To better understand the role values and culture play in a contemporary brand, we need to look at changes in society and technology. We are living in an age of radical transparency and connectivity. There has been an exponential rise of people living out their lives on social media. Matters of bad organisational behaviour that were once resigned to the private domain, are now playing out in the public eye. Add to this the speed at which controversy spreads in a 24-hour news cycle, organisations are no longer able to contain what happens behind closed doors. The time of hiding behind a carefully constructed corporate brand image is in the past. In this age, your internal culture is your brand. A recent Trendwatching report looking at the rise of ‘Glass Box Brands’, argues that:
“[An] organisation’s brand is everything that’s visible. Every person. Every process. Every value. Everything that happens, ever.”
How are Culture and Brand Connected?
In early 2017, an Uber employee wrote a post on her blog reflecting on a year working at the ride-sharing company. The post went viral and exposed the sexist culture at Uber. This led to employees coming forward and exposing a culture of bullying and harassment. This, in turn, forced the CEO and founder to step down. Google had a similar crisis, where an employee crafted a manifesto of sexism, masquerading as free speech. This has gone on to raise questions about the culture of the tech industry as a whole. The nonprofit sector is reeling from the allegations and ensuring further revelations across the aid sector of harassment and sexual misconduct, damaging the reputation of well-established brands such as Oxfam in the UK.
We are seeing evidence that people are increasingly sensitive to ethical and values-based aspects of an organisation – how they treat staff, diversity, professional conduct, ethical supply chains and environmental impact to name a few. They are often looking to align and express their personal values through their purchasing behaviour. In a study undertaken by Cone Communications in 2017, 70% of millennials are willing to spend more with brands that support causes they care about.
The importance of an organisation being recognised for a good culture extends beyond external perceptions. It is a key factor in attracting and retaining talent. Many studies show that companies who focus heavily on employee engagement, experience ease of hiring, deliver strong customer service, and have higher staff retention rates. Organisations that create a culture defined by meaningful work, deep employee engagement, job and organisational fit and strong leadership are outperforming their peers and will likely beat their competition in attracting top talent.
A 2015 study showed that employee engagement and culture is the number one challenge for businesses globally, with 50% believing that it is very important for their organisation. 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, as well as how their staff feel. 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.
Why Is Culture Critical for Not-for-profit?
Having a strong organisational culture is important for not-for-profit and charities as their people are the heart and soul of the organisation, responsible for delivering social impact. Having a purpose-driven mission and intrinsic foundational values are only as good as when they are demonstrated in action. If the external representation of the organisation isn’t supported by the way employees and volunteers feel and act, there is a strong risk of losing the trust of supporters, partners and beneficiaries.
From within the nonprofit sector, sustainability needs to be seen as more than economics. Sustainability has a cultural value that requires a strategic and intentional approach. This includes employee engagement and support practices that allow for the health and wellness of employees and volunteers.
It is also worth noting that many people look to work for charities and social enterprises because it aligns with their own value system and identity. They consider delivering social impact and making the world fairer and more sustainable, over financial remuneration and career advancement. However, this could be severely challenged as profit-driven brands place social impact, culture and employee experience as key organisational priorities. This could result in many talented and passionate people gravitating towards socially minded profit-driven brands that offer better conditions and pay.
Key Challenges for Not-for-profits
A great culture can be challenging for non-profits for many reasons. These can include limited access to financial resources that lead to overworked leaders and teams, with less pay than in the profit-driven sector. It can also mean that staff are working on alternate employment loads, potentially becoming less connected to the day to day. It is also important to recognise that CEOs and leadership teams are often stretched, both in time and financial resourcing, to implement more consuming employee engagement practices.
The 2010 Productivity Commission identified key workforce issues facing not-for-profit as:
- Difficulty attracting and retaining employees due to low wages
- High levels of employee turnover within the sector
- A lack of career paths and training opportunities.
A strong culture plays an important role in attracting and retaining talent. A study conducted by Maxxia found five main reasons employees consider leaving the NFP sector:
- Poor career progression
- Lower wages
- Poor management practices
- Poor morale
- Too much stress
A similar sentiment is echoed in NFP studies conducted in the US. These statistics include:
- 69 percent of surveyed not-for-profit reported not having a formal succession plan for senior leadership (2013 Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey)
- 90 percent of surveyed not-for-profit lack articulated retention strategies, which has a disproportionate impact on program management and support, direct services, and fundraising and development (2013 Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey)
- 50 percent of nonprofit employees are either currently experiencing “burnout” or in danger of experiencing it (“Engaging the Nonprofit Workforce,” 2011)
How Can We Create a Strong Culture?
As values play such an important role in the core of purpose-driven organisations it is critical to establish culturally specific values and make them visible. These values should be central in all recruitment materials, onboarding and new employee orientation processes, and throughout the life-cycle of employment.
A strong culture is often the result of positive employee engagement. This can be defined as:
“[The] level of commitment and involvement an employee has toward their organization and its values”
There are external influences that affect an employee’s level of engagement, and many of these are out of an organisations control. However, processes and programs can be designed to provide a better experience for employees. This has both the effect of increasing engagement and showing staff the organisation cares.
In our free eBook “Building Trust: The Role of Brand for Purpose-driven Organisations” we explore how purpose and values can drive employee engagement.
The Main Point
In a world of forced transparency, no organisation can control the perception of their brand in the private or public domain. Social media, global connectivity and a 24-hour news cycle results in the news of negative employee experiences spread quickly and with damaging effect. An organisation’s culture, values and behaviour are now an integral part of both their internal and external identity. This is what makes up an organisation’s brand.
Purpose-driven organisations have fundamental values and missions that have been at their core since their inception. However, attracting the right support to deliver on these values requires trust. Trust is established through an organisation’s behaviour, communication and engagement with people. And these need to align with their values. Without a strong culture and ability to communicate purpose, many organisations will struggle as profit-driven brands begin to attract talent and resources through focusing on social impact and supportive employee engagement.