Why Internal Culture Will Be Your Biggest Brand Asset in 2018

When people talk about ‘branding’ they often refer to what companies project externally. This paints the misleading picture that good branding is as simple as tightly controlling your messages and social media accounts to define your brand. But in reality, we don’t really get to decide what our brand is. At Raine & Makin we define a brand as ‘what people say about you behind your back’. You don’t get to decide, ‘they’ do.

So it seems pretty common sense that if you want people to say good things about you (behind your back), then do good things. This logic is a major driving force behind the increased focus on Customer Experience and Experience Design by brands the world over. But the experience of the internal stakeholders, the employees, seems to be overlooked. And this will need to change. Trend forecaster; Trendwatching, recently released a report identifying the trend of ‘Glass Box Brands’. The premise of the trend is that in this age of transparency, your internal culture is your brand, whether you like it or not.

Gone are the days of businesses being private black boxes, purely judged on their product or service. Today, Toto has pulled back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz for good and all the outsiders can easily see inside our organisations. 

 

 

There are some major driving forces behind this shift:

The Age of Transparency

The expectation that brands need to be transparent has increased. Brands such as Patagonia have embraced transparency for decades, but only now are we seeing the cold hard statistics illustrating this expectation (see statistics below). It has never been easier to find out about an organisation’s internal culture. For example, you can look at Seek’s company review page where employees can leave reviews of their experience ‘behind the curtain’.

 

 

Life is Documented on Social Media

The omnipresence of low production videos shot on smart phones has had a major effect on what we expect to see from brands. The meteoric rise in popularity of Instagram Stories is proof that people want to see the raw, authentic inner sanctum of an organisation, not just the perfectly crafted photography on the main feed. Employees are going to share their work lives online, through video, photo or text. This gives us all the power to ask brands the question ‘What story are you telling vs what story are you living?’

 

Ugly Industry Scandals

The culture of sexism at Uber was split open when an employee’s blog post went viral. Google has had a similar crisis, which has raised questions about the culture of the tech industry as a whole. Then there are the despicable acts from those with too much power in Hollywood. Our natural reaction is to look at what part we have played in supporting brands that have allowed such bad behaviour behind the scenes.

 

Taking Action

Trendwatching identified three focus areas for improving internal culture that we wholeheartedly agree with: people, process, and values.

 

Make Life Better for Your People

You can’t have great customer experiences, if you don’t have great employee experiences. We need to design experiences for employees from a place of empathy, not just for an increase in efficiency. Worthy areas to look at are onboarding processes, team rituals, investment in professional development, and incentivising healthy activity.

The physical environment itself can have the biggest impact on internal culture. You only need to look at the rapid success of the $20Billion co-working/office space mega brand WeWork (recently launched in Melbourne) to see that employees, especially young ones, expect their workplace to be fun, engaging and dynamic. That they can actually love coming to work is not a pipe dream. Engaging workspaces are no longer just the domain of startups alone; established blue chip brands such as Microsoft and HSBC have moved 300+ staff into WeWork offices in an effort to attract and retain young talent.

 

Design the Way You Work

Your processes, systems and supply chains offer another lens to look through for making positive cultural change. Improve processes by increasing ethical standards, sustainability, safety, collaboration and wellbeing. Match this with policies to decrease stress, overworking and micro management.

Patagonia has embraced ethical and sustainable supply chains since they began and are still thriving from it. It was also one of the first brands to embrace the B Corporation certification. To become a certified B Corp, an organisation must meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Designing and innovating how you work sends a powerful message to people about who you are. In contrast ‘We’ve always done it this way’ is quickly becoming the catch cry of the irrelevant.

 

Live Your Values

Brand values are to be lived and demonstrated, not documented and filed away. When outsiders look at how you treat your people and the effort put into improving processes, they will use that information to ascertain the most fundamental human element of your brand: your values. Your values are what you stand for and what you believe in as an organisation. Gone are the days of shuffling ‘honesty’, ‘integrity’ and ‘passion’ as your brand values and expecting people to believe it. In this age of Glass Box Brands, we must have authentic values that are demonstrated through action.

Look at the HSBC Taiwan CEO walking his gay employee down the aisle because her parents did not support LGBTQI relationships. Or IBM establishing IBM Health Corps, an initiative that allows employees to take paid time off to work pro bono on key global health challenges. These actions, one a simple gesture by a leader, the other an organisation wide shift, are examples of brands aligning authentically and standing up for what they believe in.

 

The Main Point

The leading brands of tomorrow are putting the culture of their company first, because they understand that internal culture is now a key influence on what people will feel about their brand. To make a meaningful and positive change to your internal culture, start by focusing on employee experience, improving processes and demonstrating brand values. Then let your employees show this compelling change in ways that come naturally to them. As Trendwatching put it ‘In a world of Glass Box Brands, every team needs to be empowered to effectively tell the world their stories of positive change. Every department is now the marketing department.’

 

By Luke Schoknecht | Co-founder & Strategy Lead

Original image by Rawpixel

At Raine & Makin we help organisations understand their people’s needs and wants, so that we can design ways to have a positive impact on them. We have helped clients work through internal cultural change, collaborate better and even designed a team bonding day in the format of a game show. If you are looking to take action on improving your internal culture and capturing the compelling journey, get in touch with us for a chat.