Branding Doesn’t Matter When Culture Doesn’t Work

small business brand culture

4 steps a small business owner can take to correct a culture issue.


In just a few short years in the business world, it has become all about “the brand” of the company. Even the person behind the brand.

I find the latter to be most important. In working with organizational clients to help their “employees” understand culture, I’ve learned that the toughest ones to understand “culture” are the ones that are partly responsible for the culture they currently have…the CEO!

Promotional materials

It is one thing to have promotional materials that say “my company is innovative, cutting edge and family oriented” when employees ooze “my company sucks, don’t join it!”

Many articles have been written about the toxic culture and destructive behavior of top C-Suite executives that make many organizations lose the secret sauce that made them successful or worse never become truly successful because they never really had the secret sauce of healthy culture in play at the organization.

What not to do…

1.   Don’t be that company that throws away thousands upon thousands of dollars on hiring a marketing company to help with your branding or consultants to assess the organizational temperature of the company if you are not ready to hear one of the possibilities…that YOU are the root of the dis-ease.

If you need some help visualizing what I mean, learn about some brand disasters of our most recent past.

2.   Don’t be that CEO that thinks they do no harm. I’ve learned that everyone has growing edges that need improvement and the best companies to work for have the most self-aware bosses at the helm.

3.   Don’t be that CEO that thinks if you fire enough consultants and if you run the gamut of all marketing companies in your area, you will finally get the magic bullet of instant harmony and engagement of employees without first having to do the hard work of checking yourself.

So many CEO’s and other C-Suite management blame other leaders in their company and even fire them waiting to find the unicorn.

You know the perfect employee that reads their minds. How about  you try what Stan Slap says, “Instead of waiting for a leader you can believe in,  become a leader they can believe in.”

So, yeah, don’t get on the branding bandwagon if you think that is what will finally fix the small business culture.

4.   Don’t even hire a Chief Culture Officer (unless it’s me then heck yeah hire me, we all have to eat), if you only want to hear how you’re so amazing and everyone else is painfully flawed.

You see, as Dan Ward argues in a piece he wrote for Forbes Magazine, urgent burning platforms (you know where the CEO makes a speech saying how wonderful the future looks) or worse fear-based atmospheres don’t do much at all to change organizational culture.

On a plane ride to NYC last month, I picked up the Harvard Business Review because the cover said “You Can’t Fix Culture” and I am a consultant trying to help companies well, fix culture! So, I felt the urgency to read the article. and guess what they agreed what what I have been stating to clients!

Branding does not matter if your culture doesn’t work.

What to do…

Instead, what company leaders should focus on is:

1) Leading by example

2) Listen to employee’s and then

3) Create an environment where “real talk” doesn’t get you a pink slip somewhere down the line!

Changing posters in the hallway, gathering employees to share your new “branding campaign” still doesn’t face the fact that there’s  a gap between the espoused culture and the organizational reality. What leaders say the culture is and what employees experience do not align.

So what should you do then if you are having a culture issue at work?

This is not a liner process by any stretch of the imagination but for clarity, I’d say:

1.   The first step is to begin with the end in mind. Brainstorm a bit. Get a picture in your head, know where you want to end up.

What do you really want from your company?”

2.   Second step is recognize and acknowledge.

The path to solving any problem is to accept one’s own accountability for creating it.

3.   Third step is to  allow for the human condition.

Don’t fear that you or your company will been seen as too human. Remember these two things, people don’t quit their jobs they quit their boss and people don’t trust companies; they trust people.

4.  And finally, the fourth step, Lead your own life first.

As the head of your company (or division or team) you lead from the essence of who you are.  You are the real chief culture officer. So work on yourself.

Know thyself. When you do that you’ll be better able to think positively about the people you lead and that will be the seeds for a better tomorrow.

So cancel that branding meeting and go learn how to be a better boss!

Related articles:

Branding: If You Build It, Will They Come?

Small Business Targeting and Related Branding Components

Small business branding-What’s In a Name?

How Important is Defining Your Digital Identity? 


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