How's Your Internal Brand Doing?
By Jennifer Welsh, Founder of CultureOps
Surely you’ve poured a lot of thought into your external brand, to attract target customers and forge desirable partnerships. You’ve agonized over your logo and your web design, maybe your business cards. You can recite your pitch in your sleep and spout statistics about how your product is changing the world. You’re checking all the proverbial boxes. Now look below the surface. How’s your internal brand coming along?
If you’re not sure, have no fear. I designed a guide, Food For Thought, to help you assess your culture and steer your ship more strategically.
A recent article analyzed Meghan Markle’s behavior as she and Prince Harry drove off after their wedding. “She’s a keeper” it said, because she leaned over to unlock his door after she got into the car first. That’s not a real measuring tool for marital potential, but subtleties are good indicators of mindset, no doubt. Little things can be a pretty good peek around the corner.
I once worked for a company where the CEO parked his Tesla at the front door of the office every day, in the spot clearly marked “Visitor Parking.” Everyone knew not to park there and who drove the car. They had to walk by the Tesla each morning to get into the office. That not-so-subtle behavior sent a clear message to the team, daily. I can’t imagine what the boss was thinking doing that, but I know what everyone else was.
How about executives who overtake conference rooms when others have booked them? Employees have to navigate the work day knowing if higher-ups need a room, they’ll be displaced on a whim. Scramble, underlings. Message received.
Practice What You Preach
These are the same leaders who will tout recruiting as a top priority. We’ll only hire the best! To promote such priorities, spend copious efforts fishing out in the big vast sea, and celebrate the offer letters, only to flex hierarchical muscles once they’re in the door — It goes against everything you sold during the recruiting process. It presumably goes against the values your employees are expected to embrace. These smart people you hired, well… they’re smart. They’re picking up what you’re putting down.
Your team deserves the same respect you extend to investors, customers, and heck — your friends. Whether your company evangelizes “respect” as a value or not, everyone knows it’s a two-way street. If you expect to lead a group to big wins, they have to feel valued and appreciated, at a very bare minimum, to give you their best.
If you’re guilty, operating blissfully unaware of the messages you’ve been sending, you might be surrounded by yes people. That’s a different topic entirely (more on that later), but I encourage you to consider it. I shouldn’t be the first person raising this to your attention.
Executive notions of self-importance are the antithesis of inspiring leadership
Leadership teams need to start thinking of employees as another category of customer, a relationship worthy of maintenance and planful nurturing. The recruiting landscape is more competitive than ever, and today’s pool of talent has a low tolerance for bullshit. Undervalued employees will pack up to take their talents over to your competitors and leave you a parting zinger on Glassdoor.
You made all the recruiting efforts, and these people passed your litmus test. Now treat them like the respectable, smart people they are. You hired them because you need them, right?
You’re in control of your own reputation (Glassdoor Destiny)
Here’s some good news. If you’ve behaved poorly, you’re not alone. The pressures of new startup navigation make people behave in strange ways. But now that you’re cognizant of it, you can be better. There’s nowhere to go but up. Forging ahead, any non-wtf behavior will be warmly welcomed by your team, and they’ll notice your change. They’ll probably start delivering better results. It’s all connected. Lots of low hanging fruit for you.
If you’re already treating employees with respect and appreciation, don’t ever change. Take stock of that personal attribute and seek it out in leaders you hire. Sprinkle that magic around like fairy dust, and keep it alive.
That diatribe about wasn’t meant to shame anyone or call out bad behavior. Well it sort of was. But really, it was meant to highlight the fact that seemingly innocuous actions at the leadership level do indeed shape company cultures. Subtle behaviors impact the mindset across an organization and illustrate what’s acceptable in a company setting.
The self-righteous CEO isn’t trying to insult his workforce. He’s not trying to hire people and then treat them badly. He’s just not thinking about it the way I am. Maybe he’s thinking of company culture as the perks and benefits and beer on Fridays, and we have a running club now. What a great culture we have! But perks and benefits don’t really equal culture.
Many startups fall flat on their faces when it comes to walking the walk internally
You can’t be a healthcare company and say everyone deserves access to doctors and medicine and then offer lousy employee benefits. You can’t sell a cutting-edge technology product and be riddled with outdated software internally that make the employee experience frustrating.
You have to practice what you preach to build employee loyalty and retain your top performers. You have to be the living example of your mission and values internally, when your customers aren’t looking. Because your employees are always looking.
The same ambitious consideration you’ve given your external brand should be applied to your internal efforts
You’ve defined your company values and it’s time to put them to work. What kind of employees are you trying to attract? How should visitors, candidates, and employees feel when they’re in your office or interacting with your team? What do you want your team’s journey to feel like? What do you want them to write on Glassdoor?
With thoughtful design, you can be the author of a great story. But without intention, an internal company culture will manifest on its own. It’s all within your control. Don’t wait until attrition is through the roof or you have poor reviews online to pay attention.
I assess and define company culture in three high-level buckets.
Consider which levers you can pull to make improvements in your organization.
1. What is the physical space you create for your team?
2. What is the emotional space you create for your team?
3. How do you operate within those physical and emotional spaces you create?
I hope you’re inspired to plan for an intentional company culture that attracts the right partners and retains your top talent. If you’re ready to explore these three culture buckets for your organization, check out my guide to help you get started. It will give you some good things to consider and actionable suggestions to impact change. And because we’re all on a budget, most of these suggestions are 100% free to implement. As they say, the best things in life are free :)