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Kevin & Jackie Freiberg

Branded the BEST, Part ll

6 Strategies for Building a Branded BEST Culture

See Part I of this article for the first of the six strategies.

best places to workHow valuable is a highly respected corporate reputation? These days and in this economy, it’s one of the greatest investments and prized assets an organization can claim! With trust in leadership and respect for business at an all time low, the value of a good reputation is at a premium. A branded BEST CULTURE is no longer a “nice” to have—in a down economy, it’s a “must” have. It’s a huge competitive advantage. What determines a reputation? It has a lot to do with behavior and communication. Are your behaviors and communication aligned with your corporate and personal values? Or do your actions reveal something different about what you value?

Below are three more strategies to help you build a branded BEST reputation—a purposeful culture where the best people WANT to work and are WILLING to do their BEST.

Lead by Example—Live Your Values Out Loud

Great leaders understand that it is their capacity to shape values and educate through vivid, living, personal example that ultimately directs the course of an organization. If you want to identify the true character and personality of an organization, skip the values statement that hangs in the lobby and observe the way people act in the mundane, ad hoc, isolated events of every day. THE WALK TALKS! The way people serve customers and co-workers, the way they behave, and their impressions of right and wrong are all influenced by watching the way leaders live out the organization’s values.

The following exercises will help you measure and better align your behaviors with the values you profess. It is certainly not comprehensive, but it’s a good place to start.

How you spend your time. If you want to know what leaders really value, watch the way they allocate time. We spend time on those things that are most important to us. Put yourself to the test! Make a list of the top 5-6 values driving your life and your organization. Then look at your calendar and do a time and content analysis of the way you’ve spent your time over the last 12 months. What does your schedule say to others about what you value? Are the values you profess consistent with how you spend your time?

How you spend your money. Review your personal checkbook and your business expenses. Do an audit of your expenditures. Thoroughly examine spending habits and your allocation of funds. Is it consistent with what you say you value? The way we spend money says a lot about our priorities. If you say the key to your future lies in developing yourself and your people, what percentage of gross revenues do you spend on training, people development, and educational resources? If you say you value innovation, are you funding experiments, continuing education, and benchmarking?

Your reaction to critical incidents. Whether it’s a customer complaint or commendation, how you handle the event sends a message to the people in your organization. When a customer asks your team to go above and beyond the call of duty, how do you respond? When one of your people does something heroic, do you celebrate and publicize their actions?

What you reward and punish. Do you give out generic employee-of-the-month awards or do your awards specifically reinforce the values that are driving your business? Do your incentives promote internal competition or cooperation? When one of your people takes an intelligent risk with the intent to benefit the company and fails, do you reward or punish their effort? When someone who reports to you musters the courage to give you constructive feedback, how do you respond? Are you coachable?

Questions you ask. Do the questions you ask demonstrate your concern for your employees? Do your questions primarily encourage people in your organization to focus on the customer or on the numbers? Your questions reveal a lot about the dominant themes that occupy your mind. Are your questions constructive and solutions oriented or shameful and accusatory? Do you question to learn and promote or challenge and disgrace?

Things you measure. If you believe people are your major point of differentiation, are you as rigorous about measuring their loyalty and commitment as you are about measuring their productivity and financial results? If you believe that a significant part of leadership is serving your internal customers (employees), are those customers given an opportunity to evaluate the quality of the services you provide?

Learn to Tell Your Story—with Passion, Conviction and Good Humor

Great companies drive and sustain culture through the power of their stories. Stories show us what can be done and challenge us to do it better. This is the magic behind the great branded culture of Southwest Airlines. The Southwest people are legendary storytellers. The company understands the benefits of marketing to the public, as well as its own people, through the power of a compelling story.

Every time another story is told about unforgettable customer service, altruistic employees supporting one another, or creative intrapreneurs finding new ways to do more with less, the stories promote Southwest’s legendary culture. Stories empower people with ideas, expand options, inspire action, and show us what great execution looks like. Southwest is a truly great example of the bottom-line benefit of creating a best place culture where the best people are doing their best work. And stories remind them of it every day!

Stories can have an energizing and engaging effect on people, or they can fall flat and SUCK the life right out of people—are your stories DEAD or ALIVE?

Storytelling Exercise

Imagine yourself at a party and someone asks: What do you do? Tell the short-version story of your life, career, company, etc., the way you normally tell it to people you just meet.

What do you notice about the way you tell it? On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest), how would you rate each of the following criteria:

  • Is the story hopeful and optimistic?
  • Does it make you proud and give you energy?
  • Does it make you happy?
  • Is it compelling? Do you think people would want to know more?
  • Is it dead or alive?
  • If you are not happy with the results, shake it up and try something new. Start telling a version that energizes you and makes you come alive!

Develop the habit of doing this with every story you tell YOURSELF. The way you tell stories to yourself will ultimately have an impact on the way you tell stories to others. The way you tell stories to others will have a huge impact on your ability to:

  • Re-engage in your work
  • Make a point
  • Influence people
  • Motivate and inspire others
  • Create a following
  • Get amazing things done

Start a blog and brag about co-workers, projects, and innovations—about any great things that are going on inside your business or in your department. With all the DEAD and depressing stories in the media, we could all benefit from more good news and cool stories that inspire us to rise to the occasion!

YES-fast —Free People to Get It Done

Branded cultures have a bias for action. People strive to get to “YES” fast! YES-fast cultures breed shakers and movers who are not interested in the politics and formality of playing to titles. YES-fast cultures are filled with people who are not big on planning to plan. When things are simple, people can move fast. This raises their level of satisfaction because speed is exhilarating. When things are unnecessarily complex and slow, people get bogged down, bored, and hopeless. In NO-slow, bureaucratic cultures, enthusiasm goes out the door—your best people leave, and the mediocre busy themselves with activities that don’t add value. YES-fast cultures reward speed, celebrate simplicity, and applaud efficiency. Branded YES-fast cultures free people to do what’s right for the company and its customers. It’s about motivating people to do and be their best by expanding their capabilities to get things done.

At the end of the workday, people go home either feeling energetic or lethargic depending on how many obstacles they’ve encountered. What causes the obstacles? What keeps your employees from moving with speed and agility? What makes it difficult for them to serve customers? What frustrates them? If the answers lie in your systems and structures, then redesign, modify, or adjust them. Make everything simple and enabling, instead of complex and disabling. Blow up the barriers that hold your employees back. Flatten the hierarchy, require fewer signatures, and promote informal communication. Develop a reputation for freeing smart people from dumb processes.

Regardless of the size of your business, building a branded BEST culture will give you a bottom-line, long term, competitive edge. We suggest working on one strategy a month for the next six months. Rally your team around each strategy and commit to bringing that strategy to life personally and professionally. Remember, personal change precedes organizational change. What can you do individually and as a team to live these strategies out loud, over the next six months, to create the best place where the best people can to do their best work? Measure your progress, hold each other accountable, and celebrate your success.