Strengthening culture through brand

Employee engagement

As we pass the two-year mark of the COVID pandemic, it is becoming increasingly hard to remember simpler times, when the majority of employees worked side by side. The context is different today, and we’re all doing our best to adapt and make it work, for us and for our teams.

As hybrid working becomes the norm, how can organisations continue to strengthen internal culture when in-person interactions are less frequent? How can they attract and retain talent? Strong branding is essential in solving this challenge.

Personal connections matter. Few of us would be where we are today in our careers if it wasn’t for the in-person experiences we have accumulated over the years. All those meetings, conferences, brainstorms and mentoring sessions are an integral part of our professional persona. They build our skillset and help us gain confidence, find our path, make mistakes… and get better as a result.

More importantly, put together these interactions help shape the culture that defines a workplace. They create an imprint of behaviours, customs and quirks that becomes the identity of the organisation.

The reality is, culture is hard to build, but even harder to manage. We can try to describe it in a job post, but one needs to be there to feel it. It can be subtle, but when it’s gone (or when it goes south), we realise it’s the linchpin of a healthy and sustainable business.

As the Great Resignation gains momentum globally, more organisations are leaning on their brand to strengthen culture, motivate talent and enhance performance. In most cases, this requires more (and better) communication. 

If those in-person gatherings, particularly the more informal ones, are no longer there, employees can’t absorb the social cues, develop true camaraderie or be inspired by the example of others. How do we then build, reinforce and socialise culture? 

There is a clear overlap between brand, marketing and HR, and it falls on marketing departments to develop new campaigns, touchpoints and events that make up that social deficit. The challenge is daunting: how do make them relevant and compelling without being overbearing or inauthentic? 

At Designate we work with some of Australia’s largest organisations to develop branded communications that foster a cohesive, inclusive, proud and inspiring internal culture. Here are five guiding principles that shape our work:

1. Start with purpose

Your purpose is the North Star of your organisation, the driving force that bonds employees (this is what matters to us) and provides a sense of direction (this is where we’re going). Use it as a litmus test for communications; does this campaign support our purpose? Does it reinforce it or demonstrate alignment? 

2. Segment and refine

Internal communication overload is a real problem. From EDMs to town halls, how much is too much? We encourage clients to segment just like they do with external comms, and refine based on engagement. Some issues are critical to the entire organisation while others only apply to certain teams, functions, locations or brands. Be selective, your people will appreciate it.

3. Balance wit and wisdom

Looking inwards, brands enjoy a little more leeway when it comes to proudly displaying their personality. After all, you’re dealing with an audience that is both informed and (hopefully) engaged. While some messages require all the gravitas an organisation can muster, internal communications should also provide opportunities for fun and spontaneity. In some cases, it can be the small relief that gets someone through a hectic day. The NHS managed to do both with their recent ‘Get the jab done’ campaign.

4. Encourage two-way participation

If hybrid working has one collateral victim, it’s usually engagement. It’s harder to feel that connection when you don’t see people as often, or if, when you do, you don’t know them as well. Millions of people who have recently started a new job would agree with this. Creating two-way communications can be a small fix, particularly if the outcomes are visible, whether they are in the form of new content, priorities or skills. 

5. Make it personal       

Small personal gestures go a long way, and recognition is an effective way to build stronger connections. Even if your organisation has no tradition of awards, any time is a good time to create them. They can be as narrow or as broad as you want. They can reward expertise, commitment or growth, champion the serious or celebrate the silly. Ultimately, it’s about creating new opportunities to recognise your people, what makes them remarkable and what makes your organisation the perfect place for them to thrive.

In essence, the strategic benefits a strong brand delivers to an organisation – particularly differentiation, preference, loyalty and advocacy – work inwardly as well as outwardly. Brand must be the driving force that both inspires culture and keeps in check, ensuring it remains authentic and unique.

At a time when the competition for talent is fiercer than ever, it might just give your organisation the edge it needs.

Pablo Ostolaza

Strategy Director
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Designate acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to their Elders – past, present and emerging.