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Kevin & Jackie Freiberg

Branded the BEST, Part I

6 Strategies for Building a Branded BEST Culture

woman handstandWhat if your company had a reputation for being the BEST PLACE where the BEST PEOPLE could do their BEST WORK? We’re talking serious competitive advantage. We’re talking a branded culture that impacts the bottom line! Your competitors would find it impossible to replicate the esprit de corps and productivity that comes from impassioned employees who proudly and willingly build and own your brand.

In BOOM! we detail the consequences of choice. There is no doubt that individuals choose to be extraordinary and choose to do their best because of a WILL, not a skill—a WILL to do whatever-it-takes with limited, and in some cases, NO resources! They WILL to make a difference even in the midst of uncertainty. And when people exercise their will, they offer extraordinary contributions that add great value to the business. When people are reminded of this simple truth, it is far more likely they will assume responsibility, own the brand, do whatever-it-takes to drive the business in the RIGHT direction, and add great value to the bottom line.

Perhaps it’s time for a subtle reminder! In the midst of this crazy uncertainty, business leaders need people (all people) to exercise their will—to check-in and be accountable. Unfortunately this is absolutely contrary to what many people are doing. Because of all the uncertainty and pending layoffs in many industries, people are psychologically checking-OUT at a time when they need to exercise their will and check-IN more so than ever.

After the news of another 600,000 jobs lost in January, we have a choice! We can check-out, hide, and hope we don’t add to the losses; or we can choose to check-in. We’ve been studying these so-called “BEST” companies for more than 20 years. We detailed Southwest Airline’s success in NUTS! and then wrote its sequel, GUTS!, highlighting thirty award-winning, BEST companies.

This is what we know—every organization has a culture. Branded BEST cultures are purposeful. Is your company’s culture purposeful or accidental? In branded BEST cultures, people are not hindered by functional boundaries, political BS, turf protection, and silo mindedness. People come to work energized, committed, and accountable to adding value and kicking up innovation. Speed-to-market is a must, not an aspiration. Loyalty is the target—satisfaction doesn’t cut it! Does your business have a reputation for these things? Is your company or your team “willing” and dedicated to becoming more recession proof? Are you committed to building an environment where the best people can do their best work? You don’t have to be a leader to take this on; uncertainty requires everyone to play BIG and do their BEST.

Building the BEST PLACE where the BEST PEOPLE can do their BEST WORK means inviting people to check-in and become a brand ambassador for the culture. Companies with branded, enduring cultures consider culture a strategic priority and a competitive advantage. Branded cultures are famous for being extraordinary magnets for world-class talent—places where the culture or work environment is as well known as the company’s products and services. These are also places where people freely and willingly act like they own the business and the brand.

Detailed below are the first three of six strategies to help you build a branded, purposeful culture where the best people WANT to work and are WILLING to do their BEST.

Define Your Business as a Noble or Heroic Cause

What’s the difference between contagious enthusiasm and Dead People Working™? What lies at the heart of true, substantive, and sustained motivation? What motivates people to do their best? What causes them to dedicate the totality of who they are—heart, mind, and soul—to the success of the business? People must be moved internally; they must be drawn to something bigger than the job itself. When people find the passion and discover the heroism and nobility in their work, ordinary people are far more willing to do extraordinary work.

As an example, the people of Southwest Airlines are intellectually and emotionally committed to their legendary cause, “The Business of Freedom.” Everyone who works for the company fully understands that they give people, ordinary people, the freedom to go places and see and do things because Southwest Airlines democratized the skies by making flying more affordable! Ramp and Operations agents know it, flight attendants know it, reservations agents know it, and executives know it too because the company reminds them of it frequently. The cause (Freedom to Fly) is deeply rooted in the history, the marketing, internal communications, hiring, on boarding, and in all the training and development at Southwest Airlines. When you become a Southwest Airlines employee, you become a freedom fighter!

Every job can be described as trivial or noble. What’s HEROIC about what you do? People who see how their individual contributions link to a larger, more heroic and noble cause find more meaning and significance in their work. This sense of heroism inspires in them a drive to succeed, a will to win, and a deep-seated passion for the customer that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen!

When a flight crew notices that the same tired, young women always boards an early Monday morning flight from Las Vegas to San Diego and buries her head in a stack of law books during the flight, they can’t help but ask, “Why?” In her answer, they are reminded of the cause. Southwest’s frequent flights, on-time performance, and affordable fares give this young woman the freedom to live and work in Vegas and commute to San Diego every week to complete a law degree from the University of San Diego.

Creating a branded culture is about being the kind of leader, the kind of person, who can see beyond the job itself and discover the ultimate value your job brings to the world—it’s about finding the significance in our work every day! It’s one thing to simply serve peanuts and hot coffee to some sleepy travelers on an early-morning flight. Yet, the job takes on so much more when you look for and experience the freedom your role, your company, provides so ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things every day. Competitors will find it very difficult to replicate the unparalleled pride and esprit de corps that comes from employees who see their work in terms of a cause, not just a job. Here are some questions to consider as you identify and deeply root the cause behind your business:

  • How are you defining the cause/heroism in your business?
  • What can you do to remind people of it every day?
  • How can you use your internal communications to promote it?
  • Is it a tag line on your business cards, letterhead, or home page?
  • Does your on-boarding process promote it?
  • What stories can you tell that speak to the value/the heroism in the business?
  • Are your recognition and reward programs linked to the cause?
  • Do your marketing materials speak to the cause?
  • Does your service philosophy promote the cause?

Decide What You Want to be Known For—Create a Compelling Vision

What brand are you building? What would it look like if your culture were branded as an extraordinary magnet for world-class talent? The best people, talented, bright, and self-motivated—the kind it takes to build a branded, legendary culture—want to know what the organization stands for. They want to know where it’s going and how they fit into the larger picture. That assumes there is a larger picture! To put it simply, a vision is a word picture of the results you want to create. When the picture is clear, people develop a sense of direction and purpose. People become more confident, more willing to take risks, and more willing to take action because the boundaries established by the vision are clear. With a compelling vision, people are better able to determine their high-leverage tasks. They can say NO to urgent, but unimportant things because of a bigger, more important YES. When people are focused on critical tasks that align with realizing a clear and compelling vision—busyness is replaced with purposeful actions that drive bottom-line results. Here are some things to consider as you create a compelling vision:

  • What are the results you want to create?
  • Keep it simple, compelling, and easy to understand (at an 8th grade level).
  • Communicate the vision or word picture like crazy, over and over again.
  • Measure, reward, recognize, and communicate progress constantly.
  • Make sure everyone at all levels understands how their individual roles and contributions add value and link to realizing the vision and the cause. Clarity is critical.

Hire People Who Don’t SUCK! (the LIFE out of your business)

Branded cultures are rigorous, purposeful, and strategic (did we say rigorous?) about who gets hired. We tell our children all the time, the most important decision you will make in your life is who you choose to marry; do not be hasty, be very careful, choose wisely and well! The person you choose to marry will radically impact the life you live. Hiring should take on that same kind of seriousness, that same kind of attention and care. The people you hire today will determine the culture of your organization tomorrow and well into the future.

Gutsy leaders surround themselves with people who have the right mix of attitude AND skill to do the job well. To create the best place to do the best work, you have to hire the best attitudes and skills for every position. Every position, every environment will require a unique mix of attitude and skill—hiring should never take on a “one size fits all” approach. Think about the kind of attitudes you need to build a culture of action-oriented people who are willing, not afraid, to risk and innovate? What should you look for to build a culture of people who are committed to serving each other and building team unity across functional boundaries and through all the silos? Who are you hiring to build a culture where people are sharing their gifts of humor and light heartedness to make work more fun? You’ve got to be absolutely rigorous about hiring the right attitudes AND skills that align with your vision and values. You must hire people who are already predisposed to protecting and promoting the culture you want to drive your organization.

  • Are you looking for collaborative team players?
  • Are you looking for optimistic, open-minded people?
  • Are you looking for detail-oriented, data-driven thinkers?
  • Are you looking for risk takers?
  • Are you looking for someone with a clever sense of humor?
  • Are you looking for performance-driven, whatever-it-takes managers?
  • Are you looking for multitasking, administrative wonders?

The attitudes and skills you need will change depending upon the job, the culture you are trying to protect and promote, and the team already in place. Download interview questions to help you hire for specific attitudes and skills.

Your “to do” at this point is to select a culture champion (leader), create a culture team, and work together on the three strategies above. Begin growing a team of culture champions (think logo tattooed on their arm) or leaders who are excited about, can communicate passionately and who embody the culture you WANT to grow.

Part 2 of this article contains another 3 strategies to help you continue the journey toward building a branded BEST culture.