Love your team like you love your supporters - because brand & culture are two sides of the same coin

We can sometimes assume that because as an organization we want to make a positive social impact, our culture and leadership, the way we support and develop our people, is automatically positive. Certainly, there are plenty of organizations out there in which that’s the case. And the great news is that more and more are now recognizing the need to put that time, effort and resource into their culture.

Your team has the power to change the world. 

And to do that, the people in it need to feel they belong; that they are safe, supported, trusted - part of a culture with clear purpose & shared values. 

In his book The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle quotes some MIT research around belonging - that to feel they belong, people need to experience regular belonging cues. These belonging cues have three qualities:

Energy– invest in the exchange that is occurring;

Individualization– treat the person as unique and valued;

Future Orientation– signal the relationship will continue.

And when Coyle says ‘regular’, he doesn’t mean once a month but every single day in every interaction and every communication. Think about any human relationship – do we meet our partner and tell them we love them once and then never say it again? Ideally not. That would be a bit weird! All of our relationships are based on lots of intricate words, behaviours and actions which demonstrate how much we value the people around us.

This is something that may resonate when we think about the donor experience. But the fact is…

Our people and organizational cultures need just as much passion and energy put into them as we put into supporters and beneficiaries. 

Let’s also start talking about the experience and journey of our people as well as of our donors. We need to build in regular opportunities to reinforce to our team that ‘You belong here. You are safe here.’ Because if people feel safe, they're more able to innovate and create. We’re more likely to get the best of them.

Brand and culture are two sides of the same coin. 

We know it ourselves as customers. People’s experience in the workplace has a huge impact on our experience as a customer, on how we feel about the brand, the quality of the relationship we have and the length of time we choose to stay loyal to it. 

Whether you’re an internal member of the team, a customer, supporter or supplier, your experience of the brand should look and feel the same. In the context of charities, for example, a supporter could also be a campaigner, or a member of staff. So the narratives and experience for each of these groups should chime with each other – should share a consistent message and set of values.

Your people should be able to see their role in your brand story, be able to connect what they’re doing every day to your mission & be confident in telling their own story – a story that is honest & real. It’s one reason why it’s so important that departments work together in partnership – that they don’t operate in silos. Every communication needs to be fully joined up and come from the same place. 

That doesn’t mean we need to walk around being all loved up – we do need to know what’s expected of us.

Because we’re all about doing nice stuff, sometimes we can find it hard to have difficult conversations with our teams. Performance management, for example, seems to be a real issue within the charity sector. So, when I say to invest in your team, to make the members feel safe and like they belong – that doesn’t mean not ensuring that they’re accountable. Part of belonging is also about recognizing your place in the team – what you’re responsible for, where your priorities lie. I hope my kids know they are safe and belong to a family that loves them – but they also know there are consequences to not joining in, playing their part, living by the values that I hope we all share. So feeling safe is also about knowing what’s expected of you and being able to have honest and open conversations around that.

So where’s a good place to start?

  • Look at your values as an organization – how do people working within your organization experience these values? Don’t second guess this and make assumptions. Actually ask them and look out for evidence of the values in action.
  • Look at each area of the business. Are these values alive and present in your leadership, in your communication, in how staff are treated, in people’s behaviours and actions, or are they just something you talk about on your website to make you sound good?
  • Be inclusive – make sure your culture is something that people can feel part of and identify with from the outset. Consider how an individual first comes into contact with your organization – what narrative are they told? What is their place in that narrative? Is that then consistently followed up on and reinforced?
  • Really listen to people – and don’t then ignore what you’re hearing. This is a crucial part of creating a trusting relationship.
  • Give people the trust to influence the culture and environment they work in. Consider practical ways in which you might do that.
  • Look at how stories are told within your organization. Compare the stories you tell internally and externally. Are they compatible? If I was a member of your team looking at the external storytelling, would I say the narratives are an honest reflection of my everyday experience?

And finally, of course, understand the importance of your individual responsibility in creating a positive culture. Recognize and take ownership of what you do and don’t do. Culture is not someone else’s problem. The responsibility sits with all of us.

Sarah Carter is a Specialist Consultant with a passion for helping leaders create strong and healthy cultures.  She works across the areas of culture, coaching, training and communications.  Click here to meet her.