branding culture values

The Link Between Culture and Storytelling: Book Excerpt

Center for Values-Driven Leadership Article, CSR, Culture, Leadership, Values-Driven Leaders

branding culture valuesEditor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from Dr. Mona Amodeo’s new book, Beyond Sizzle: The Next Evolution of Branding. Amodeo is a graduate of Benedictine University and a long-time partner of the Center for Values-Driven Leadership. Her book pairs traditional marketing and branding concepts with authentic, values-driven leadership. (For more on her thinking, see our interview with Amodeo.) Below is an excerpt from the book: 

The Link Between Culture & Storytelling

Since the days when cavemen strung together pictograms and tribes shared their stories around the campfire, humans in every corner of the world have used the art of storytelling to perpetuate their cultures. Stories serve much the same purpose in organizations. Organization stories, also referred to as narratives, are expressions that give us insight into who a company is, what it believes and what makes it different from others.

… Stories play a powerful role in building brands because they create emotional bonds with those considered to be the company’s tribe. Sharing stories attracts customers to the organization but it also reinforces the understanding and connection of employees to the organization. At Interface, I observed how shifting the organization’s narrative about who we are (identity) was the starting point for changing the culture (how we do things) and image (how others see us) of the company.

Aspirational stories shared inside the organization engage people in bringing a meaningful vision to life. Giving people room to figure out how to align new behaviors with these new stories is vital. Simply creating surface-level changes through telling a new story, without corresponding efforts to align words to action, creates dissonance. In the South, we call this “putting lipstick on a pig.” It may be prettier, at least in the short term, but it’s still a pig. Veneers of change lacking substance are also referred to as spin or, as it relates to sustainability, greenwashing. Regardless of the label you choose, it leads to dysfunctional organizations and perceptions of being fake. This is very detrimental to building the trust needed to be perceived as an authentic brand.

Transforming organizations into brands that matter involves tolerating failure and celebrating the incremental successes produced by the change process. We have also learned that when stakeholders are invited by leadership to be an active part of change they’re more willing to commit their “full self” to figuring out how to align behaviors with the new vision of the organization. If over time new values and behaviors prove to be successful in achieving the goals of the organization, they will be institutionalized (hardwired) into the assumptions about “how we do things around here.” In the Branding from the Core process we refer to this as engaging stakeholders in shaping, sharing, and living the brand story. As stated in an earlier chapter, people don’t resist change, they resist being changed.

Leadership Values and Culture

The first two principles of The Next Evolution of Branding address the importance of the organization’s social contract and moral compass. These reinforce the critical role that values play in shaping cultures consistent with the features of brands that matter (credible, responsible, distinctive, and desirable). One of the most important roles of leaders is as catalysts and champions for shaping and communicating these values. Ray Anderson’s awakening to the negative impact his company was having on the world expanded his view of the purpose and responsibility on Interface – expressed through a vision of the company as “the first name in industrial sustainability in words and deeds.” This refined purpose helped the company forge a new social contract and reset its moral compass.

Anderson was a masterful storyteller who became an evangelist for his vision both inside and outside of the organization. Internally, he was relentless in his determination to encourage his team to bring this purpose alive in the organization. One of the reasons he was successful in achieving this goal was his ability to weave emotional connections with the new values through stories and metaphors that everyone could identify with. Mission Zero that defined the summit of Mt. Sustainability evolved as a unifying language of the company; other phrases like “play to win” or “the power of one” defined the teamwork and focus needed to reach the summit. …

Implementing Branding from the Core requires leadership to make a conscious decision to do what this phrase implies – intentionally shape an organization culture fueled by core purpose, values, and beliefs meaningful to those who are associated with the organization.

According to management thought leaders Tom Peters and Robert Waterman (1982), “The real role of leadership is to manage the values of the organization.” This requires a willingness to look inward. In other words, take time to allow discussion, reflection, and honest inquiry. Awakened leaders identifying with the longing we all have to feel that we matter. They act on this understanding by using their organizations as a conduit for connecting both employees and customers to deeper motivations – beyond the what they do to connecting people to the why of their work.

Organizations are human systems connected by much more than the lines and boxes of an organization chart. My experiences confirm the magic that happens when people are connected with an organization that inspires and excites them versus those that deplete their souls.

The opportunity is for organizations to engage people – from the hourly employee to the highest-paid executive – in feeling like they can be their best by bringing their best to a collective effort to achieve something we believe is the ultimate motivator. Creating a strong link between a purposeful vision and the collective focus and commitment of people is a powerful force.

As we will discuss in the following chapters, The Next Evolution of Branding calls on leaders to ponder the question: can organizations matter more by becoming places where people can live their values and where ideas are nurtured, grow, and thrive? Some would identify the ultimate business challenge presented by this question as staying true to the answer, while ensuring the generation of revenues needed for financial stability. I would propose that engaging people with purpose is the first step in guaranteeing financial prosperity. This challenges the view of profitability and responsibility as competing forces by positioning purpose as a key driver of performance and thus profitability. Branding’s power to forge this connection is the provocative proposition offered by Branding from the Core.

For more from Amodeo and her work with Interface, see this video. Or read more in our recent interview with Amodeo.


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