Brand culture is always top-of-mind for the most successful and innovative CEOs and senior leadership. In fact, some CEOs like to call themselves the Chief Culture Officer; and that is a worthy goal. Brand culture is a process, not a project. Projects end while culture processes must live in perpetuity. By default, or by design, every notable brand has an active culture, each with a preponderance of positive and negative beliefs and behaviors, with average brands existing somewhere in between. Creating a very special humanistic culture that delivers consistent high performance from headquarters to the front-line seems like an unattainable goal to many senior executives, especially at large brands. Many see a false trade-off between high humanity and high performance. Like Uber’s culture, a culture can be toxic, and drown many good people in its wake. If the toxicity is allowed to flourish, enough negative factors will converge to take the brand down with it. It remains to be seen how Uber will fare. One thing is certain: until Uber creates a socially responsible and ethical culture that delivers fair value for all of the members of its ecosystem, its full potential will never be achieved. This applies to every brand, in all types of industries.
Brand culture is hard. It is much like the messy process of planting, watering, nurturing and growing a garden. It is an imperfect, complex and continuous process that involves humans with unique minds, emotions and behaviors. Most brand culture processes fail, but they can succeed with clarity, focus and effort. Luxury Institute’s major work today is to help brands achieve lasting, scalable, socially responsible and ethical cultural transformation that also results in significant increases in economic value. It is difficult and skilled work, and usually the failure is attributable to one, or more, of the five critical reasons below:
1: Leaders fail to live the culture
The perspective that many leaders and senior managers take is that the brand culture process is for the underlings, thus, making senior executives exempt. Many well-intentioned leaders try to passionately inspire employees to adopt the brand culture while direly failing to practice the values and behaviors upon which that culture is based. It’s not a question of leaders behaving badly. It’s a question of whether leaders are behaving nobly, purposefully, and with deliberate thought. The number one reason brand culture processes collapse is the failure of the leaders to embody the culture that they so fervently promote. Once it becomes obvious to employees and constituents that leaders are exempt, your process has zero chance of success.
2: Brands mistakenly focus on business skills rather than life skills
Most brand executives and consultants believe that each adult worker lives two separate and distinct lives, their business life and their personal life. This ‘split-lives’ belief is often an unconscious belief. Reality is that this bi-polar approach to business is behind many of the toxic behaviors that good human beings are encouraged to exhibit at work. Many employees exhibit negative behaviors at work that they would never manifest with their loved ones at home. Brands must initiate the brand culture process by helping each employee to identify and reflect upon their own unique life purpose, their good morals and values, and how they can live these passionately and fearlessly at work daily along with executing their domain expertise. Then, help them align those great human elements with how they need to behave at work. When individuals see how they benefit emotionally and financially from living a virtuous brand culture, they embrace it and practice it daily.
Brand culture processes often include a large number of mind-numbing concepts. For example, if you want to teach the mastery of Emotional Intelligence skills to all of your employees, many human resources executives try to teach and test for 20 complicated core competencies that the employees will never remember, never mind live up to. Luxury Institute, through consumer and employee research, and by leveraging the expertise of world-class neuroscientists and psychologists, has distilled E.I. into four easy-to-remember and easy-to-practice elements that employees learn to master: expertise, deep empathy, trustworthiness and generosity. When workers inject these simple powerful elements into every peer, customer or partner interaction, great results happen. In business, just as in science, simple beats complicated every time.
4: Human Resources assumes that training and certification are enough
Once the core elements of the brand culture process are defined, employees are requested to take the brand culture online education courses that help them master the brand mission, values, and behaviors. They are then tested and certified online. At best, the brand values are then placed into their annual objectives, leaving employees on their own with regard to daily implementation. The senior managers leave it up to every employee to manifest the new culture elements without any kind of daily support. Managers need to understand that learning and certification are the beginning of the beginning when it comes to the brand culture process. The mental and behavioral reminders, conditioning and reinforcement steps beyond these two initial steps are the most important ingredients to success.
5: Lack of daily self-awareness, measurement, practice, and feedback
Brand culture is a way of life. The reality is that when it comes to brand culture, you must treat the process like an elite professional sport. Employees must be treated, and treat themselves, as elite mental athletes. The elements of the brand culture must be taught, learned, practiced, measured and coached daily. In professional sports, and in any high-stakes, serious profession such as aviation, music, or surgery, no individual or team would ever forego continuous practice, measurement, coaching and feedback sessions to be more aware of their performance. They would be seen as incompetent, even reckless, if they did. Not in the corporate world. In the corporate world, even today, anyone who takes daily time to focus and practice in advance of a critical meeting, measures their own behaviors vs. outcomes as well as their emotions, and, better yet, provide themselves with objective feedback to improve, is seen as a time waster, or worse. Employees who use a structure to achieve personal self-mastery and truly skilled coaching and feedback from managers are seen as odd complainers. That myopic corporate mentality must be reversed. Managers must stop managing and transform themselves into skilled master coaches who help lead employees to mastery, and employees must, in turn, invest in themselves daily. Without the belief of the people and those profound high-performance reinforcement steps the brand culture process will fail.
“Many executives often quote Peter Drucker in that ‘Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast,'” said Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute and EIX. “This simply means that regardless of your grand business strategy, what is truly achieved is based on a core set of ethical, socially responsible beliefs and behaviors that your employees embrace, practice, measure and live daily. Today’s leaders need to step up and demonstrate that they are masters of the brand culture, and create the conditions for all associates to become masters of the brand culture too.”
This paper was written by Milton Pedraza, Luxury Institute and EIX CEO. For more information and additional insights visit www.LuxuryInstitute.com, or contact Milton Pedraza directly with questions (firstname.lastname@example.org).