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Designing a Culture That Improves Business Performance

By Jason Burnham, Founder, Culture Design, LLC

Jason Burnham, Founder, Culture Design, LLC

Companies are continually trying to keep up with the pace of change to remain relevant and competitive in the market. They are adopting agile ways of working in a race to satisfy the rapidly evolving needs and expectations of their customers, employees, and popular culture. 84 percent of a company’s value is in intangible assets, with over 25 percent attributed to brand value. Now consider, customer experience drives over two-thirds of customer loyalty, outperforming brand equity and price combined. Since employees design and deliver the customer experience, organizations with the highest levels of employee engagement yield 90 percent better growth rates than the competition. This means your brand experience is one of the most important variables impacting business results.


The practice of culture design resides at the intersection of your brand identity, stakeholder engagement, and customer experience. Your identity aligns your organization to a common purpose and defines who you are and why you exist. A purpose-centered stakeholder engagement strategy brings your identity to life through the behaviors of your employees and commitments to your customers and community. The organizational embodiment of your identity and how you cultivate brand relationships will determine your ability to design and deliver customer experiences that live up to the aspirations of your brand.

Your culture is your brand and your brand is the experience. Your brand is a collection of shared beliefs based on what you represent, influence, and the value you provide to society. These beliefs are inspired and shaped by the relationships and experiences of your ecosystem of stakeholders. Your stakeholders are collectively influencing one another’s perspectives of your brand based on their shared experiences with your company. Customer, employee, and societal needs and expectations are constantly evolving. You need an organizational culture that is adaptable to the pace of popular culture change to evolve and sustain business performance.

Your organizational culture is the manifestation of collective consciousness and behavior of your employees. Your culture manifests through values, beliefs, and activity guided through shared assumptions and group norms. It consists of your team’s mental models and action logics, motivations and assumptions, mindsets and behaviors, the stories and legends they share, rituals they practice, the symbols they identify with, and their emotional and physical environments.

“A purpose-centered stakeholder engagement strategy brings your identity to life through the behaviors of your employees and commitments to your customers and community”

Culture does not have physical boundaries. Cultural systems encompass smaller systems of subcultures. Any group of people who interacts with one another creates a set of social rules and norms that determine how people within the group engage with each other. That’s culture. Every location, function, and department will have their own distinct culture. And, the industries and communities you operate within will have their own culture. Add to this, each of your partners’ organizations has similar cultural dynamics, which makes culture design and change management highly complex.

For global organizations or companies that have various locations across different regions, it is even more complex. The popular culture of a particular location will have tremendous influence over the organizational culture of that regional office or facility. Organizations must account for local sensibilities, lexicon, values, beliefs, traditions, and social norms to create a culture, aligned to a common purpose, and deliver a consistent brand experience across all touch points.

For a strategy to be executed effectively or to deliver the desired brand experience consistently, you need to design for the complexities of the global organizational culture, and its affiliated subcultures. People managers directly influence and shape the culture of the organization, which drives employee engagement and employees’ passion and ability to deliver the desired customer experience. When employees are satisfied and engaged at work, it increases their sense of identity and purpose, which has a positive impact on employee performance and their commitment to company and customer success.

Culture should create the environment that empowers people to thrive. Unfortunately, 62 percent of today’s workforce is not satisfied with their current job and turnover has cost companies $223 billion over the past five years. The primary reason people are leaving companies is due to a lack of effective leadership and an unhealthy culture created by people managers. Because organizations are complex adaptive systems, one can never truly control the individual behaviors of the entire organization. People managers should focus on creating the environment and operational infrastructure that inspires, empowers, and enables employees to execute new strategies and deliver the desired brand experience effectively and purposefully.

Managers should be servant leaders who help employees establish their sense of purpose and align it to the common purpose. Provide employees with a set of principles to help guide their behaviors to support the delivery of your brand promise and customer commitments. Coaching and mentoring employees to focus on cultivating relationships and making connections that deliver the desired customer experience will lead to greater business performance and outcomes.

Relationships influence brand perception. Culture is a system of relationships. And, how you connect with people will determine if your relationship is capable of building loyalty, retention, and advocacy. Therefore, the practice of culture design is now a strategic imperative for every organization to achieve strategy realization, brand activation, and operational excellence. Your brand purpose is the seed of inspiration and your culture is the water that makes it grow.

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