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How to Build a Thriving Company Culture

5 minute read
Ted Vaughn avatar
How can you swim against the tide and be proactive in building a healthy company culture that becomes your brand’s greatest advantage?

In today’s fast-moving world, where speed and innovation are crucial competencies for survival, company culture is either the wind in your sails or the anchor slowing you down.

While most senior leaders grasp this concept, reality would suggest that most companies are not moving the needle fast enough to keep pace with post-pandemic workplace trends.

According to a report released by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in September 2021:

  • Awareness isn’t the issue.
    • 94% of managers said a positive culture creates more effective and resilient employees.
  • Gaps in perspective are significant.
    • Nearly three-quarters (72%) of executives believe their company culture improved during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to only 14% of working Americans.
  • The pace of change is fatiguing.
    • Over 60% of HR professionals said it has been extremely difficult to sustain a healthy company culture during the pandemic.

So how can you swim against the tide and be proactive in building a healthy company culture that becomes your brand’s greatest advantage?

Build a Marquee Culture

Whether you like it or not, your people are the bright marquee sign above your brand making a loud and clear statement about what your company truly values.

Imagine having a company culture that:

  • Equips staff to consistently deliver on your brand promise.
  • Engages employees and turns them into your greatest advocates.
  • Aligns internal systems and empowers the staff they’re designed to support.

This is a “Marquee Culture,” an inside-out alignment of brand and culture that builds advocacy, delivers on your brand promise and makes tribes of followers by creating irresistible branded experiences for employees and customers. This is how top consumer brands like Southwest, Netflix and Apple have sustained growth and scale.

Related Article: Your Next Pandemic Priority: Strengthening Company Culture

The 6 Layers of a Marquee Culture

Building a Marquee Culture begins by aligning the six layers of company culture with your unique brand value and promise so that your people become brand ambassadors who turn every customer touch point into a genuine and compelling on-brand experience.

Let’s unpack each layer of Marquee Culture.

1. Principles

Principles are the specific behaviors that shape the internal and external brand experience.

Most brands have some form of guiding values. But all too often, those values are abstract and dangerously vague. They function more like belief systems than behavior-shaping statements informing the decisions your people make.

If your values are abstract and unclear, create principles — specific behaviors that clarify how you expect your staff to live out your brand.

2. Architecture

Architecture includes the systems and structures that support staff and shape internal operations.

In some organizations, people operate in ways that are antithetical to the brand they’re meant to support. For instance, the brand may have a core value about “caring for people.” If that value hasn’t been instilled and operationalized into the organizational systems and structures (such as in supervision, compensation, and so on), employees will not experience the care their brand says it champions. This absence of care can deepen employee cynicism and eventually trickle into the customer experience.

3. Rituals

Rituals are recurring employee activities that build positive energy and reinforce brand values. Rituals can be led by leaders and include things such as all-staff activities. The best rituals, however, are organically driven by employees, developing from within the organization.

A great example is NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. Every October, the staff use their own time and resources to pull off an over-the-top pumpkin carving contest. It’s an employee-led activity that gives engineers the chance to apply their rocket-building skills to something fun and unconventional.

Learning Opportunities

Identify the employee-led activities already in motion that reflect your values, then fan the flame of these brand rituals. And remember: support does not mean control.

4. Lore

Every organization has a handful of stories that either build up or tear down the brand from the inside out.

One organization we worked with had the unofficial mantra, “You’re just a plane ride away from losing your job.” Whenever the CEO went on a business trip, employees were afraid he’d offer their job to the person sitting next to him on the plane. This had happened only a couple of times, but the lore highlighted the organization’s competitive and borderline toxic culture.

But lore can also be positive or neutral. Your role as a leader is to know which stories are making the rounds and tell the ones that shape your desired culture.

Listen to stories people are telling, and then proactively share those that elevate your principles and showcase your brand’s differentiation.

5. Vocabulary

“Words create worlds,” said Rabbi Abraham Heschel. Vocabulary includes words and phrases that carry specific meaning in your organization. Your vocabulary shouldn’t be a long list of gimmicky terms but should reflect your values, principles and other layers of Marquee Culture. All you need is a handful of sticky words and phrases that help your people understand what matters most in your organization.

Take stock of your vocabulary, and eliminate words that aren’t supporting your brand’s success. Identify words and phrases that will help your people remember the key concepts driving your brand. Use them often to embed them into your vocabulary.

6. Artifacts

Artifacts are the layer of culture everyone sees — the tangible objects your people can touch and the spaces where they work.

Swag is great, but it rarely shapes your culture as artifacts should. An artifact points back to your brand, creating value for your staff and reminding them of your principles.

At Keap, a CRM and marketing automation company, there’s an artificial turf football field in the middle of the building. This physical asset reminds employees that they win together by working as a team.

Whether simple or involved, customize and design your artifacts to resonate with your team and engage them with your brand.

By aligning these six layers into a Marquee Culture, you’ll create brilliant on-brand experiences inside and out.

About the author

Ted Vaughn

Ted Vaughn is the co-founder of Historic Agency where he leads client transformation and specializes in executive leadership, brand development and strategic clarity. Ted has served hundreds of for-profit and nonprofit brands.

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