Brand behaviours. How to live your brand purpose and values

When I say things like “Purpose” and “Values” I can almost imagine the sigh of exasperation that some of my readers will be exhaling.


To some business leaders defining these “fluffy” ideals for their businesses and brands are a waste of time.


And in a kind of self-fulfilling way - they probably are. Because although a company might have these defined it takes more than just slapping them on a PowerPoint Deck or the About Us page of a website to make them real.


The reality is that often companies have these statements because it’s the “done” thing. But in my experience, many do not use them effectively. Frankly, if you don’t use them right, these statements become meaningless. Pointless. Worthless. Possibly detrimental. Uninspiring. Demotivating. Empty. The very things that they are not supposed to be.


The main challenge of brand and culture building is not simply to state what you want to be. But it is to make those statements into a tangible reality so they are truthfully part of who a brand actually is at every level of an organisation. So that they become part of the company culture and “the way we do things around here”. So that everyone is aligned and pulling in the same direction.


But how do these high-level brand statements become a reality? How do they “live” in real life? How do they become part of a culture and “the way we do things around here”? How can they be used as tools to improve a brand over time?


That’s where brand ‘behaviours’ come in.


Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash


This post is an introduction to the power of behaviours to brand and culture building. I’m going to cover it off under three key headings:


  • The thinking: what are ‘behaviours’ and why are they important?

  • The method: how do we activate and use behaviours to build a culture?

  • Further Resources

  • Ready? Here goes.


The thinking: what are ‘behaviours’ and why are they important?


What are brand behaviours?

My definition of a “brand” is “the meaning people attach to you and your offer”. “Branding” is the attempt to "manage that meaning".


A brand isn’t shaped by a single choice but by thousands of decisions the people connected to the brand make - each and every day. It’s shaped by how they behave.


Ideally, these behaviours should be governed by defined “values”. Values serve as a compass to guide employees. They are (or should be) used to hold all of the people in the company to account. Values are very helpful but the problem with them is that they are often well understood by the leaders who have defined them but lesser appreciated or understood by people lower down in the company. Often they seem unconnected to the reality of the day to day work that has to be done.


Brand values cannot simply be stated. They need to be experienced and lived through the decisions that we make and what we do. Businesses often fail to take the necessary steps in this area. So I advocate for not simply defining values but also going a few steps further.


I believe leaders need to define and manage how their people and brands act. We need to roll up our sleeves and work on behaviours. So that everyone in the business understands how they are expected to live the values in their specific role - day to day. We need to help bring clarity and connect the high-level principles to reality. We’ll look at some ways you can do this in a moment.


Before we do though I just want to pause for breath and re-cap. Put simply then, behaviours are:


  • How a group of people act - the things they say and do

  • How a brand’s purpose and values are practically lived by employees

  • An aligning tool to assist our people managers

  • A central part of our culture-building

  • Why are brand behaviours important?


As we’ve mentioned, the way the people in a company behave is a key part of building a culture and brand. Behaviours are tangible expressions of our purpose and values and they are ultimately seen by other members of staff, partners and, (perhaps most importantly) customers. Your Employee Experience (of which behaviours are a key area) affects your Customer Experience - and therefore your brand building.


This, in theory, how things work:



Let's go into these strategic definitions in a little more depth and connect them together:


  • Brand purpose - You define your brand purpose to align decision making. Your brand purpose is why you and your people get out of bed in the morning. What unites you. Your reason for being. Your why. The modern business is ‘purpose driven’ meaning all decisions are seen through the lens of the purpose.

  • Brand Values - You define your values to give structure and guard-rails to your people so they roughly know what is expected of them as you all seek to fulfil your purpose. Values are non-negotiable guiding beliefs. They are the things you use as north-stars as you fulfil your purpose. Usually, I’d advise brands to define no more than 6 values - else nobody can remember them!

  • Brand Behaviours - Behaviours are how you and your people act. They become part of your performance management. They are how you expect your values to be lived by your employees. I would suggest each value has no more than 3 key behaviours associated with it. We’ll go into how to define and use them in a moment.

  • Customer Experience - Ultimately your colleague behaviours will be witnessed by your partners and customers and form part of their experience and impression of your brand. This is why behaviours are a crucial part of brand building.


From the ideal outline above then, you can see how behaviours ladder into each brand value which, in turn, ladders into the brand purpose. It shows how behaviours become an internal expression of the brand and how they will help us make our brand strategy live internally so it is authentic.


Behaviours vs Skills

Just a quick note on performance management. Traditionally companies look at a job role and assess it from the perspective of the skills needed to complete the tasks associated with that role. They set task or skill-related KPIs to manage performance. This is all well and good. However, if you are interested in building a brand you need to also keep tabs on employee behaviour. You need to set expectations. Give managers the tools to have honest conversations. Ensure that you are recruiting individuals who can flourish and who can ultimately create amazing experiences for customers. That is how you build a brand.


So defining ‘Behaviours’, as well as ‘Skills’ for each role, are important because they reflect how an employee goes about getting their job done.


The skills an individual holds might enable them to get results but if this is done in a way that does not positively reflect our brand then it can have a detrimental effect.


Also, like skills, different parts of the business will require different ways in which behaviours are exhibited to add value. This needs to be taken into consideration in your strategic work.



The method: how do we activate and use behaviours to build a culture?

This part of the post is quite hands-on and practical. There are two stages to the methodology of how you create and begin to use behaviours;


1. Define

Senior leadership defines behaviours based on brand values (if you don’t have your brand “purpose” and “values” set work on those first!).

People managers define and document how these behaviours should be manifested in their teams


2. Activate

Behaviours become part of performance management and a tool for managers

Routines that remind, reward and recognise those who are living our values and behaviours become part of our everyday culture

Behaviours built into ongoing onboarding and people manager training

Let's go into a bit more depth. Here’s a typical process I usually propose to organisations (obviously all contexts and businesses are different so you may need to flex a little to bring this in line with your reality).


1. Define

Senior Leadership Workshop - A workshop where, as a group, senior leaders:

  • Review brand values and are introduced to the concept of behaviours (the way we bring values to life) and our methodology

  • Brainstorm behaviours that reflect values (with examples if possible)

  • Brainstorm behaviours that do not reflect values

Output:

  • A list of behaviours, relating to each value, which represents the leadership teams understanding of how our values will be lived

  • Leadership engagement, alignment and ‘buy-in’


People Manager Engagement Workshops - A workshop where, as individuals (or functions depending on how large your organisation is) people managers:


  • Review the defined brand values and behaviours and are introduced to the methodology - it is important here they see how this will become a company-wide tool to help them be better managers and brand builders.

  • For each job ‘tier’ within their function (e.g. junior, middle-weight, senior), People Managers brainstorm what would be ‘Below Expectations’ ‘Meets Expectations’ or ‘Exceeds Expectations’ in relation to each behaviour and their function. This becomes the basis of a ‘Behavioural Performance Rating assessment tool’ - a way managers can assess and coach the behaviours of their team.


Output:

  • Documented behaviour expectations, specific to how people managers expect their people to express behaviours in the context of their business function.

  • People manager engagement, alignment and ‘buy-in’



2. Activate


Performance Management Tool Creation

  • Creation of a Behavioural Performance Rating assessment tool which people managers are expected to use to assess their people. This tool will allow people managers to score their teams in relation to behaviours (this to be done alongside skills and KPI results at regular points in the year). This can be done in partnership with HR based on the outputs of the Leadership and People Manager workshops.

  • Managers are given the training to take the behaviours into one to one with each member of their team to explain the values and behaviours on a one to one basis.


Output:

  • Behavioural Performance Rating assessment tool which will give KPIs to People Managers and Senior Leadership

  • Everybody in the business aware of what is expected of them in regards to behaviours and understanding how they link to purpose and values.



Routines & Rewards

  • Routines that remind, reward and recognise those who are living our values and behaviours become part of our everyday culture

  • People Managers are to run their Behavioural Performance Rating assessment at set times during the year and document and submit these for senior leadership to review.

  • Ongoing town-halls and ‘lunch and learn’ style activity programme related to values and behaviours is designed to remind colleagues of them

  • Recognition and reward programmes (both formal and informal) are designed to encourage behaviours to be lived

Output:

  • Ongoing assessments and reviews by People Managers and Senior Leadership

  • Ongoing routines that remind everybody of expectations in a positive way and become embedded in “the way we do things around here”.



Onboarding & Training


  • Behaviours built into ongoing onboarding and people manager training

  • Onboarding training module created and built into the onboarding process so that every new member of staff understands at a high level the behaviours, how they fit to values and purpose and what their manager will be discussing with them in ongoing one to ones.

  • Video module is designed and created to explain at a high level how managers should define how behaviours should look


Output:

  • Improved onboarding experience

  • Training



So. As you can see it’s not a simple process and it usually takes around 12 months to design and implement but at the end, you will have a well-oiled culture built around your brand purpose. Everyone at all levels of the organisation will know what behaviours are expected of them as they perform their usual skills and ultimately customers will experience the best version of your brand. This is how you live purpose and values and ensure they are not simply a veneer and catchy slogan but part of the reality of your business.




Further Resources

Although the above methodology is something I use and have used in my work as a Brand and Culture strategy consultant, I cannot claim the thinking is solely mine. Here are some books which I have found most helpful to my thinking which, if you are about to embark on behaviour work you should put on your reading list:


  • Fusion - by Denise Lee Yohn

  • Great Mondays - Josh Levine

  • Drive - Daniel Pink

  • The Culture Code - Daniel Coyle

  • Gung Ho - Ken Blanchard & Sheldon Bowels

  • Performance Management - Elaine D. Pulakos


So I hope this has been of interest to you. I wish you all the very best in building your brand and collectively living your brand purpose and values through the power of behaviours.

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