While the pandemic led to the majority of employees working from home, retailers were forced to integrate a wave of new protocols on the front lines to cope with social distancing regulations, nationwide closures, logistical nightmares, and resource shortages. Not only have physical environments been affected, but also head office staff and partnerships have been challenged by new ways of working.
Contrary to popular opinion, company culture is much more than table tennis, Friday night drinks or a four-day work week. There’s an underlying current of emotion and connection essential to engaging employees, and whilst many of the more trivial enhancements do encourage the right kind of work culture, it’s only when they are part of a larger strategy that they come off as authentic and real to those experiencing them.
Brand is often associated with external reputation, but is actually an organisation’s most powerful tool when creating a killer company culture. Coming from a focus on brand when curating your culture not only means a more cohesive organisation, it also fosters an outstanding customer experience and feeds the success of seemingly unrelated goals – such as profitability, productivity, and growth.
The influence of brand on culture, and culture on brand
Understanding the important connection between brand and behaviour has led companies to deliver consistent experiences for their employees, customers, and other stakeholders. This business alignment is the result of every aspect of the organisation supporting its clear purpose, and occurs only when employees are well informed and educated.
Amazing work culture is now much more than a focus on wellness and wellbeing. Not all organisations are about saving the planet or having a higher purpose. Some are purely about making the best products or having the fastest growth. The most important thing is for retailers to know what they stand for while they’re considering working environments and employee flexibility, along with development and career progression, to keep that top talent around.
Elon Musk recently released a statement calling all employees back to the office at Tesla, and whilst there has been significant media backlash, this will probably have a positive result, aligning with the brand’s strategy and focus on innovation and progress (and relentless pursuit of these). The memo, stating that all employees must be willing to work 40 hours in the office a week, also included Musk arguing: “There are, of course, companies that don’t require this, but when was the last time they shipped a great new product?” Those who agree and heed the call will probably feel exactly the same way.
British apparel brand Gymshark, which recently received a $1.3 billion evaluation, approaches its workplace culture in a more holistic fashion. With a strong focus on its target customer – young adults ages 18-25 with interests including fashion and the gym – Gymshark CEO Ben Francis preaches staying humble and working hard, but believes in quality, not quantity. With only 500 employees, the company aims to “create a culture where every morning feels like Christmas morning”. Embracing ideas big and small, Gymshark encourages employees to take risks and dream big.
Creating a brand experience
The realisation and execution of your brand strategy is a lot of work, and not for the faint-hearted. It needs to be different from the top and invested in. This is usually where brand strategies fall down, and why many still think it’s a wasteful, fluffy exercise.
It’s all good to run the workshops and surveys and create this wonderful ideal, but if you aren’t ready to translate that into a living, breathing organism, then there isn’t any point in having it. The missing piece is that your brand strategy must be valuable.
The buzziest term of the last several years has been customer experience, namely, anything experiential that affects a customer’s opinion and relationship with a brand, product or service. However, what many organisations are doing is ignoring the greater brand experience, and how a brand interacts (and creates an emotional connection with) not only its customers, but also its staff and greater audience. This brand experience is where all organisations should focus their energy.
How to achieve brand culture fit
Start by identifying your business’s values and purpose. By honing these and developing a keen and clear brand strategy, you’ll gain a framework of reference for everything else.
Creating values, mission statements, and guiding principles is an important part and is very rarely done well. Choosing some inspirational words or statements and having them written up on a wall is not the way to do it. Your values are not just about what you stand for as an organisation, they should inform all of your decisions. A big mistake many make is considering their values only internal, rather than as a framework for how their organisation operates.
While many companies talk about their brand’s vision and values with their employees, the meaning behind it is usually left to management to translate. Without the appropriate tools and understanding, a disconnect can occur, leaving employees ill-equipped to deliver on that brand promise at every customer touchpoint. Additionally, an opportunity to get authentic emotional buy-in from employees is missed.
Your purpose, on the other hand, is the reason your organisation exists. Your purpose doesn’t have to be socially responsible, it just needs to make sense on a deeper level than what you do.
Once you know your values and purpose, conduct a culture audit. Using an independent organisation or consultant to take the current temperature of your brand, find out exactly how people feel about your organisation – warts and all.
What is your reputation on the outside? Are your employees truly happy? Do they want more? How do they talk about work with their family and friends? What is the biggest issue facing management at the moment? Is it staff retention? Skills? Understanding where you are first is the best way to move forward.
Lastly, it’s time to marry everything up and cut what doesn’t fit, while introducing things that do. If your brand is about performance, then make everything about performance. If your brand is about innovation, then that should be the main motivator. If your brand is about making the world a better place, then don’t settle for anything that doesn’t align with your idea of ‘better’.
Remember, great brands foster a true connection between your employees and also between your employees and your customers. The work you do on the inside will always be represented on the outside.