Brand vs culture – Does it matter?

Imagine this: a market leading organisation, admired by customers, lauded by industry experts, loved by shareholders. Sounds perfect doesn’t it? Yet on the flipside, employees in the same organisation feel cheated, unheard and angry. So much so, that they decide to go public to air their grievances. It’s every HR team’s nightmare.

This is what happened this year with brewery and pub chain Brewdog, and it is a disconnect between company brand and culture.

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The brand is how an organisations behaviour is perceived by their customers. Often considered the remit of the marketing team.

Culture, on the other hand, is how employee behaviour is connected with the organisation and customer experience. Often considered the remit of the HR team.

Organisations that create a culture where employees are a live representation of the brand and appreciate that the two identities cannot exist independently are the ones that thrive.

Though Brewdog proved to be a particularly high-profile case through the campaigning of Punks with Purpose, the chain it is not alone facing employees’ public dissatisfaction with their employer.

Apple’s demand for employees to return to the office three days per week post pandemic has caused unrest and a revolt from employees. There has been a similar response from Google employees about their desire to work from home on an ongoing basis.

Where a brand is projecting that it is cutting edge, it’s important that their culture is also reflecting the latest thinking.

The intrinsic link between brand and culture is best reflected through the purpose and values of the organisation.

Bringing these to life for employees by consistently embedding them in all areas of business, from HR conversations, to talent management and learning interventions, helps to build that connection. In the absence of people, there is no brand.

A great culture is where employees feel motivated to consistently deliver.

Another fundamental part of building and developing a great culture is to listen and keep listening. Leadership listening groups, skip level meetings, employee forums, visible recognition of feedback and meaningful response is important for employees to feel heard.

Feeling heard is a basic human need and uncomfortable emotions are the ones we push away. Creating an environment where uncomfortable emotions are surfaced in real-time puts the organisation on the front foot for building a great culture.

Engagement surveys have a role to measure impact but they are not reliant as a sole source of feedback and it’s important to pay attention to the comments.

In a digital world where everything is connected, ignoring warning signals of employee disconnection can be detrimental. Without avenues for employees to air their concerns in a psychologically safe environment, social media offers a platform to publicly air them which impacts brand perception.

In the extreme a poor and unsupported culture could likely end in significant tribunal costs for discrimination and bullying. Building a thriving culture at all levels of the organisation helps everyone to feel connected and consistently motivated to perform within the organisation.

Dismiss the connection at your peril.


Clare Spiers is founder of People Boost