How to Address Brand & Culture Issues in the Workplace
With turnover rates expected to continue increasing, solving recruitment and retention issues is essential.
Laura Bowser, Managing Director of Fahrenheit’s Human Capital Consulting Practice, and Kelly O’Keefe, Co-founder and Managing Partner of Brand Federation, continue their conversation about how an organization’s brand and culture can help – or hinder – recruitment and retention efforts.
In part one of their chat, Laura and Kelly explored the warning signs of a failing brand and culture. Here in part two of their Q&A, they discuss how to revitalize a flagging brand and culture.
This thought-provoking conversation between Laura and Kelly, experts on what keeps organizations and their people inspired, will help leaders better navigate the turbulence of the post-pandemic workplace.
Laura Bowser & Kelly O’Keefe Q&A
Q: How should companies think about brand and culture with recruitment and retention efforts?
LAURA: If your culture is strong enough, your people are your greatest recruiters. That is not the norm for many organizations, and leaders cannot force it. If you know what you’re good at and what you’re bad at, you can have an honest conversation with people. And that honest conversation goes far with retention. It also goes far with recruitment because people see you as being authentic. You would rather a possible recruit say, “Yeah, company X isn’t the coolest company, but I really like that they own this.” Building trust becomes part of your culture and brand.
What is vitally important is being truthful on job descriptions and during the interview process about where you are in the culture journey and where you want to get better. Invite people in to be part of the journey. If you’re interviewing a person and you know your company lacks in a particular area, tell them — and then say, “I’m looking forward to you helping bring a solution to this.” Invite them into solving that problem and creating a stronger brand. That moves the needle. Don’t hide it. Lean into it.
KELLY: That’s right. And you want to celebrate it because it’s a source of employee pride. Part of a good branding effort is figuring out what you do exceptionally well and why that thing you do matters. If you’re thinking about a company that produces software: What does it empower people to do? And why is that important? Or why do people need to do that? And when they do that thing, how are we better off? That lets employees realize, “Oh, I just did this one thing at work, but now I see how that one thing at work contributes to accomplishing something important.” We always like to turn the brand into as much of a celebration as possible with sharing out — always to employees before we ever share externally, always inside first.
Q: How can leaders of small to mid-size companies align brand and culture?
LAURA: Be intentional and set the tone. When I talk to entrepreneurs, I always say your first ten hires will be your culture, so bringing them on requires more than an interview. You need to hang out with them, get dinner with them, go on a trip, and figure out who they are so you know they live the values you want your organization to represent. People then tend to draw in others that share those values. It’s a branding exercise, too. If you know the type of people you want to attract, put it on the website, job descriptions, employee handbook, and collateral.
If you’re in a fast growth situation and don’t necessarily have the brand or culture you want, starting to do the work and being intentional about it is the only way forward. It will be a bit painful — if it’s not, you’re not doing it right.
KELLY: I would only add that, in general, you want to evolve a culture rather than have wholesale change. You have a culture, whether you’re aware of it or not. And once you become aware of it, you’ll find that most of its aspects, if the business is successful, point to the path forward. Some parts may need to evolve, and we can improve them often by aligning them even better to those things that are working.
What you never want to do is change the thing that’s working super-well for you. I always tell clients that part of our work is to identify what should change tomorrow and what should never change as long as their company stays in business. That’s the heart of the work to evolve cultures.
LAURA: I agree. Before we do any educational work or transformational work, or coaching, we say, “Let’s figure out what isn’t broken,” because they already have a problem. The last thing you want is to break something worse than it already is. And you don’t want to reinvent the wheel when you don’t have to because everyone has some elements that work.
Q: Is there an interval at which companies should be reviewing brand and culture for alignment?
LAURA: Culturally, you should be doing an assessment every year. Your culture includes questions around mission, vision, values, brand, marketing, communications — all of that information. Then you need to look at alignment and ask, “Is our culture living our brand? Our purpose — are we there?” And if there are gaps, then you need to course correct.
KELLY: The same is valid for brand. I like to do a brand tracker annually, but let me caution here: I don’t want the brand to change annually. And nobody wants culture to change annually. Often when we’re called in because somebody has a problem with a brand or culture, it’s because they keep flip-flopping every time the CEO reads a new book. And so they have this inconsistent culture that’s constantly changing, and they can’t keep up with it.
It’s much better to say: “Here’s what we stand for. We’re going to stand for it tomorrow. We’re going to stand for it for years. If you love this, you’re with us. If you hate this, see you later, but this is what we’re all about. Now, our products will change. Our services will evolve, but we’ll never stop being this.” So yes, you want to measure it regularly, fine-tune it regularly, and constantly improve it — but you don’t want to change it that often.
Q: How can companies with a strong brand and culture ensure they’re leveraging that strength to maximize their recruitment and retention efforts?
LAURA: If a company has a strong brand and culture but struggles to recruit, odds are there’s a system or process issue. Speed and ease of process are critical factors in getting talent in the door. Even if the company is amazing, talent will go elsewhere if the recruitment process is convoluted or outdated. Companies need clarity around the roles they’re looking to fill and smooth technology/ATS systems to ensure the process moves quickly and equitably. They must be actively communicating with the candidate throughout the entire process. As far as retention is concerned, to maintain a strong brand and culture, an organization must be tracking consistently with the needs of their consumers and employees. Constant feedback is key to sustainability.
KELLY: Even the strongest cultures can become stale or derailed. Circuit City was in the book Good to Great. Ukrop’s, a beloved Richmond grocery chain, ultimately stalled in its growth. Starbucks has recalled its president from retirement —twice! When bad things happen to great companies, they can be at risk. Whenever there are signs of weakness, there’s an opportunity for listening, learning, and taking action.
Q: When addressing recruitment and retention challenges by strengthening brand and culture, how long does it take to see an impact?
LAURA: It’s like turning an ocean liner. It takes time. But if you put it off, it’s never going to happen. It also depends on what industry you’re in and what your history is. If you’ve been around for 200 years and suddenly decide you want to change your culture, that’s a very different thing than if you’ve been around for five years and decided to change.
KELLY: There is some very near-term benefit. A very near-term advantage is a diagnosis. Many organizations have had issues for a long time, and they’ve tried this or tried that, but they’ve never accurately diagnosed the source of the problem. And it’s just like with a medical issue. You can’t figure out why you’re feeling poorly, and as soon as somebody tells you, at least now you know. Diagnosis is halfway home. It doesn’t mean that the other half is easy. And it takes a long time, especially with culture change. But if you accurately know what the issues are, you can immediately stop making the problem worse. You’ll stop doing the dumb stuff that gets in your way. That only makes things worse, and you’ll be able to begin. And that to me is incredibly helpful.
Q: What can companies do NOW to improve recruitment and retention through the lens of brand and culture?
LAURA: Given that there are currently more jobs than there are people, companies can begin nurturing and actively developing culture and brand ambassadors. Employee referrals can become a huge differentiator in this market. One way to cultivate this is to have employees consistently do something to contribute to employer branding and the culture. This is why having ERGs, Employee Resource Groups, is essential. These groups should be integral to developing the organization’s culture and strategy and an extension of the company’s marketing team.
KELLY: We’re working with a company to help them understand that appreciation is a currency, just like money. The key is to show appreciation for individuals’ efforts and the work’s ultimate impact. Remind them their work is meaningful and fulfilling. It takes listening, learning, and openly sharing appreciation. These are difficult things to do when we’re all busy, but the best brands know it’s worth the work.
Contact us to strengthen your brand and culture for more effective recruitment and retention.