Ideas to Read and Pass Along

Kevin & Jackie Freiberg

Building a Branded Culture, Part 2

logo montageMake Your Organization an Extraordinary Magnet for World-Class Talent

If the ability to attract, retain and fully engage world-class talent is critical to your ability to compete, then culture becomes one of your most powerful levers in making this happen. What do SOUTHWEST AIRLINES, SAS INSTITUTE, STARBUCKS, USAA, HARLEY DAVIDSON and WHOLE FOODS have in common? BRANDED CULTURES—places where the culture is as well known as the company’s products and services. Branded cultures are famous for treating people right. They represent the kind of companies we all want to work for. They also attract customers who are looking for the kind of experience that makes them feel valued.

In Building a Branded Culture—Part One we gave you some of the important questions you must ask if you are going to create, nurture and grow a world famous culture. We promised you a second set of questions that are equally as important and here they are:

Leadership expectations

Are our expectations for leaders in the company clearly laid out? Does our culture encourage people to tell their leaders exactly what they think and feel? Are our leaders committed to and passionate about helping others become successful or are they too self-absorbed? Are our leadership expectations available for the whole company to consider?

Focus on the whole person

Do we feel comfortable discussing our personal lives and family issues at work? Does the culture encourage and support our interests outside of work? Do our benefits reflect the company’s concern that we achieve a comfortable balance between work and the rest of our lives? Do we have a department team dedicated to work/life issues? Do we encourage our people to design individual plans for their personal and professional development, based on their own unique proficiencies and interests?

Rewards and punishments

What conduct and activities does our organization reward and punish? Are those behaviors consistent with the culture we want, or does the reward system reveal discrepancies between our actual culture and the one we’d like to have, or even believe we have? Does the reward-punishment system contradict the values we espouse? For example, if we champion teamwork, do our incentives promote collaboration or, inadvertently endorse competition? If we urge people to take risks in order to produce innovative services and products, how do we react when intelligent and good faith efforts fail? How do we respond to mistakes? In its soul, is ours a culture that blames or forgives?


Who become heroes in our organization? What do they do or represent to earn that status? Why are they worth emulating? Do we reward the people that provide exceptional service, who unselfishly support their co-workers, who take risks and push limits in order to create breakthroughs? Do they become the subjects of memorable and legendary stories that capture the spirit of the company’s culture?

Value of stories and legends as teaching tools

Do we pursue illustrative stories about our organization that link us to its origins and inspire us to progress into the future with traditions that represent the best business we can be? Do we take advantage of every (or almost every) teachable moment? Are we accomplished at using stories (like Disney) as teaching tools that help people understand and integrate the conduct and attitudes we value? Do our stories awaken feelings of institutional pride in both employees and customers? Do our leaders have “eureka” moments like those experienced by Herb Kelleher and Rollin King when they sketched their nascent vision for Southwest Airlines on a cocktail napkin? Put another way, do we have stories that epitomize the soul of our culture?

Physical environment

What does the physical layout of our company reveal about its character and personality? How are our feelings about rank, class, or status communicated by the way we have allocated space? What do the wall decorations convey about our values and priorities? Do the walls talk? Do we hang photos of former employees or posters of old ads, the way Southwest Airlines does? Are there ugly air ducts and intrusive pipes that could easily be painted bright colors, like Quad/Graphics does?