One of the most critical factors in the design of businesses* is the role of the brand, and, more importantly, the promise of the brand. “Brand” is short-hand for the first impression that comes to a person’s mind when they hear the company’s name or see its logo: highest value, lowest cost, leading edge, most luxurious, simplest, best, cleanest, healthiest or whatever value proposition is most appropriate for a particular brand promise.

* Businesses

Managing the brand is more than a menial task for the marketing department. It must be job one for the executive team. Since the days of barter and trade those who accurately and consistently set the consumer’s expectations have positioned themselves for long-term success. Today, in the age of rapidly expanding globalization of all businesses—large and small—the promise of the brand is even more important to consumers.

I’ve been thinking about the success of the recently concluded Mad Men series, which I touched on in my last post. Many of us believe that corporate culture has evolved from the era of shallow ad slogans and insincere value propositions, not to mention three-martini lunches and excessive “client entertainment” bordering on the obscene. But as someone who has been around long enough to remember the Mad Men times first hand, I can tell you that many companies today still have plenty in common with the era of slick ad campaigns and exploitative business practices. Why? They haven’t learned the importance of “walking the walk” versus simply “talking the talk.”

Hence, the biggest change in Endurant’s 5.0 business design methodology is increased focus on the growing role culture plays in creating and sustaining the next generation of businesses.

Organizations that can compete—and win—in the 21st century must be built on a foundation that includes:

  • A corporate commitment to give back to the community;
  • Business processes that are performed with a personal touch;
  • A workforce that is engaged with the business leaders;
  • A “partnership-like” relationship with key vendors that reinforces the values of the business; and, most importantly,
  • Delivering a customer experience that all of the company’s stakeholders (customers, employees, communities, and suppliers) are proud to be a part of.

In an engaged organization, we know the marketing manager’s job doesn’t end with a catchy message or logo that appeals to the customer. In an engaged organization, messages must resonate with customers and, equally as importantly, with its employees and suppliers. Company leaders must line up their words and actions with the marketing messages, which, in turn, has a big impact on the acts and behaviors of employees. If leaders are not authentic or do not sincerely believe in their company’s mission, vision and brand promise, they will be seen as superficial. And employees soon will be exaggerating the leader’s insincerity. Even worse, the entire organization will be seen as insincere by its stakeholders.

In an engaged organization, culture is tightly linked with the promise of the brand and the brand is tightly linked with the organization’s culture. Over time corporate culture and the promise of the brand become one. To accomplish this, leaders must evoke the passion of employees, suppliers and customers.

The secret sauce of developing an “engaged” work force—no matter if employees number in the tens, hundreds or thousands—is an authentic culture. Bill George’s two books, True North and Authentic Leadership, provide great insight into the framework for engaged organizations to be successful in the 21st century.

This new style of business is important because a new wave of change is upon us. Not only do consumers expect companies to operate in ways that are transparent, they demand that the companies they support treat people and the environment carefully and respectfully. They expect companies to give back and do the right thing. And, like the children of those morally corrupt ‘60s era executives, they are instantly prepared to tell the world when companies fail to live up to their obligations.

Consumers, employees and even principled shareholders with access to social media platforms are like the hippies of yore – except instead of waving protest signs in the streets they are tweeting, posting and blogging around the world every time the powers that be fail to live up to expectations.

While many waved off the hippies as a passing fad, history tells us that they stopped a war, started the environmental movement and defined a generation. I wonder what their modern-day social media engaged children and grandchildren might do to the businesses that fail to recognize the power of doing good and the weaknesses of greed.

Endurant Endnote:

What is corporate culture? Corporate culture is the reflection of the corporate leaders’ values, words and behaviors expressed in the values, words and behaviors of the company’s stakeholders. Authentic cultures are based on authentic leaders and they are priceless in a global business world possessing instant access to social media communication tools. How do you know what kind of culture is driving a particular organization? You ask its stakeholders: that is where the truth always can be found.


Next time: The Engaged Business