At the moment I’m reading a book on business branding (which I’ll be reviewing in the next instalment of my “Coffee House Book Review” series) which has lead to some thoughts about the connection between leadership and branding. More specifically, to reassessing how leadership should view the role of the ‘corporate brand’, which in the context of this piece I’ll be referring to as an organization’s brand.
In most cases, when we talk about an organization’s brand, it’s often looked at through some marketing lens. Namely, that the sole function of an organization’s brand is to define the content of outward-directing interactions with the target audience for their products and/or services.
However, in today’s hyper-connected environment and the subsequent push for greater transparency, an organization’s brand is being defined more through their internal culture and how they conduct their business interactions. In other words, brands have moved beyond simply selling consumers your products/services to answering the question – what is the purpose of your organization, your raison d’être?
Indeed, one only needs to look at successful organizations like Nike, Zappos, and Apple to appreciate that brands are no longer used simply to build market shares, but instead are used to distill and define the key aspects of their organizational culture.
So why should leaders start viewing this as an important issue to reflect on and consider? With many discussions underway over the issue of how to retain key talent as the economy improves, it’s vital that leaders evaluate what’s being presented through their organization’s brand – and reinforced through their internal culture – if they are to curb employee attrition, as well as attracting new talent to join their teams to help fuel future growth and development.
Of course, for some leaders, answering the question “what is your organization’s purpose” might seem easy – it’s to be profitable, to make our shareholders happy, and so forth. But the reality is that these are simply outcomes of your organization’s collective efforts, and hardly the reason why your team shows up every day ready and motivated to give their all.
An organization’s purpose – and subsequently the purpose behind the work your employees are assigned to perform – needs to go beyond the narrow lens of simply fuelling the money-making machine, to reinforcing and defining the values and focus of your organization. In other words, it has to deliver the message of how your employees’ efforts contribute to fulfilling your organization’s purpose.
To do this, leaders will need to shift the priority of their focus away from answering how their team can accomplish something, to why the accomplishment will be relevant both to those in their organization and to those who’d benefit from their efforts. As I discussed in a previous piece, research has shown that employees are engaged not as a result of increasing their sense of self-efficacy, but because their efforts are recognized as being of value or of benefit to others.
At the same time, allowing your brand to be defined by your organization’s culture and purpose will ensure that you attract people who are the right fit for your team, instead of simply casting a wide net to obtain the ‘best talent’. Zappos is probably the best known example of an organization focusing on this approach, with their tactic of offering to pay $2 000 to new employees to quit after they complete the company’s training program as a means of filtering out those who don’t get or fit in with their organization’s culture.
In transforming an organization’s brand to identify their core purpose, organizations will also be able to demonstrate how their efforts benefit the community they serve and exist within. Consider for example this brand statement by the UK fruit and vegetable drink company “Innocent Drinks” which Coca-Cola recently purchased a minority share in –
We sure aren’t perfect, but we’re trying to do the right thing.
It might make us sound a bit like a Miss World contestant, but we want to leave things a little bit better than we find them. We strive to do business in a more enlightened way, where we take responsibility for the impact of our business on society and the environment, and move these impacts from negative to neutral, or better still, positive.
It’s part of our quest to become a truly sustainable business, where we have a net positive effect on the wonderful world around us. Below you will find our strategy for, and our performance to date, in doing so.
By putting this statement out in the public record, this company has intentionally placed themselves under the microscope to make sure they live up to this claim. For some leaders, this might seem like a dubious move. For this organization’s leadership, though, it’s a commitment they can openly make because their employees live it every day, both through their culture and how they conduct their business.
Given how brands are becoming inextricably linked to an organization’s culture, it’s important that leaders understand and promote this shift in brand perception; that they encourage their brand’s message being transformed from ‘this is how we make money’ to ‘these are the values that make work here meaningful and give a sense of purpose to what we do’.
After all, people don’t wear their company’s logo simply because of what their organization does or how high a dividend they offer to their shareholders. Instead, it’s because they personally identify with an organization’s purpose, and the values and goals found therein.