Company Culture


Culture as part of your Brand. Many companies and non-profit organisations seem to think that their brands are reflected in having the right logos, taglines, mission statements and stories.

While we all understand that Starbucks and Southwest Airlines and Walt Disney are great brands, there seems to be a limited grasp of what makes them so.

These companies are insanely focused on making sure that every experience and every point of contact with their people, products and services shape their brand from the inside out. It’s not just about doing better or marketing better than the competition. It’s about being better. When customers have a consistent experience over time with you, your products and services, they come to expect that same experience every time. That’s your brand promise.

Your brand strategy, is this: “Brand strategy is the process of aligning what we say with what we do, to positively influence what customers think.” It sounds simple, but if you think through the ramifications of it, there’s really nothing more difficult. It isn’t about better communication or more effective marketing. It’s about developing and delivering products and services that align with your brand promise. It’s about employees who consistently meet the expectations you’ve set.

It’s about delivering on that promise even when there’s every temptation and justification to maybe dial it down a notch or cheat a little because times are tough and what you’re doing is hard. People will judge your organization by the experience they or someone they know has with your brand 90 percent of the time and only 10 percent or less by the marketing messages they’ve heard.

The four realities of branding:

  1. Branding is not a part of the business, it is the business.
  2. A brand is about experiences, not logos and taglines.
  3. The little things that you do consistently are much more important than the big things you say.
  4. A brand strategy is the single most important differentiator between a good company and a great company.

Saying that you deliver great customer service, care about your employees or operate with integrity is meaningless. Doing what you say you stand for, day in and day out, is proof that these qualities are woven tightly into your organization’s culture. No marketing campaign will convince someone you’re great at customer service when they’ve had a lousy experience that demonstrates just the opposite.

Why a designed culture? All companies have a culture – whether by design or default. A company’s culture is the environment created by the priorities it sets, and it perpetuates itself through the experiences of employees and customers. Sometimes those priorities are made explicit: in a company’s formal mission statement, for example, or in the structure of the organisation and the power given to different departments and functions. Sometimes they are implicit: what the Financial Times once called “the large number of unspoken assumptions and beliefs which managers in the organisation share about ‘the way we do things around here’”.

It therefore stands to reason that if a company is not achieving the results it wants; it needs to look at the behaviours that created the results. And since all behaviour is governed by people’s environment, we need to create an environment that will support and encourage the actions that lead to achieving company goals.

Several things shape a corporation’s culture:

• Its employees’ behaviour. New recruits in any business usually do what they see, not what they are told. This can range from dress codes to such things as respect for technology and for standard working hours. It can also include the importance given to symbols; for example, to exclusive parking spaces, or to the way that senior managers are addressed.

• The employee selection process. The type of person recruited by an organisation reflects and reinforces its culture. Some companies recruit people of a particular kind because they believe that kind is best for the job.

• The nature of the business. Certain industries, such as the movies or banking, foster a particular culture. New high-technology firms also foster their own (often Silicon-Valley-influenced) culture. Computer maker Hewlett-Packard, for instance, has for a long time been conscious of its culture (The HP Way) and has worked hard to maintain it over the years.

• The external environment. Companies need to take into account the culture of the society in which they are operating.

The Culture Development Model.

Much has been written, tried and tested in the field of Culture Development on a corporate level. Particularly in South Africa, where we are faced with several global as well as uniquely South African challenges when looking to instill an effective corporate culture in our companies. These challenges include:

  • Cultural Diversity
  • The number of young professionals entering the workforce
  • Fast growth, particularly in the FMCG, Construction and Services industries
  • Unionisation of the SA workforce
  • Global Economic Crisis
  • Mergers and take-overs as competitors consolidate
  • Growing uncertainty relating to job security
  • A lack of understanding how to create a connection between personal motivators and company goals, and
  • How to create a sustainable culture that is driven by behaviours.

In response to this, we have developed a process-based model that allows for the creation of a culture that “gets off the wall” and into every employee’s day-to-day behaviour. This process allows for both management and employee input and takes into account personal as well as company goals. It allows us to create a set of value-driven behaviours that makes people at all levels of the organisation accountable for their actions. Only the correct behaviours will lead to the employees and the company achieving their goals!

How does this fit with traditional Change Management Programmes?

  1. This Culture Development Model will involve and agree support from people within the system (system = environment, processes, culture, relationships, behaviours, etc., whether personal or organisational).
  2. Understand where you/the organisation is at the moment.
  3. Understand where you want to be, when, why, and what the measures will be for having got there – hence the emphasis on creating a behavioural culture.
  4. Plan development towards above No.3 in appropriate achievable measurable stages.
  5. Communicate, involve, enable and facilitate involvement from people, as early and openly and as fully as is possible.

The “father” of Change Management, John P Kotter, defined an 8 step Change Management process in his book from 1995 and 2002. The Behavioural Culture Model will meet these criteria absolutely.

  1. Increase urgency – The programme will inspire people to move, make objectives real and relevant.
  2. Build the guiding team – We’ll work closely with you to get the right people in place with the right emotional commitment, and the right mix of skills and levels.
  3. Get the vision right – Working with Senior Management from the outset, we’ll get the people to establish a simple vision and strategy, focus on emotional and creative aspects necessary to drive service and efficiency.
  4. Communicate for buy-in – Involve as many people as possible, communicate the essentials, simply, and to appeal and respond to people’s needs. De-clutter communications – make technology work for you rather than against. But we’re “touchy-feely” folks so we’ll get face-to-face with your people and get them to identify the actions and behaviours that will characterise your new culture.
  5. Empower action – We’ll help you remove obstacles, enable constructive feedback and lots of support from leaders – reward and recognise progress and achievements.
  6. Create short-term wins – We’ll set aims that are easy to achieve – in bite-size chunks. Manageable numbers of initiatives. Finish current stages before starting new ones.
  7. Don’t let up – Foster and encourage determination and persistence – ongoing change – encourage ongoing progress reporting – highlight achieved and future milestones.
  8. Make change stick – Reinforce the value of successful change via recruitment, promotion, new change leaders. Weave change into culture.