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Brand Culture

Changing The Brand Culture – To What Purpose?

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Change Management Strate

Organizations tend to speak about purpose and change as if they are separate subjects. Increasingly, we’ve been asking whether the two could and should be much more closely linked, prompting a shift in question from “Change – to what end?” to “Change – to what purpose?”

If we could focus change on ideas that were more universal than corporate and that spread the perceived benefits more broadly, would that make a difference to the success rate? Because right now, the emphasis on change programs to accelerate growth is not working. John Kotter’s assertion that change, as it is currently implemented, mostly fails is well canvassed and, it appears, time-proven.

Around 70% of large-scale change programs fail to meet their goals – and a key reason for that, according to Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini, is that organizations cannot resist managing the implementation of change rather than looking for ways to psychologically and systematically embed it. In effect, the authors suggest, most change programs are too late, too self-serving, too autocratic and too engineered to succeed.

In a world fixated on agile and nimble companies, creating a business that can adapt – and innovate – quickly is difficult. The means moves faster than the minds and at a pace that significantly exceeds habit, embedded behaviors and culture. Simplistically the failures seem a classic case of “the process” over “the people”.

Perhaps a better way forward would be to look at change through an entirely different lens.

The alternative Hamel and Zanini suggest is the introduction of change platforms that syndicate and democratize change across the organization, that are based on initiative rather than mandate and that encourage free-form experimentation and adaptation rather than project-managed milestones. Such an approach, they assert, encourages wider and more accountable participation, fosters honest conversation, diversifies solutions rather than seeking to close everything down to a single answer and seeds local experimentation that can then be refined in a less risky environment before becoming part of the full way forward.

Shift the question away from “Change – to what end?”

What would happen if those platforms were purpose-focused, we asked – if they focused on changes that could change the world as well as the bottom line? If we elevated the changes that were being sought to an altruistic level (intentional purpose), and then linked them to the pursuit of commercial benefits that were tangible and sustainable (functional purpose) would that inspire managers and people in the businesses themselves to participate in the ways that Hamel and Zanini describe, and could it help deliver the bottom line benefits that growth-focused change management cannot?

This isn’t entirely a new thought. A number of years back, two other McKinsey principals, Carolyn Aiken and Scott Keller, wrote an article about change management in which they identified a range of pre-conditions for successful change:

  • A story that focuses on the impact of change on society, customers, investors, teams and that is compelling to individuals not just the organization; that people feel they “own” because they helped author it; and that uses a combination of urgency and dreaming to spur momentum and incite change.
  • Clear behaviors that are expected from all involved, that are publicly reported on and that are embraced by all, rather than led by a select few.
  • Aligned and reinforcing mechanisms, such as systems, processes and incentives, that are seen as intrinsically fair and that are long on meaning because they are offered as a surprise rather than a right or an entitlement.
  • Skills enhancement that focuses on what people feel and believe in as well as what they think, and that build capabilities through a program of forums and fieldwork.

What sounded like an irrational premise to them sounds incredibly like a Purpose-driven and Purpose-founded set of conditions to us now. A purpose-driven culture could help deliver on the pre-conditions Carolyn Aiken and Scott Keller refer to by changing the very premise for change.

Purpose-skeptics remain. Some continue to argue that such goals exceed the role of business. Others will argue that, like ethical purchasing, many more people will say they will act than will actually do so. In an article in Ad Age in 2013, Rance Crain even asked whether purpose was a distraction and whether marketers had become too proud to sell. He included a quote from Dick Antoine, P&G’s former head of HR, who told Fortune magazine that “Purpose-inspired growth is a wonderful slogan, but it doesn’t help allocate assets.” (Our question: it doesn’t? – or it hasn’t yet?) Marketing scientist Professor Byron Sharp has also taken one of the key advocates of purpose-driven brands, Jim Stengel, to task over whether such brands are as effective as Stengel himself states. In this blog post, Sharp questions whether the methodology used to arrive at Stengel’s list of successful purpose-driven brands is sound.

His questions are tough – and important. Crain, Sharp and others who are skeptical believe they have good reason to look sideways at the evidence presented so far. Perhaps purpose-focused change is a speculation at this point. As we noted in our last article in this series, the lack of a measurement system to effectively monitor the competitive difference that purpose injects is worrying, and will indeed need to be addressed if purpose is to gain mainstream acceptance. But that makes the pursuit of purpose as an agent for change and as an inspiration for competitive performance an unproven idea, rather than an unworthy one. It doesn’t mean it can’t work. It does mean that a more robust framework is required to quantify that worth.

Here’s what we’d contend is unassailable. The current change process is not working to make organizations perform better in the majority of cases and has not done so for many, many years. That’s because the onus is on people – not processes – to do something different tomorrow than they do today. It’s messy, complicated and frustrating – because in fact, it’s human – and the attraction to revert to what people think they know and feel more familiar with remains high. It’s important therefore to explore options that invite greater participation and through that potentially greater success.

Making change, and sticking to it, seems to us to require more: an appeal to the head and the heart. And that appeal must surely be easier and more motivating in organizations where it is directed towards a clear, distinct and embedded Purpose that people have ownership of.

As Hilton’s PROSCI Change Management instructor was fond of saying “Change is all about the people, Stupid”

Where do you think (and feel) the answer lies?

Co-authored with brand strategist Hilton Barbour.

The Blake Project Can Help: Please email us for more about our purpose, mission, vision and values and brand culture workshops and programs.

Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education

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