five strategies for developing the optimum culture.

 

  • Commitment
  • Definition
  • Strategy
  • People
  • Communication

 

MY PHILOSOPHY ON CULTURE

Few in business would not have heard of the management guru and academic Peter Drucker, and still, fewer would not have heard his observation – ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ I find this observation compelling. I write strategy for a living, but I understand that a strategy is of little value without the right culture. I also understand that – and given the right culture – the likelihood that the optimum strategy will be developed and implemented is higher. Both culture and strategy are important, but culture is the priority.

My philosophy on culture, for just about any organisation, can be summarised as follows:

  • Very few things are more important to effective and cost-efficient marketing than defining and creating the optimum brand that drives the perception of value.
  • Nothing is more important for creating the optimum brand than developing the culture that can and will bring the brand to life – and make it a reality.
  • Just as the brand must have the consumer at its centre, so must the culture. The optimum culture will be the one the consumer relates to and engages with.

 

 CULTURE DEFINED

An organisation’s culture reflects the underlying beliefs, assumptions, values, and ways of interacting that contribute to an organisation’s social and psychological environment – and ultimately determines how staff within the organisation will behave.

Just as there is an actual brand (as perceived by the market) and an optimal brand (as defined by the organisation), so there is actual culture (as defined by staff) and the optimal culture (the one that will bring the brand to life and maximise performance. The optimum culture of an organisation ultimately:

  • Defines how all staff within an organisation should behave if the return on investment is to be maximised.   

 

 Every organisation, big and small, has an actual and optimum culture.

WHY IS CULTURE IMPORTANT

Much has been written about creating a ‘performance culture’ – a culture that maximises the performance of individuals and the organisation they work for. Research highlights and most businesspeople recognise the importance of culture in creating a high-performance organisation that:

  • Offers a common purpose.
  • Empowers staff to perform.
  • Creates a growth mindset.
  • Delivers open communication.
  • Ensures consistent teamwork.
  • Commits to performance.

 

 Culture is also critical to:

  • Attracting the best staff
  • Retaining the best staff.
  • Getting the best out of the staff.

 

 Indeed, nothing is more important than culture, not even money, in attracting and retaining the best people.

All these outcomes of a high-performance culture are important. But creating a high-performance culture is not enough. Creating a culture that brings the optimum brand to life is also important. Indeed, it is often the optimum brand and the culture that delivers it (rather than a high-performance culture) that attracts and retains staff.

Broadly speaking, there are four stages to branding:

  • Defining the brand.
  • Bringing the brand to life.
  • Communicating the brand.
  • Monitoring and fine-tuning.

 

 Creating the optimum culture involves – bringing the brand to life. Neither advertising nor communication, more generally, will ever get a brand to life. Only your culture will bring your brand to life, and in doing:

  • Establish a brand that will maximise the perception of value.
  • Establish the credibility of the business and its brand.
  • Minimise the gap between the optimum and actual brand.

 

 Here are some statistics confirming the importance of culture for any organisation:

  • 81%of workers feel that corporate culture is important in deciding whether to apply for a job. 
  • 38%of employees want to quit their jobs because of a toxic work environment or one where they don’t feel they fit in
  • 90%of employers believe finding candidates who are a good cultural fit is critical.
  • 71%of C-suite executives and board members believe culture is more important to performance than the organisation’s strategy or operating model.
  • 85%of senior managers report that their culture helps successful change initiatives.

 

 BRAND AND CULTURE STRATEGIES

There are many strategies for building the optimum culture – a high-performance culture where the brand is brought to life. The five addressed here are – commitment to branding and culture, defining the brand and the culture, developing the brand and culture strategy, employing and retaining the right people, and communicating effectively internally and externally. Each of these subjects is addressed here, along with a list of critical issues in creating the optimum culture.

COMMITMENT TO BRAND AND CULTURE

Like my readers, I have seen much advertising for Myer department stores. Many of these advertisements have articulated the virtues of Myer and, in so doing, tried to communicate the Myer brand. These advertisements have often communicated the optimum brand, which should appeal to the target market. Only once, however (my most recent experience) has my experience of Myer approximated the brand as articulated in the advertising. In my experience, the culture at Myer is such that the organisation will struggle to bring its optimum brand to life without significant changes to the culture – although my most recent experience may indicate change.

It seems that the commitment of Myer to marketing is absolute, but the commitment to creating a culture that brings the brand to life is very limited at best.

Zara, on the other hand, is a brand built on culture. Zara has no advertising budget; the culture and its manifestations are all the organisation have to communicate its brand and drive performance. Unlike Myer, which sells the products of others (with a few home brands thrown in), Zara is vertically integrated and only sells products that it manufactures. For Zara, the commitment to culture goes well beyond the shop floor. While culture is most certainly important on the shop floor, in all interactions with customers, it is also important:

  • The design of products customers want to buy is determined by the design department.
  • In the production centre, the quality of the products required by customers will be determined.
  • The shop fitting department determines the customer experiences in its stores worldwide.
  • In the transport areas, delivery times and the capacity to ensure the required stock is always available in-store are determined.

 

 Zara, like an extraordinary brand, understands that culture is important throughout the business and that the behaviour of all staff in all departments has the capacity to impact the organisation’s brand. The commitment to branding and culture must flow through to all business areas. The interrelationship between culture and brand needs to be understood and addressed in all business areas.

The mission of Zara is to – “give customers what they want and get it to them faster than anyone else.” This highlights the customer focus of the business. The core values of Zara are – ‘beauty, clarity, functionality, and sustainability.” These values help to define the culture and are reflected in the behaviour of staff in all areas of the business.

DEFINING THE BRAND AND THE CULTURE.

As has been discussed in previous missives, most organisations have two brands:

  •  
  •  

 

 Branding is all about eliminating the gap between the actual and optimum brand. The actual brand represents ‘what the target market says about you when you are not in the room’, while the optimum brand is the one that will lead to the best possible outcomes. There are many formulas for defining the optimum brand. The one I favour involves six components:

  • Mission – the purpose or reason for being.
  • Vision – what ultimate success looks like.
  • Values – what the team must believe in.
  • Capabilities – skills and abilities- and especially unique ones.
  • Personality – what the organisation is like to deal with.
  • Positioning – the image of the organisation vis-a-vis the competition.

 

 Given that the primary purpose of the culture is to bring the brand to life, these brand-related considerations are also cultural considerations. Indeed, defining the optimum culture flows directly from the brand definition. In the optimum culture – staff understand, embrace, and behave in a way consistent with the brand-defining flowing from each of these factors.

Cost-effective marketing requires a focus on the consumer. The brand is developed to address the needs, wants, and expectations of the target market to define a brand that the target audience will:

  •  
  • Engage with.
  • Be attracted to.

 

 The culture simply brings that brand to life, ensuring that all staff and the business, more generally – behave in a manner consistent with the brand – this consistently communicates the brand through behaviour. Zappos founder Tony Hsieh summed this perspective up in his observation:

  • “At Zappos, we view culture as our No. 1 priority. We decided that if we get the culture right, most of the stuff, like building a brand around delivering the best customer service, will take care of itself.” 

 

 Defining your brand and defining the culture will be relatively straightforward. The cultural requirements will flow naturally from the brand. That said – the actual and optimum culture needs to be defined, along with the strategy to eliminate the gap.

BRAND AND CULTURE STRATEGY

Every business requires both a branding strategy and a culture strategy. The branding strategy will engage audiences, while the culture strategy aims to engage internal audiences – bringing the brand to life. Developing the optimum culture therefore involves:

  • Defining the optimum brand.
  • Defining the optimum culture based on the brand definition.
  • Understanding the actual culture and establishing the baseline.
  • Implementing a strategy to eliminate the gap between the actual and optimum culture.

 

 As the gap between the actual and optimum culture is eliminated, the brand will come to life.

Critical considerations in both strategies are:

  • Addressing the needs, wants and expectations of the audience.
  • Differentiating the brand from its competitors.
  • Being authentic and in so doing, facilitating sustainability.
  • Collaboration and even co-creation involving all stakeholders.
  • Monitoring and fine-tuning the strategy.
  • Placing the highest possible priority on mission and values.

 

 The culture strategy also requires:

  • Open and transparent communication between parties.
  • Education and training to ensure staff have the skills.

 

 The mission (or purpose) and values of the brand and the people working within it are especially important. The mission or purpose facilitates:

  • Goal setting.
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

 

 Values are important because they:

  • Set parameters for employment.
  • Help differentiate the business. Help staff identify with the business.
  • Facilitate better decision-making.
  • Make recruitment easier.
  • Make retention easier.

 

To create the optimum brand and culture, the mission and values must be understood, embraced and lived by staff. To achieve this, a list on the wall will never be enough. Equally a presentation to staff will never be enough. The strategy must include a strategy for ensuring understanding, engagement, and behaviour. That strategy needs to address:

  • Employing the right people.
  • Ensuring all team members understand the requirements and why they are important.
  • Ensuring all team members understand their role and why it is important.
  • Ensuring all staff have the skills and mindset.
  • Monitoring and fine-tuning the strategy as required.

 

 In my experience, while most businesspeople have an optimal culture, very few have the documented strategy required to create it.

EMPLOY ONLY THE RIGHT PEOPLE

Jim Collins, the celebrated author of ‘Good to Great, made famous the notion – avoid employing the best person available and only ever employ the right person for the job. Collins notes that the cost of employing no one is almost always lower than the cost of employing the best available (who still falls short of requirements). I would argue that Collins was 100% right then, and the point is 100% valid today.

Research suggests that businesses are increasingly embracing the point being made here by Collins:

  • 81%of hiring managers believe that candidates are less likely to leave when working for an organisation where they are a good cultural fit.
  • 97%of employees and executives believe the lack of alignment within a team impacts the outcome of a task or project
  • 90%of employers say employing based on cultural fit is important.

 

There is an ongoing debate as to whether it is more important to employ based on skills or cultural fit. Most experts believe it is not one or the other, but both. The people you employ need to have the skills and be a good cultural fit for the brand you have created or are creating. If they lack the skills required, they should not be employed. If there is anything less than a good cultural fit, you should not employ them. Near enough is NEVER good enough. Having a vacancy is almost ALWAYS more rewarding than having a less-than-ideal person in a role.

Employ for skills and capabilities – but also employ for cultural fit. It is a mistake to EVER employ ANYONE that is not a good cultural fit! At a push, you can develop skills, but you will never change a person who does not share your values or embrace your mission or purpose.

COMMUNICATE WITH TRANSPARENCY

The optimum brand is defined with a reason in mind. That reason is clear to management and needs to be clear to all staff. Staff need to understand what a brand is, why it is important, their role in creating it, its benefits, and the organisation of bringing the brand to life. It is essential that staff understand:

  • The behaviours they need to display to create the culture and brand.
  • The behaviours they should not display to create the culture and brand.

 

 In my experience, it helps to workshop these two issues, providing staff with the facts and empowering them to define optimum behaviours. Given the required understanding of the brand, most teams can define the behaviours they should and should not display.

Ideally, the staff will also be aware of the actual and optimum brands, the importance of both, their role in eliminating the gap and how they need to behave if the gap is to be eliminated such that the organisation can realise its potential. Important here are:

  • The actual brand and its drivers.
  • The optimum brand and its requirements.

 

 Collaboration between management and staff is one of the keys to creating the optimum culture. Collaboration will be facilitated by frank and transparent communication. It is in the best interests of all stakeholders to create a culture that brings the brand to life. This cannot occur without open and transparent communication. Alas – open and honest communication is not ubiquitous. Note:

  • 33%of employees cited a lack of open and honest communication and the negative impact on morale.
  • 34%of employees are dissatisfied or extremely dissatisfied with the communication they are experiencing in the workplace.
  • Only 40%of professionals believe that employees understand their contribution to the organisation’s culture.
  • 92%of executives see a direct link between workplace culture and the financial performance of their business.

 

 Richard Branson highlighted the importance of collaboration between management and staff: “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

 

 

INSIGHTS

  1. There is no optimum brand without first creating the optimum culture. 
  2. The organisation’s culture, not just at the POS, impacts the brand.
  3. It is only ever the culture that can and will bring a brand to life for the customer.
  4. Creating the optimum brand requires employing the right staff or no one.
  5. Great cultures are created when management and staff collaborate.

 

 ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE

 

 RECOMMENDED READING

 

TIPS

  1. To create a great brand – first, commit to creating a customer-focused culture.
  2. To create a great brand – first, define the culture that will bring that brand to life.
  3. To create a great brand – first, develop a culture strategy to bring it to life.
  4. To create a great brand – only ever employ people who share your values. 
  5. To create a great brand – communicate with all staff openly and transparently.

 

QUESTIONS

  1. With 90%of employers believing it is critical to find candidates who are a good cultural fit, what is your system for only employing good cultural fits?
  2. With 71%of C-suite executives and board members believing culture is more important to performance than the organisation’s strategy, what is your culture strategy?
  3. With 34%of employees being dissatisfied with the communication in their workplace, what is your strategy for attracting and retaining the best people?
  4. With 97%of employees and executives believing the lack of alignment within a team impacts the outcome of a task or project – what is your alignment strategy?
  5. With only 40%of professionals believing that employees understand their contribution to the organisation’s culture, what is your internal communication strategy?

 

STATISTICS

  1. 81%of workers feel that corporate culture is important in deciding whether to apply for a job. 
  2. 38%of employees want to quit their jobs because of a toxic work environment or one where they don’t feel they fit in
  3. 85%of senior managers report that their culture helps successful change initiatives to happen
  4. 33%of employees cited a lack of open and honest communication and the negative impact on morale.
  5. 92%of executives see a direct link between workplace culture and the financial performance of their business.

 

Return on investment in marketing is maximised when the customer is at the centre of the strategic planning process. Many businesses claim to be customer focused, but few are. Being customer focused requires a commitment to understanding consumer behaviour. Such a commitment drives costs down and results up.

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