3 Reasons Employees Aren’t Fired Up About Your Brand’s Culture

Affecting a culture shift goes well beyond a cliché 'mission statement' and tired 'core values.' It all boils down to people, starting with the C-suite. Here are three reasons why internal branding projects get stuck in the mud.

Corporate “culture” is one of those industry buzzwords that all executives agree is important but nearly everyone struggles with. There’s no lack of research supporting the benefits of a well-defined culture — from motivated employees and greater productivity to improvements in recruitment and retention. After all, who wouldn’t want to create and be part of an organization with an amazing culture? But how does it get implemented in ways that consistently deliver the desired results?

Jim Perry, senior strategist at Market Insights, says the true power of your brand strategy, isn’t about marketing messages or the look and feel; it’s how it affects your service experience — the things employees do and say.

“Your corporate culture should be the internal manifestation of your brand promise at an individual level,” says Perry. “Culture is about creating an environment that guides and empowers staff in all departments to ‘walk your talk.'”

“A brand promise should be expressed through all touchpoints and channels,” Perry continues. “If it’s not all part of a cohesive organizational strategy, your ‘culture’ will end up as nothing more than a mishmash of disconnected tactics and a bunch of shallow clichés framed in a poster on the wall.”

Here are three areas that Perry says frequently derail bank and credit union cultural transformation projects.

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1. Culture Change is Not Led From the Top

If your organization’s leadership does not reflect and embody the culture you’re trying to build, then any attempt at internal transformation is already doomed to failure.

You can’t say “we want to embrace an innovative culture” if your CEO’s style isn’t daring and courageous — the entrepreneurial qualities of an innovative leader. To determine whether the desired culture change comes from an authentic place, you should first have leaders at the top assess their own personal alignment with the changes they want to affect. Can they show examples of how they express that change in their day-to-day lives? If, as a leader, you can’t immediately think of examples, then maybe you aren’t as innovative, creative, community minded or openly communicative as you fashion yourself to be. Without leaders making the culture change an institutional priority, everything else will come first then your organization will have pretty words on a wall with maybe 50% of your employees living that desired culture every day. While half doesn’t sound too bad, Perry said the other 50% is where your customers will get really confused.

“Will you ever get 100% buy-in? No because we’re not aiming to create Stepford bankers. But if you can get the majority on the same page, that is powerful.”

2. Culture Is Not Managed As a Strategy

Affecting cultural shifts is an exercise in leadership and effective management skills. When culture change is relegated to marketing or human resources or marketing staff, it can create a dysfunctional dynamic.

“Senior leadership teams often define their values at a big strategic planning meeting, then tell HR to create a training module and ask marketing to design a placard that employees can put on their desk,” Perry explains. “It all feels good on a superficial level, but unless its driven by an overarching strategy of what the organization wants to accomplish, employees will struggle connecting the dots.”

Just like with any other strategic initiative, Perry says financial institutions must establish the measurements that will define success. “Any project without metrics is meaningless,” says Perry. “This is even more critical with cultural transformation projects, which can be fairly subjective and open to interpretation.”

It’s also important to have a plan for cultural onboarding. Your internal brand strategy should influence everything from who you hire to how employees are evaluated and compensated.

“The real test of your cultural strategy happens when you hire new employees,” Perry continues. “Everyone can have their own understanding, interpretation of how broad cultural values might to be expressed. Without some clear definitions and processes that institutionalize expectations, you’ll end up with a fractured culture, where one person’s innovation is another’s status quo.”

3. There’s No Personal Commitment to Change

Perry says you need to give everyone on the team — from customer facing employees on the front line to those in the back office (including the janitor) — the freedom to internalize your brand so they can express it on a personal level.

First Horizon Bank in Tennessee has found success with a very deliberate culture organized around four key values: accountability, adaptability, integrity and relationships. As part of its onboarding and training, employees are invited to make personalized statements of how they breathe life into those values. Take “accountability” for example. An employee might say something like, “I ask questions and raise issues when I see something that could be improved.” This exercise prompts staffers to think of ways to make the four values tangible in their role, and to consider what changes they will personally need to make in their approach.

Perry explains that for any cultural transformation to succeed, you must help people to see how it impacts them directly, as well as establish some sort of accountability at the team and departmental levels. Try asking each team for their own 30-60-90 day commitment, or maybe pair individuals up so they too hold each other accountable for “living the brand.”

It also helps to identify the people in your organization with the greatest circle of influence to serve your culture change champions — your internal “brand ambassadors.”

You can learn more about what it takes to make your culture hum at The Financial Brand Forum 2017, where Jim Perry will share insights into how senior leaders in the financial industry can effectively leverage their internal brand to proactively shape the experience they deliver.

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