We know what it takes to define a brand. Whether it is defined from the beginning or not, every business has a mission. It starts with an idea, from a founder or group of founders, and they set off to bring their vision to life. If their vision involves products, the mission might involve innovation or value. If they’re branding a service, their mission could involve user experience or dependability. Even if it takes time to put it into words, there is a natural attitude that forms around a business that goes into their mission and values and with a little focused effort you can start to define your brand essence. But what about brand culture? Can you define the culture of a company and then insist that all members abide by it? How is the right culture to deliver your brand promise created?
If you’ve taken the time to define your brand, you have a very clear picture of what your company does, why you do it, how you do it, when you do it and what that looks and sounds like. You’ve most likely created an internal document that communicates this information to everyone involved in your brand, in order for them to do their job effectively. A functional brand guidelines document provides a measuring stick to hold your actions against, to see if they match up with your overall vision. If you’re doing things that fall outside of those guidelines, or work against them, then you’re confusing your customers. However, equally as important, is your internal brand – the one that company employees are living out every day. And if you’re a large, successful company fortunate enough to get media attention, people are likely peeking in and trying to get clues to how you operate on the inside. This is your brand culture.
Can a culture be created? Can a culture be managed? I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in and look in on many company cultures over my working years. I’ve seen ones that worked and ones that didn’t. In the ones that did, the driving force was always leadership. This doesn’t necessarily mean the managers, but the natural leadership that you find within any group of people. It was up to the leadership to remind everyone on an almost daily basis, what the culture is.
Cultivating your culture.
Culture can not be forced. If you are working with a group of people that are not interested in having a company culture, you’re probably not going to get very far. If you’re not considered the “leadership” and you want to build culture, you’re going to have to get owner/leader buy-in first because their support is needed to create the framework for the culture to grow. If you have buy in from leadership and the team then half of your job is done. The next step is to create a framework for the culture to grow. This is kind of like building boxes for a garden, filling them with quality soil and planting the right seeds. Here’s how to cultivate growth…
A culture is defined by its stories.
Most businesses have a story. Why did you begin in the first place? How did the business come to be? But, there are stories that people can only know by being a part of the business. As new team members, clients, etc, come in, they learn these stories. They begin to see that there is an experience, a story, an upholding of culture that explains why we do things a certain way and why we choose not to do other things at all. You’ve likely heard the idea that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. This is because people buy into relatability, tangible stories that create understanding of “why” within your culture.
A culture is defined by its customs.
Customs have two sides. They can either be pretty mundane or they can be unique. Mundane, in the sense that, this is how we use the copy machine because procurement is too cheap to get us a new one. Yes, that’s a custom. But, customs can be unique, like every Friday at 3 we get on our bikes, take a ride around the lake as a team, and then stop for a beer at the corner pub. That’s a custom…and a ritual (more on that in a second). Having a structure for how we interact with our customers is a custom. Whether you have defined it or not, you have a customary way of interacting with your customers and new team members will pick up on it and start to act that way, even if they acted differently before working with you.
Once a business hits a certain size it almost becomes a necessity to define your customs in the form of business systems. This makes the employee on boarding process much easier. We think it’s fun to also define your customs that aren’t business critical, but add value to the company culture. These are the things that most commonly fall under rituals.
A culture is defined by its rituals.
Rituals are habitual actions or events that drive your culture. Some companies have a morning meeting. Some sales driven companies have a ritual of rewarding their top performers by sending them to a special party or location. Rituals can be as simple as a team having a cup of coffee together every day or going out to breakfast once a month. Remember, rituals don’t have to be work focused.
For the past few years, we’ve celebrated the peak of the year with an event, Bonfire, which is a celebration and renewal for us as a team. This is a company ritual that is slowly becoming full of customs and developing its own stories. It’s a microcosm of the Laughing Samurai culture, a celebration of community and creativity. We have a lot of other rituals, but you’d have to be a Samurai to understand them. (If you’re interested in being a Samurai, apply here).
How to deepen your culture this week.
Take a few minutes to think about it. Does your company have a culture? What are the stories, customs and rituals that exist in your culture. Is your culture new, mature or poorly defined? What is the overall attitude of your culture? Is it heavy stress and competitiveness or is it fun and cooperative? If you do have a defined brand and can answer these questions, it should be easy for you to to say if your company culture is supporting your brand or hurting it. From there, all it takes is the leadership saying, what can we do this week to deepen our culture? Growing a culture is not something that happens over a short period of time, it’s an effort that can take decades to grow to maturity, but once you have an effective culture there’s almost nothing that can stop it.