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Chris Holmes


Managing Partner, Employee Experience

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Company culture: The similarities between brand building and culture building

To create lasting culture transformation in your organisation, you first have to transform the employee experience.

A study on corporate culture and performance found that companies that proactively manage their culture demonstrate revenue growth over a ten-year period that’s 516% higher than those that don’t. While the growth figure may raise an eyebrow, it’s unlikely anyone will be surprised by the connection between a strong culture and strong growth.

Brand is the associations people have with your business, what they think about you, how they feel when your name is mentioned. It’s the same with your internal culture – you want to build positive and meaningful associations for your employees.

Saying you want a meaningful culture and building it are two different things, however. The challenge we hear most is ‘where do we start?’ Culture feels big. It’s intangible. So, it’s easy to understand why many people dive into a world of models, diagrams and bell curves. Yes, these things can help, but maybe it’s time to think differently.

Brand and culture

One of the most important pieces of advice I can offer is to put the same care into your culture that you put into your brand. The truth is, building a brand and building a culture are more similar than many business leaders initially realise. After all, brand is intangible too. Yes, there’s a logo but that’s just a symbolic representation of what you stand for. Sitting behind it, however, is a system that drives everything the brand does, from thought leadership, to events, to customer experience and product development.

That’s what really drives how we see and experience a ‘brand’ – this is where there are big learnings for companies wanting to build a culture.

Brand is the associations people have with your business, what they think about you, how they feel when your name is mentioned. It’s the same with your internal culture – you want to build positive and meaningful associations for your employees, in the same way you want to offer that to your customers and clients.

Build your culture framework

Brands that stand the test of time are built on rock solid foundations. Everything they do can be traced to their purpose and what they stand for. Those brand foundations shape everything that brand says and does. It’s the starting point, from thought leadership, to corporate advertising, to talent attraction. It’s the red thread that ensures that, irrespective of region or audience, what’s in that organisation’s DNA shines through.

You’d never create a brand that sounded exactly like your nearest competitor. So, why do we do it for culture?

In 2018, the Harvard Business Review ran an article with the header, ‘ban these five words from your corporate values statement’. The five are: integrity, teamwork, authenticity, fun, customer orientation.

Why? Firstly, they’re table stakes, and having done anonymous research with thousands of employees over the last few years to uncover their true opinions, I’ve seen that people are very clear about that. Why would you work for a business without integrity? Every company uses these words – there’s no differentiation, and nothing that captures the spirit of who you are.

When we build culture frameworks at Brandpie, we keep it simple: three values, three simple behaviours per value and a core cultural thought that wraps it all up.

When we set out to create our own values, we were clear that we wanted them to capture who we really are (and the kind of people we wanted). The three are: step up, scare yourself, and one Pie.

Beyond the poster

Perhaps the biggest criticism of values is that they become words on a poster, seen in print but not lived in the real world. This, from our experience, is where most culture programmes grind to a halt. It is hard, there’s no two ways about it.

Here again though, we can take lessons from the world of brand building. The starting point is realising that you can’t do everything all at once. We do lots of work with organisations to help define their brand and, once that’s done, to focus on the activity and initiatives that will have the most impact. What should we do in year one, year two, year three? Equally important, what should we stop doing?

Brands have years of embedding what they stand for into the customer experience. They’re experts at mapping the journey their clients have and making creative interventions that build loyalty.

The good news is that we can take that methodology and use it to shape employee experiences that build the culture you aspire to create. So how does ‘scare yourself’ translate into the Brandpie employee experience? It’s getting a junior member of the team to do the introduction for a big pitch rather than hearing the expected senior voices. It’s doing joint London and New York monthly calls to promote the idea of one Pie. It’s looking at the key moments that make (or break) the employee experience we want to deliver, and shaping them so that they reinforce our values.

That’s exactly what brands do to build an emotional connection with the customer. They take what they stand for (that they’ve spent the time to get right) and apply it with ruthless consistency, focusing on the touchpoints that matter.

All too often, we see culture programmes starting and ending with the values definition. By going a step further, however, and translating customer experience best practice into employee experience, maybe 516% growth isn’t such a surprise after all.

Interested in this topic? Read Employer brand: what does it mean in the current climate?

Author Profile Picture
Chris Holmes

Managing Partner, Employee Experience

Read more from Chris Holmes
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