Friday, August 5, 2011

Three Reasons Great Brands Live or Die on Corporate Culture


Many people are under the mistaken impression that brand-building is about selling things. Not only! Branding is for every situation where you want to bring people together to create and deliver value to an external stakeholder. Branding is for business, government, hospital, sports team, high school, church and synagogue and mosque and Buddhist temple - everything.
The thing about branding is that it creates value where there was none before. This is hard for people to grasp. But it's very true. And the value comes from a meeting of the minds between employees and the people they serve.
Not to torture you with Kabbalah, but we create reality in the mind. We approach situations with a mental framework. And when a group of people get together and build a brand, they turn zero dollars into a reality that can be worth billions. A reality that is worth so much because other people, customers, are drawn to it and want to buy in.
Look at the military. Serving is not about the paycheck at all. It's about being something more than what you are - joining with others - serving a higher cause. When we are together with others in a cause, we initiate a tangible force that is much, much more than any one of us. 
Faith organizations are another example. When I was a little girl I joined Tzivos Hashem (The Army of G-d), a Lubavitcher Jewish movement. We understood the mission clearly - save the world spiritually - and we were empowered to carry it out - "Do a good deed."  Simple, resonant, effective.
Going higher. Getting connected. Serving a mission. This is the feeling that great brands give to their employees. And this is why every workplace should aspire to be a great brand.
But they don't - and they're not. Here are 3 major reasons why:
1. Muddling the mission versus pruning it down: Organizations do well when there's a simple, compelling, important job to do, and everyone can help do it. If people don't understand what they're doing there besides collecting a paycheck, they can't help build a brand. Why do missions get messy? Because powerful people are fighting for power and they're using the organization as their wrestling ring. So everyone wants their agenda to rule the day.
2. Focus on work versus value: The era of "work" is over. Get it? The past was about how many hours you put in - because we couldn't figure out a better way to run the system. But the future is about how much value your brainpower delivers. Marking hours is what prisoners do. It's not how knowledge employees compete. In fact your brain works better when you rest. Just because you had to sit for 8 hours at a shot in high school doesn't mean you should be thinking that way for the rest of your life. We have to think of a better way. To borrow terminology from IT, it's about outcomes, not outputs.
3. Labeling versus leveraging: Again, this is a holdover from the olden days when people had specific job functions and were ranked, rated, sorted and classified so that the bureaucracy could deal with them. The reality is, a person's job function today is simply to contribute. That contribution will change over time because the strategic environment dictates that our work change. Moreover, what is called "weakness" or even "disability" actually gives people tremendous strength and ability in certain situations. Narcisissism, grandiosity, hypertechnical thinking, you name it - everything can be funneled to productive use.
Building a brand starts with exciting and empowering employees. If follows, then, that if you want to have a valuable brand, you must turn your workforce from a bunch of worker bees into a powerful group of evangelists and ambassadors (forgive the jargon) who absolutely live to promote the organization.
It is not about the money. Even in a bad economy, it's not.
When your employees 1) know what to do and care about doing it 2) are rewarded for doing it well and 3) get praised for bringing their whole selves to the table - then and only then can your brand grow, flower, and deliver a return on investment. Whether it's money, social good, or any other benefit that society cares about - a great brand starts with valued, empowered employees on a mission.
Have a good day everyone, and good luck!
Image source here