As we enter 2018, easy access to reams of information and increasing mobility will have significant implications for your small- to medium-sized business’ (SMB’s) culture. It’s no longer enough to treat culture as an afterthought, as the icing on a cake. Your culture is the cake. Culture provides the foundation for every employee and customer of your SMB.
Culture is what differentiates your organization from everyone else, and the idea of defining and nurturing company culture has been gaining traction at organizations across the globe. But there’s one problem. Even if you’ve built a culture that customers and employees love, how do you get it out onto the “information superhighway” and get it in front of employees and customers? How do you sell it?
In researching my upcoming book, “Beyond the Plateau Effect,” I’ve been asking a key question, “Who cares about culture?”
The quick answer is: your employees and customers care. They care deeply. Consider these facts. According to Gallup, more than 87 percent of the world’s workforce is not engaged, yet engaged workplaces are 21 percent more profitable than those with lower levels of engagement.
And customers also show a preference for culture-driven companies. Northwestern University’s Forum for People Performance Management and Measurement recently found that customers of organizations where employees were more engaged used the company’s products and services more often and were more satisfied than customers of companies with less engaged employees.
So why do employees and customers care so much about culture? Because culture dictates both the customers’ and employees’ experiences. When a culture meets employees’ needs, they are happier and (therefore) more engaged. Happier and more engaged employees, in turn, boost customer engagement levels. They think more creatively about how to solve problems, develop stronger connections with them, and improve their experience overall.
So that is great, but once you have your culture established and clicking on all cylinders, how do you sell it? Start with these three steps.
Culture extends to every aspect of how the organization does business, makes decisions, and interacts with its employees, customers, and the community-at-large. Culture exists whether you’ve been intentionally developing it or not.
But culture may not be clearly defined. So the first step to selling your culture is to understand what it is about your organization that makes it unique. What is your purpose, or your “why”? What makes working for or buying from your organization a unique experience? What is it that your employees and customers love? Identifying your culture means getting to know both your customers and your employees better; asking them through surveys or feedback sessions why they buy/work for you, what they like, and what they don’t.
During the process of identifying your culture, you may find some answers that are not what you expected or areas of your culture that need improvement; this is a good thing. As Simon Sinek says, “If you start with your purpose or ‘why,’ everything else will follow from that.” Being clear about why you do what you do can also decide how to do it better.
Once your culture is clear in the minds of company leaders and employees, it’s essential to develop a story around it and communicate that story to those you want to attract and retain—new talent, employees, and customers.
Storytelling has been shown to be more persuasive than data and statistics. In one informal study by Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker, students were asked to make a one minute pitch. While all students used statistics, one out of ten incorporated stories as well. Participants were then asked to write down what they remembered about each pitch. Five percent were able to recall statistics, but 63 percent were able to remember the stories they heard.
Storytelling is compelling, and it can play a huge role in supporting culture internally and communicating it externally.
One way to tell your culture story is through job descriptions and the hiring process. Historically, employers provided job descriptions which included details of the relevant tasks, duties, and skills needed for the job. Today, in a world where technology changes quickly, the ability to learn and adapt may ultimately count for more than experience in specific tasks, duties, and skills. What can’t be learned is a commitment to your organization’s purpose and a fit with your culture.
Your culture story can also be told in person when a customer interacts with a company employee, or through social media, advertising, and digital marketing. Regardless of where or how the story is told, it’s important that the entire workforce understands and can share the story of your culture and how it has impacted them.
So, part of selling your culture is always hiring with it in mind; this does not mean to focus on people who look, act, or think a certain way. Focus on hiring people to are committed to your company’s purpose. Diversity benefits your organization through fresh thinking and new ways of looking at problems.
The culture your employees experience is the same your customers experience. So it’s critical that your culture story aligns with what is actually happening in your organization. Your employees are your brand’s most trusted representatives, and for them to be your culture’s number one advocate, they have to trust you.
But, there is a widening trust gap between employees and employers. More than two-thirds of employees and customers agree that company leaders (across the board) focus too much on short-term results rather than on long-term strategic investments, such as culture. Employees are more likely to support company leadership and promote culture stories when leaders are meaningfully involved in issues that employees and customers care about.
In other words, both your employees and customers both want you to walk your talk. Don’t just tell a story about your culture, live the story. Internal and external messages must align and be consistent. That means treating employees as your most important customers, because that is what they are. They are the consumers of your culture. Selling your culture, therefore, begins with them.