a lot of HR professionals faced with the challenge of aligning brand with culture.
Since then we have been filtering the feedback and beginning to think about what matters for organisations, whatever their size.
The project is so named after the belief that, as humans, we tend to overestimate our rational powers of prediction and operation. And yet, research shows that we are predictably irrational. Go figure.
While management will attest to the importance of embracing ‘hearts and minds’ in business, and elsewhere, often it is not practically focused upon for two reasons.
- One, it’s hard. Really hard. Aligning brand and culture requires focus at the predictable and unpredictable levels of behaviour and operation.
- The second reason is that change takes time, focus and resilience. Most organisations want ‘quick wins’ and since the average tenure of most chief executives is about five years (or much less in parts of the public sector), most are keen to see change quickly. Some rely on a new lick of paint on the front door – a ‘brand refresh’ – but that is no more than papering over the cracks.
Brand is your culture. And this is important, because ultimately this is how people talk about you and how you are overheard. The most important consideration is that you believe that brand is what’s in their heads, not what’s in your brand book. This is important because, even if it is wrong, what they think is true to them and motivates, or alienates, them accordingly.
If you agree that a culture, or an ethos, leads to behaviours and that determines how people experience you and consequently talk about you, then you should ask what would happen if you did align brand and culture.
Here are five indicators that demonstrate that brand is aligned with culture.
If you’re reading this you will have no doubt read and heard a lot recently about how organisations that focus on purpose tend to prosper. Their boundaries are porous insofar as people working, or volunteering, in organisations and their customers, or service users, or donors, connect with a single idea, one that differentiates them from the rest of the world. Purpose is determined by the ethos and culture of an organisation and driven by its leadership. It’s what attracts people, makes them stay, or leave, helps determine whether they will invest, or donate, buy their goods, or put them in an unfavourable light. Purpose isn’t lip service. It is truth.
Being passionate is about being authentic, not necessarily having charisma or gravitas. Too much emphasis is placed on heroic or charismatic models of leadership. You are what you are. You can add skills and attitudes, but you can’t have a personality replacement. There is no formula for leading: use your strengths, talents and values relentlessly. Given that we think not only with our heads, it is important that leaders use their EQ as well as their IQ. Too often the emphasis on leaders is to shape the path, present the way, delineate the strategy. More often than not, the role is to create the impetus to follow and that is as much about passion as it is about reason.
Recruitment for retention
The so-called ‘employer brand’ can be differentiated from the ‘corporate brand’, the argument being is that an organisation is trying to attract employees rather than the attention of the City, or regulators, or customers. Not so. An employee can wear many hats. Shareholder. Volunteer. Donor. Customer. Returning employee. Blogger. Why would they need to have a different understanding of the same brand? The sum of all their experiences amount to what the brand means to them anyway. The recruitment experience should reinforce the external brand by highlighting the culture that makes it true. More faithful recruitment attracts employees connected to the organisational culture and purpose.
Here are two ways at looking at retention. Keeping people because you want them to stay. People staying because they don’t want to leave. The former can lead people to be promoted to their level of incompetence. The latter causing people to entrench themselves in old ways of doing things. Organisations whose cultures encourage personal development, self-awareness and relationship building allow people to properly reflect when it’s the right to move on. Retention is as much about people going as it is about them staying. Those that stay will embody the culture, feel rewarded and satisfied, and positively promote their employer.
A culture is the spirit of an organisation. It is the collection of beliefs, behaviours and attitudes that are often driven by its founders and carried forward by its leaders. Leaders should not underestimate their influence on this. And just talking it isn’t good enough. It’s corny, but they need to walk it and not just because they should, but because they know that what they do influences others. They exhibit good habits. Good habits are the habits others mimic and extol. Just as bad habits invite copycats. From fiddling expenses to fiddling Libor. The culture is the ‘permission to play’. Play nicely,
Customers as advocates
Don’t just read this as social media. Of course, social media plays its part, but customers will be advocates, or saboteurs, just as easily at the dinner table, networking at a conference or around the water cooler. Anywhere. What they perceive is what is right to them. Their opinion will be based on their own experiences or what they have ‘overheard’. Aligning brand and culture isn’t just about getting your story straight but having a strong undercurrent of confidence and belief, without being afraid of opening up to and adapting to change.
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