Is your organizational culture in sync with your brand?

How to determine if your organizational culture is building your brand

Ashley Konson,
Posted on August 30, 2013

Nurturing an organizational culture where employees live the passion of the brand is one of the crucial tasks on which a leadership team must focus its efforts to build a strong brand and business. When the culture of an organization is coherent with the brand’s purpose and values it becomes the “glue” for unifying the efforts of the organization behind the brand to win in the marketplace.

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Is your organizational culture helping to build your brand? If you’re like many leadership teams you may not know and you are probably not taking explicit steps to ensure that it is. This can be overcome by engaging a brand strategy professional to conduct an audit of your organizational culture to discern your company’s current situation and to recommend appropriate strategies for this purpose.[1]

What is organizational culture?

Schien’s widely used definition of organizational culture provides a robust starting point for an explanation of the methodology a strategist is likely to use in this type of analysis:

Organizational culture is the pattern of basic assumptions that a given group has invented, discovered or developed in learning to cope with the problems of external adaptation and internal integration and have worked well enough to be considered valid, and therefore to be taught to new members as correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems. [2]

According to Schien, organizational culture can be analyzed at three different levels to determine if it is coherent with the brand’s purpose and values:

  • Visible artifacts—represents the most tangible manifestation of organizational culture
  • Values—provides insight into why employees behave in a specific manner
  • Basic assumptions—reveals the factors influencing behaviour that may not be readily surfaced by interrogating values

Gleaning clues from visible artifacts

Although artifacts are sometimes the most visible and tangible elements of organizational culture, it can be challenging to draw conclusions about employees’ behaviour by mere observation. This is because the observed artifacts aren’t necessarily the result of a thoughtfully conceived strategy by the brand’s leadership team for influencing and reflecting the desired employee behavior.

Artifacts that might provide clues about organizational culture include:

  • The nature of the brand’s products and services
  • The name, logo, and other branding elements
  • The documentation of a company such as recruiting, on-boarding, and training literature
  • The architecture, location, and physical layout of the company’s offices
  • The style of employee’s dress
  • The existence and purpose of company celebrations, rites and rituals
  • The tone and style of language used by the company and its employees
  • The daily norms of employee behavior
  • The existence and rationale for “hero” stories in planned company communications such as advertisements and, more informally, in the personal communications of the leadership team, managers, and long-term employees

Deciphering the organization’s values

Values are the second level of an organizational culture that can be audited. An understanding of organizational values will provide clues why employees behave in a specific manner.

One definition of values that I find helpful in explaining this concept is:

A value is an enduring belief that a specific mode of conduct or end-state of existence is personally or socially preferable to an opposite or converse mode of conduct or end-state of existence. [3]

The primary challenge is to distinguish between espoused values—those that might be exhorted in company literature and verbally by the leadership team and employees because they are seen to be desirable but which are not practiced in a rigorous fashion—from the actual values that drive the daily actions and behavior of the organization’s employees.

Two techniques for identifying an organization’s values include: The Mars Group method and the Laddering method.[4] Both have found support in academic and business literature and practice.

In The Mars Group method the leadership team is asked to identify the best candidates for re-creating the very best of their brand on the planet Mars, given a scenario where space technology has advanced sufficiently to enable human life to flourish there. These key employees must be exemplars of the desired organizational culture. The strategist then facilitates a series of one-on-one and group interviews to solicit the actual values of these employees.

In the Laddering technique (sometimes referred to as The Five Whys technique) the strategist will work one-on-one with members of the team to identify their views on the key attributes of the brand and the personal values they believe are being reinforced by these attributes for the brand’s customers. The strategist achieves this through querying the responses provided by each person at least five times with some version of the question, “Why do you believe that to be important?”

Revealing employees basic assumptions

Basic assumptions are the generally accepted schema or rules that employees have invented, discovered, or developed over time to help them feel they are making sense of a specific situation facing them, and to predict the outcome of a specific course of action they may undertake in resolving this situation.

For example, in one organization a basic assumption about brand building  might be: “Nurturing an organizational culture where employees live the passion of the brand is one of the crucial tasks on which a leadership team must focus its efforts to build a strong brand and business.”

In another organization the basic assumption about brand building might be: “Brand communications and new product development are the two crucial tasks a leadership team must focus its efforts on to build a strong brand and business.”

By digging into the assumptions held by an organization’s management team and employees a strategist can learn a lot about the underlying beliefs that inform the culture of an organization.

By adding these insights to those gleaned from the interrogation of the organization’s visible artifacts and its values, a brand strategy professional will be able to ascertain to what extent your organization’s culture acts as a catalyst for building your brand in the marketplace, and if found wanting to recommend appropriate strategies for this purpose.

If you are wondering about the leverage your organizational culture is providing for your brand, then it’s time to hire a brand strategist to audit your organizational culture and recommend appropriate strategies for this purpose.

[1] de Chernatony, Leslie. (2006) From Brand Vision to Brand Evaluation. 2nd EditionOxford: Elsivier Ltd.

[2] Schien, E. (1984). Coming to new awareness of organizational culture. Sloan Management Review, Winter, 3-16.

[3] Rokeach, M. (1973)The Nature of Human Values. New York: The Free Press

[4] Collins, J. and Porras, J.(1996). Built to Last. London: Century.

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2 Comments to “Is your organizational culture in sync with your brand?”

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