Brand culture eats strategy for breakfast
Strategy is trumped by brand culture
“Culture,” as Peter Drucker once said, “eats strategy for breakfast.” Featured in the July/August Harvard Business Review is the article Cultural Change That Sticks, written by Booz & Co. execs Jon Katzenback, Ilona Steffen, and Caroline Kronley. It speaks to the tangible and intangible power of brand culture.
Leading with a story of Aetna’s (not so unique) struggles in the early 2000’s, the authors point to the fact that “it takes years to alter how people think, feel, and behave, and even then the differences may not be meaningful. When that’s the case, an organization with an old, powerful culture can devolve into disaster.”
Booz & Co. Research
Through their research, they found that almost every organization that attained peak performance – including Four Seasons, Apple, Micrpsoft and Southwest Airlines – got there by applying these five principles. Common across the companies is their view of culture as a competitive advantage and an accelerator of change.
These principles are:
1. Match strategy and culture
A strategy that is at odds with a company’s culture is doomed. Culture trumps strategy every time.
They point to Mayo Clinic as an organization whose cultural traits match and support their strategy. World renowned for its ability to bring together individual specialists across fields to diagnose and effectively treat complex diseases, the clinic promotes unusually high levels of collaboration and teamwork, reinforcing those traits through formal and informal mechanisms.
2. Focus on a few critical shifts in behavior
In the best of circumstances, change is hard. So you need to choose your battles. Where to start – first observe the current behavior prevalent in your organization, and imagine how people would act if your company were at its best, especially if their behavior supported your business objectives.
When choosing priorities, consider conducting a series of “safe space” discussions with thoughtful people at different levels throughout your company to learn what behaviors are most affected by the current culture—both positively and negatively. We do this routinely at Trajectory as part of our brand strategy change work and our organization rebranding work.
The behaviors you focus on can be small, as long as they are widely recognized and likely to be emulated. When a few key behaviors are emphasized heavily, employees will often develop additional ways to reinforce them.
3. Honor the strengths of your existing culture
The authors point out that it’s tempting to dwell on the negative traits of your culture, but any corporate culture is a product of good intentions that evolved in unexpected ways and will have many strengths.
If you can find ways to demonstrate the relevance of the original values and share stories that illustrate why people believe in them, they can still serve your company well. At Trajectory, we like to tease out these “stories” as they’re good building blocks for creating an evolved and genuine brand culture.
Acknowledging the existing culture’s assets will also make major change feel less like a top-down imposition and more like a shared evolution. So major change feels more like a shared evolution vs. a top-down imposition.
4. Integrate formal and informal interventions
As you promote critical new behaviors, making people aware of how they affect the company’s strategic performance, be sure to integrate formal approaches—like new rules, metrics, and incentives—with informal interactions. Because what gets measured gets managed.
Whenever Trajectory is engaged in fundamental brand change work (whether rejuvenating or rebranding) new measures are always on the table. Whether formal or informal, interventions should do two things: reach people at an emotional level (e.g. pride and how they feel about work) and tap rational self-interest (e.g. money, external recognition).
5. Measure and monitor cultural evolution
Following above, it’s important to measure and monitor cultural progress. Ongoing measurement allows you to identify backsliding, course correct where needed, and demonstrate tangible evidence of improvement. The Study encourages executives to pay attention to four areas:
- business performance
- critical behaviors
- underlying beliefs, feelings, and mind-sets.
Helping clients to create new brand energy from the inside-out is important and fulfilling work. But for real change to take hold, not only inside but for customers and partners, it must be genuine to the organization. And this starts with brand culture. Reach out to Trajectory for a no-obligation consultation.