Expert Advice for Medium and Midsize Businesses

How to Effectively Communicate Your Culture to an External Audience

Guest Author

By Adam Fridman, Contributor @ Inc, Founder Mabbly

We live in a world of eroding trust, yet it’s one―thanks to the Internet―with an infinite amount of information available. We also live in a world where your company’s culture― and your ability to effectively communicate it―is a differentiator, and not just when sourcing employees, but when selling to customers as well.

So, how do you communicate culture in an era of eroding trust? It’s easy; with transparency. This simply means that the stories you’re telling internally about your culture match those you’re telling externally.

Transparency and the Trust Gap

Transparency is the cure for the trust gap. The lack of trust―whether it’s in advertising or external / internal communications―is creating a big problem for companies right now. The trust issue is so big that Edelman’s Trust Barometer for 2017 found that nearly half of people surveyed did not trust business, and fewer than 37% found CEOs to be credible spokespeople. This institutional trust has been eroding for the better part of a decade, a debilitating consequence of the 2008 financial crash.

But the news is not all bad. Trust based on personal relationships is on the rise. Edelman’s survey found that 60% of respondents said that they found a person like themselves to be just as or more credible than experts. This statistic reflects employees’ and customers’ increasing use of social media ratings and reviews for information about the companies they choose to work for or do business with.

In other words, people are less inclined to believe what you say, and more inclined to believe what others say about you. This is especially true when it comes to something as subjective as culture.

So, with that being said, how do you effectively communicate your company culture to an outside audience who may not truly trust what you are saying?

To Communicate Culture, Define it First

If you want to effectively communicate culture, it’s helpful to define it first. Culture is a very broad term. It is usually defined as “understood” ideas about acceptable or unacceptable actions, attitudes, dress, language, or behavior. However, it can also allude to what an organization deems important or valuable, including shared beliefs, assumptions, norms, and values.

It’s little surprise that communicating your company’s culture can be a problem; especially when you are trying to encapsulate so many ideas about what makes your organization what it is. It’s like trying to fill a dixie cup with a firehose. That’s why we at Mabbly have derived a very simple equation for culture, which is:

Culture = Purpose + Values + Habits

In other words, culture is about why you do what you do, and how you do it. Your purpose and values should be the driving forces behind how your run the business and make decisions. They should drive every customer and employee interaction. And they should drive how (and what) you communicate about culture as well.

Transparency and the Gap Between Culture and Brand

It’s often been said that “brands are a reflection of culture.” This is certainly true, but this does not mean that the communication of your company culture is a branding exercise.

Culture points out what’s important to a company. When culture is authentic, it provides a real view to what the organization is like on the inside.

Brand, on the other hand, is more often about the story that is told to others. But if the story being told to the outside world does not align with what is going on inside the company’s four walls, then trust issues will start to pop up. Before you know it, you will have a trust gap.

Transparency closes that trust gap―with both potential employees and customers. It’s critical in trying to attract and retain the best employees. According to TinyPulse, management transparency is the highest contributing factor to workplace happiness and engagement. And in a world where employees can access insights into workplace happiness through sites like Glassdoor.com or via social media, transparency is no longer optional; it’s imperative.

Transparency can also be profitable. A recent study by Label Insight showed that more than 94% of customers surveyed prefer brands that operate transparently, while 73% said they would pay more to buy from a transparent company.

How to Effectively Communicate Culture

Being transparent when communicating culture happens when the stories that are told about culture jive with what customers and employees are actually experiencing. This brings us full-circle to the culture equation. When communicating culture, we’re really communicating purpose and values. And those shouldn’t change based on whether we’re talking to an internal or external audience.

To communicate culture in a way that is both transparent and compelling, your organization must be clear on its purpose, and it must live the values that uphold that purpose. This is done through appropriate business practices and personal habits. With this firmly in place, communicating culture becomes less about making up an appealing story, and more about shining a light on the things that truly make your culture unique.

You can read more about expressing your purpose externally in our upcoming book, The Science of Story.

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