Today’s society of consumerism, hunger for information, ease of comparison, heightened competition – and in truth so many more factors – means the masses are now thinking about brands differently (not just people who work in brand, like me!)
Covid will have played a part in this of course, with many organisations winning over the hearts and minds of customers they wowed with honesty, great service levels, and often simply demonstrating some soul.
The authenticity of a brand’s environmental stance now counts for a lot too, as does its commitment to achieving wider social value. Simply offering a great product or an attractive price won’t cut it for some.
This all matters in the eyes of various stakeholders, not just customers.
Think about employees – if these people don’t buy into the purpose, principles and personality (3 Ps) of a brand, everything the business stands for risks being little more than a collection of words. Worse still, it could actually be perceived as disingenuous. The 3Ps can’t just be a mission statement published on a website anymore. They must come to life in the behaviour of a company and its staff.
But isn’t behaviour an odd word?
To ‘be on your best behaviour’ almost suggests the need to conform. In some respects, for people to play their part in representing a brand, you are asking them to pull, culturally, in the same direction. But when we think about behaviour as how someone acts, it’s only natural – and right – that this manifests itself differently from one person to the next. We’re human after all. Individuals.
So, even with the best intentions, the way in which employees live and breathe brand principles, for example, is open to huge subjectivity.
For instance, we went through our own brand evaluation exercise at The Engine Room, redefining our principles, as a team. When delving into how we show up at work and what matters to us, we looked beyond overused words like “quality” and “innovative”, hence arriving at principles such as “never settle”.
But culturally, we know they’ll come to life from within, rather than the ‘top down’, and they could mean lots of different things to different people.
We therefore also conducted a group activity which added depth to this process by highlighting examples of each principle in action, whether we’re working with each other, our customers, a partner, supplier, or other stakeholder. We thought about multiple communication channels and touchpoints too.
This open forum evidenced how diverse – yet still valid – our understanding of simple words and phrases could be.
The findings – up to 30-40 potential behaviours for each of our five principles – were then clustered, and refined, and we used this insight to add depth to our brand.
It also got us thinking. If these different behaviours truly matter at The Engine Room – irrespective of someone’s role or responsibilities – we should do more with them. Add further clarity and authenticity to how and why we ‘show up’ at work.
That’s why we moved next, to our employee packs, with a particular focus on job descriptions for every role in our business.
Now, instead of simply detailing the job title and key responsibilities, we also articulate our five core company principles, and the relevant behaviours employees agree to demonstrate, under each principle, to thrive.
This removes any risk of assumption that people instantly know what to do. It provides helpful context in a language colleagues speak and understand. And it acts as a helpful barometer for employees thinking about professional development and next steps. It can even be used to provide constructive structure if someone ever fails to hit the mark when it comes to performance.
Above all, it’s a solid basis from which to have productive and positive conversations during reviews – something that organisations should value irrespective of the formality of their appraisal process.
A great designer may execute the client brief they’re given with technical finesse, for example. A senior designer will strive to get under the skin of that brief and its true purpose. A creative director will collaborate – and often be heavily relied on by the client – to proactively shape that brief.
So, in summarising our core behaviour as a business, we’ve identified individual behaviours relevant to every role in the organisation too. And whether someone is exceeding the benchmark or presenting an area for development, we can have open and fair discussions, because we’re reverting back to principles we’ve all committed to.
The energy of this exercise – all up on our feet in the studio to discuss ‘us’ – was palpable. But while the process was pacy, this didn’t mean it was rushed. We took a great deal of time – months in fact – to get this right.
People are our greatest asset after all – it’s rule 101 of business isn’t it? At a time when there’s so much talk of employee attraction, development and retention, this phrase is perhaps more applicable than ever. But sometimes we need to take a step back and breathe, to work out how we could keep working together for everyone’s benefit.