How HR can learn about culture from brand

4 minute read

Culture and Brand are intertwined: they both exist to empower strategy. By learning from the brand journey, HR can build strong and trusted cultures, says CultureIQ’s Sheridan Orr

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Recognising and sharing the power of stand-out culture

Culture and brand: like two peas in a pod

Let’s play a little game. Which of the following statements were made about a company’s brand and which about its culture?

 “It’s what they say when you’re not in the room.”

We hear this a lot when it comes to culture. It’s why we spend so much time listening to our employees. We want to know what they're saying when they're not telling us directly. But in fact, this was first said by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos when defining brand.

“You earn it by doing hard things well.”

Again, this is about brand and another pithy comment from Bezos. But, of course, it is equally relevant to culture. We have to make tough choices in business sometimes. And when we tackle those tough challenges by listening to our employees and being compassionate, we create a connection.

“It's an expression of loyalty and trust.”

This was written by Marissa Levin, founder and CEO of Successful Cultures, and is, indeed, about organisational culture. According to Levin, a culture of trust yields higher engagement, happier employees, greater productivity, and higher profits. And it all starts in the brain. But how often do we equate loyalty and trust with brand?

“Too much change or not enough change is deadly. It’s the balance between continuity and change.”

This is from brand guru Kevin Lane Keller, professor of brand at Dartmouth University. However, in today’s disruptive work environment, it could equally as well have been about culture.

The point of this exercise is that brand and culture are inextricably intertwined, a message clearly articulated by Sheridan Orr, self-confessed ‘culture vulture’ and vice president marketing at culture research and technology company CultureIQ, principal partner of the Business Culture Awards. As she notes, the culture you create inside an organisation drives brand perception outside.

She should know. When working in marketing at technology company Red Hat she found herself increasingly at the intersection with HR. It all began with a brand target: for Red Hat to be a ‘tattoo brand’.

“We wanted to be a brand that our customers wanted to have tattooed on them,” she explains. “And then we found that our employees were actually getting Red Hat tattoos – one of our employees even made the front page of the Wall Street Journal. We became the embodiment of that intersection of brand and culture where employees become such great advocates for the company.”

Here Orr shares steps to building a strong culture, taking lessons from the brand journey.

Understand why culture is important to your organisation

Culture definition

CultureIQ’s team of 15 PhDs has analysed some 150 definitions of culture and distilled its definition of culture down to ‘how and why things get done in your organisation’.

But as Orr says, culture needs to empower strategy. Like brand, it must drive your strategy forward.

“If you have a brand that isn't really creating a connection with your customers, then it's not driving strategy forward. And that's the same for culture with your employees.”

So, it’s important an organisation takes its top strategic objectives and figures out how to get their people excited about them, excited about coming to work and excited about giving their best selves every day.

One area to think about is that you may have a completely different culture in your customer-facing marketing versus your accounting or back office. You can have many cultures, but the values and behaviours need to be the same.

“That’s why the design portion is so important. You need to understand what you're trying to build and what people are trying to accomplish,” says Orr.

Create an agile organisation

Agile organisationWith nearly everyone having had significant change in their business over the past year, organisational agility has become the watchword. At CultureIQ, agility is defined not as the ability to change when something has already happened to you, but to be able to predict that change – to know when the market's going to change and have the organisation prepared to shift.

“I remember when I first got into the HR world by accident, we were so excited we were going to do quarterly performance reviews, and we were going to be able to pivot with the business. Of course, it didn't work out that way,” says Orr as an example. “Now we have regular touch points whenever anybody needs it, because objectives are moving that quickly.”

Design the culture to align with brand

Brand development

Spend time designing culture to make sure it aligns with the brand and experience. You want to start with what you want to be and how you want your team to behave. Then you can start measuring.

The journey is similar to that of brands. When employees join (or customers discover you in the case of brands), it’s about awareness. They know a bit about you. But over time you want to build intense active loyalty. It’s about helping create meaning in what people do, responding to what their changes and needs are, and then ultimately building a relationship.

“When I did customer experience research, one of the things I found was that the relationship is not really built until you have to overcome an obstacle. If everything's hunky dory, you really haven't shown who you are. It’s when those things get hard that you build the relationships,” explains Orr.

Ultimately brand and culture are trying to do the same thing. They’re trying to create emotional connections that drive strategy forward and make work a place where people are happy and thriving and can be their best self.

Sheridan Orr (pictured below) is vice president marketing at CultureIQ, a culture research and technology company. CultureIQ is principal partner of the Business Culture Awards

Sheridan Orr CultureIQ

Published 24 July 2019
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