Articulating an internal culture brand for your employees is no easy feat, but there are a few steps you can take to make it a lot more effective. Most importantly, it is critical to do the deep work of clarifying your values and the supporting stories and behaviors to ensure that your cultural brand is meaningful,substantive and embodied from the inside out.
As I write this, the leadership team of our new client, Daystar, is unveiling the culmination of a year’s hard work with their employees.
Run by three brothers, Daystar is a fast-growing managed IT services provider. The Bamford family sees their people and company culture as their key strategic advantage, and they have invested heavily in making sure that their culture is ready to continue to scale in a healthy and sustainable way as the company grows.
To do this, they have worked for more than a year with our friends at the Legacy Center to dig into their existing organizational culture and better articulate and operationalize the values and behaviors that make Daystar so successful. They have undertaken deep work to understand how the company’s leaders show up day-to-day and how they can continue to develop their internal culture.
When they came to Six-Point, the team at Daystar was focused, energized, and… also at a loss.
The Bamfords knew that if this deep internal culture work stayed siloed at the leadership level, it was doomed. But like most teams, their people aren’t naturally excited about “company culture.” Their passions ran more toward gaming, graphic novels, and science fiction. So how do you get a team of Marvel fanatics excited about company values?
Daystar had previously experienced challenges with getting external creative teams to understand their business, internal culture, and vision. Everything always seemed “almost” there, but no one had ever quite nailed it on their external brand, and the challenge of bringing their culture to life seemed infinitely more difficult.
They came to our first intake session skeptical and even almost apologetic about the challenge they were giving us. That is, until they started talking about their people, culture, and values. Then they radiated confidence and excitement.
About six weeks later, we got the following email from Anne, Daystar’s director of communications:
“I just wanted to voice how much we have enjoyed working with you and your team. Your creativity astounded us and your ability to capture the Daystar team and visualize the essence of what our clumsy words were trying to relay was no small feat indeed. On top of that, you also managed the project so efficiently even with our tight turnaround. We appreciate you all very much!”
So how did we get from the overwhelm and skepticism to a rollout that I know is going great right now? And how could you do the same?
Here are the key ingredients:
- Dig deeply, with guidance. Communicating a company culture and distilling it into messages and visuals is impossible if you haven’t already dug deep. You need not only the right words that capture your values, but also the ability to clearly articulate the stories and the behaviors that make them real. Working with a culture consultant involves processes that make you peel back the layers and challenge your team; to really get this piece right is critical. We love the measurable, data-driven method of the Legacy Center because it takes something fuzzy like culture, and makes it concrete and tangible. They came to us clear and aligned about what they were trying to communicate, and also had a deep understanding of the people (their employees and prospective employees) who they needed to communicate with. That is well over half the battle.
- Trust the process. At the outset of the Daystar project, we had a conversation about how for a growing company, the “right” cultural brand articulation has a bit of aspiration to it. You aren’t looking for the perfect wedding dress. You are looking for a suit for a pre-teen that needs to be a size too big, because in six months, he will have shot up an inch or two. There is an acknowledgment and expectation that the cultural brand articulation might feel a little uncomfortable at first, but that the company and team would quickly settle into the new positioning, and see how it is aligned not just with the present, but with their exciting future as well.
- Work together to identify issues and fears, and get to their root cause. When something in the process wasn’t quite right, or the team was feeling apprehensive, we stopped and dug into that concern. What tools did we have or need to solve it? Which was a “real” solution vs. a temporary band-aid? Sometimes the solution was creative, sometimes it was clarification, or communication… but none of us ignored any gut feelings when we felt something wasn’t quite right. This is extremely important, because the leadership team’s confidence in and enthusiasm for the cultural brand of the organization becomes contagious. And any fear, uncertainty, or doubt that they have will also spread.
With these guidelines, you can supercharge your employer brand in a way that will increase your ability to attract and retain top talent, maintain the cultural intangibles that provide value to your customers, and accelerate your growth.