For the best part of a decade companies have conspicuously invested time in defining their brand purpose. Kantar Consulting reports that three-quarters of senior marketers believe their firm has a defined purpose, but only a third think that fulfilling that purpose should involve the rest of the organisation.
There is something that matters more than purpose. Culture.
And I’m ready to argue that developing the right organisational culture is key to delivering on the promise of your brand purpose.
Julian Richer, the founder of hi-fi retailer Richer Sounds recently announced a plan to put most of the business in trust for its employees, plus a £1,000 staff bonus for each year worked. With so many business stories ending in failure, Julian Richer leaves Richer Sounds in success having built a company that puts employees first.
And boy does it work. Once again, Richer Sounds has topped the Which? shopper survey of the best high street stores. By taking care of his employees, Richer’s employees have taken care of everything else.
Conversely, businesses that choose to neglect their employees are remembered for it. Can you think of any retailers known to treat their warehouse staff poorly? Or any airlines who malign their workforce? I bet you can. And I bet you also worry that they’ll treat you, the customer, the same way too.
In the same way that we can walk into a new situation and immediately sense danger, it takes mere hours for a new employee to work out if an organisation has a healthy culture. It may take a few months, but that employee is already destined for the door.
Most businesses have three key stakeholders - shareholders, customers and employees. If your employees aren’t put first then they’ll feel second best. If success comes from delivering through others, treating those doing the delivering as inferior is far from smart. Sure, your company will need to keep on growing in order to provide all of these benefits, but now your employees are incentivised to help you do that, and your growth will keep your shareholders happy too.
Culture is really about trust
Trusting that because your employer has behaved well in the past they’ll do the same again. That sense of safety gives each employee the motivation and confidence to make decisions that will sustain and grow your business. It’s why so many mergers fail - cultural fit is taken for granted rather than prioritised. But get it right and you'll have a better place to work, and a great story to tell your investors and customers.
But how do you create the right culture?
It certainly takes more than pinning four or five positive words to the wall on an away day. It’s about the policies you create for your staff and how thoughtfully you enforce them. It’s about the time and money you spend investing in employees - offering appraisals, your attitude towards absence, the benefits you offer, how you have fun together, and how you encourage new ideas. What kind of company would you want to work in? Build THAT company. Because your culture will then become a lifelong marketing campaign, attracting talent and winning the respect of customers.
Does this mean that purpose doesn’t matter?
Far from it. But without a strong, supportive culture your workforce simply won’t care about your purpose, because you clearly don’t care for them. A retrofitted purpose is what you wish people thought about your brand. Culture is who you really are.
By John Newton, Commercial and Operations Director at Synergy