Culture Matters

I’m sad the Summer Olympics are over. And, no, it’s not because it was the only thing on TV that my wife and I could agree to watch at the same time.

There is something about the athletes’ stories of perseverance and overcoming adversity that are showcased in between events. Somehow I’d always end up shedding a tear (or five) while watching them.

What was it? 

I was enamored by the cultures these athletes came from. Cultures that bred perseverance, generosity, mentoring, and greatness. Those “buzz words” have meaning to me and probably to you, too. When I saw these words lived out by the athletes and the people surrounding them, I instantly connected with them on an emotional level (despite the fact that I never met them).

Us professionals and business owners can learn something from this. Specifically, how a great company culture can bring out the best in the people within it and, in turn, establish a real and emotional connection with the company's target audience.

I recently had a friendly disagreement with a friend surrounding the overused (and sometimes meaningless) word “branding.” My position was that a company’s culture - it’s value system and basic principles on which the company bases it’s behavior - has everything to do with its brand. I argued it’s one of the key pieces shaping it. His position was that “company culture has nothing to do with a brand."

 Well, it does. I’m about to show you why. 

 Allow me to start with a few stats.

   Today, more than twice as many employees are motivated by work passion than career ambition, indicating a need for leadership to focus on making the work environment compelling and enjoyable for everyone.

   Millennials intending to stay with their organizations for at least five years are far more likely than others to report a positive culture and focus on the needs of the individual.

Why isolate millenials? They currently comprise 36% of the workforce today. That number will increase to nearly half our workforce by 2020. We better start listening to them.

Here’s another staggering statistic that highlights the result of bad company culture:  In the U.S., companies are losing up to $550 billion per year in lost productivity because of disengaged employees.

Let me summarize these stats for you. Today’s employees want to work in an environment that is positive and makes them feel valued. When they are in that environment, they develop a sense of loyalty to the company. When they’re NOT in that environment, they’re more likely to leave. Most importantly, they become disengaged and do not perform at their best.

Let’s dig a little deeper and uncover the connection between positive company culture and branding.

When employees feel valued and find themselves in a positive company culture, they report they are enthused, empowered, inspired, and confident. Consequently, employees who report feeling valued by their employer are 60% more likely to report they are motivated to do their very best for it.

Employees report they are talking on social media, too. It is said that 50% of employees share about their company without any prompting. This tells me that if employees are happy and performing well, chances are they are going to tweet something positive about their company.

Ok, J.R.  This is all great - happy employees = loyal employees = performing employees = positive tweeting employees. But how does that positively affect a company's brand?

Just like I wanted to connect with those Olympic athletes who reflected the positive culture they came from, consumers want to connect with brands that reflect a culture to which they identify. This includes the people behind them.

Clifford Geertz, the great American anthropologist, tells us that we are creatures of meaning. We identify with people and companies that reflect similar value systems as us. And when it comes to consumers and brands, it’s the value system behind a brand (i.e. its culture) that matters to them.

If you have a culture that your target audience identifies with, they will adopt it as part of their own identity. When that happens, I would argue that not only are you creating brand awareness, you are also gaining brand equity. Apple, Inc. proves my point.  

So, how do you build a culture that attracts the right employees and the right customers and clients?

Below are a few actions you can take right now that will get you started.

1.    Assemble your executive team, put your features and benefits aside, and determine your core values. Fall nothing short of understanding why your company exists (beyond a profit motive). Specifically, ask questions like, “Why are we in this business? industry?” “What do we value?"

2.   Describe the desired culture of your company. Then, turn it into a living document.

3.   Designate a “Chief Culture Officer” and hold him/her accountable to that culture you drew up in #2. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a new hire. It could be someone that is already an employee. 

4.   Communicate your desired culture internally. Better yet, mandate it. It will be the Chief Culture Officer’s job to make sure ALL employees are supporting that culture. You need your leaders and employees to be brand advocates. If they’re not on board, get rid of them. 

Culture matters. To employees. To your customers and clients. It’s time we start focusing on our people and the environments we place them in. If you want a strong brand, you may not have a choice. 

Question:

Business owners: if you had to grade your company’s current culture, what would you give it? Why?

Employees: if you had to grade your workplace culture, what would you give it? Why?

Both business owners and employees: if there is ONE thing you could change right now about your company’s culture, what would it be?