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Work Culture: The Inward Elements of a Brand
We’ve stated before that when we at Percolate use the word “brand,” we define it as the sum total of interactions an organization has with its community.
There’s a lot to unpack there, including these corollaries:
1) The way a brand interacts with the outside world manifests itself as marketing.
2) The way a brand interacts with those inside the company manifests itself as work culture.
Your Work Culture is Your Brand, Too
We define brands in terms of interactions because interactions—big and small, intended and unintended—are the root-causes of someone’s ability to recognize you, to have positive feelings about you, and to create a deeper relationship with you. For the outside world, that typically means investigating your products and making a purchase.
If a brand is the sum total of interactions an organization has with its community, that would have to also include all the employees who help create that brand—those who help shape the face that the outside world sees.
When you’re inside the company, every moment is an interaction with the brand. The hardware and software you use to accomplish tasks, the employees you work with, the office supplies you use, the regular meetings you hold—each is an interaction with the larger organization. The only way to describe the total sum of those interactions, then, is work culture.
That’s not something Marketing can ignore; culture and marketing are intertwined in many ways.
For one, work culture can help the broader public form an opinion on the brand; the inside affects the outside. How many articles have you seen about Google’s playful work culture—and remember how there was a movie all about it? It’s a case where culture has helped propel a brand’s visibility. Moreover, 59% of millennials said they look to a company’s ethics and practices to decide what brands they’ll buy, one survey found.
It goes the other way, too; the outside can affect the inside. Workers want to work for a company with a great brand. We all likely know this intuitively, but research suggests people are more likely to apply to a company with a good reputation because they use that reputation to make inferences about the job itself and they expect to have more pride from joining.
Additionally, a clear brand promise gives a customer-centric direction to employees. Without that type of mission statement as guidance, workers can become aimless and forget exactly what their work ultimately contributes to—meaning the brand less likely to fulfill its promise in the first place.
Take Nike’s headquarters as an example where this idea manifests itself physically. It’s outfitted with two gyms, a running track, a hiking trail, and soccer fields—all reminding employees what their work adds up to when it’s put to use by customers.
3M equips employees with both opportunity and incentive to stay inventive in the form of work policies. Departments are on the hook for generating at least 30% of their revenues from products developed within the last four years. Employees also have something called “15% time”—a portion of their work day that is dedicated to thinking of and pursuing new ideas. The culture has led to the creation of things like a Bluetooth-connected stethoscope, an improved type of sandpaper (that took over fifteen years to develop since its original ideation), and Post-It Notes.
And Pixar employs structured and unstructured forums for providing open feedback and advice on creative work. For instance, directors and producers can convene a brain trust of creatives who offer their thoughts as peers—no need to be polite—and animators show early unfinished work to the entire animation crew to get comments.
What Marketers Can Do To Manage Brand Internally
Marketers have their hands full with the external face of a brand. But internal and external manifestations of your brand work together in critical ways, so marketing departments have to think about how both can be managed in concert.
The solution is to work with other key stakeholders at the company. Culture often starts at the top—just as the CEO informs marketing strategy, he or she should similarly be involved in providing direction to work culture.
Then, work with HR and Facilities to execute on that vision. They’re on the hook for determining big pillars of your work culture: things like work policies, what to look for in a prospective employee, work spaces, and the skills that employees need to grow, among others.
Leaders from these teams should meet and discuss how different components of the culture contribute to the brand’s identity. There are multiple frameworks defining those components; here are some common ones that you should discuss:
History. How a brand’s leaders communicates the narrative detailing an organization’s journey to current day goes a long way in explaining to workers the legacy they’re contributing toward. It gives workers a story to contemplate and (at its best) challenges them to continue telling the story through their day-to-day work.
Mission and Values. These work as a lens to make business and work decisions when the choices are ambiguous—they therefore guide what’s important. At Percolate for instance, we prioritize shipping over not shipping—meaning we don’t wait for large updates to the product to start providing better value to clients, even if other companies find it reasonable to do so.
Valued skills and traits. What are the competencies, areas of expertise, and personality traits of that recruiters and managers want when looking for employees to join the company? What about the skills and traits that help someone become promoted? Whatever those are, they’ll become evident to employees—and workers will prioritize building those characteristics.
Behavioral norms. The way employees request time off, the amount of time they stay at work, the noise level at the office—these all contribute directly to how employees engage with the organization. This determines how collaborative and communicative your employees will be.
Metrics, rewards, and recognition. What gets measured and what gets attention? This informs work culture because they’re the mechanisms for motivating workers to accomplish specific goals—which ladder up to enterprise-wide objectives.
Office location and design. This isn’t completely flexible, but where an office is and how it’s configured can say a lot about how employees are encouraged to communicate and how they can participate with their communities.
Don’t think of a brand anymore as merely the product or as advertising; those are expressions of a brand which is encoded throughout the entire company. When your work culture and your marketing efforts come together to express a single identity, you are on the way to creating a distinct, recognizable brand.