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Sitting at the intersection of brand and culture

Written by DeLisa Alexander and originally published on OpenSource.com.

There's a great new blog post up this week on the Harvard Business Review blog site by Bill Taylor, founder of Fast Company magazine and author of the book Mavericks at Work, entitled Brand is Culture, Culture is Brand.

As I read the post, I couldn't help but smile, as the primary point of the article is one about which I feel strongly. From the article:

The new "power couple" inside the best companies... was an iron-clad partnership between marketing leadership and HR leadership. Your brand is your culture, your culture is your brand.

Bill goes on to describe a speech he gave recently, where a bank executive who was in the audience came up afterward "with a Cheshire cat grin" and handed him a business card. Her title? Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Marketing. Again from the article:

Forget a "partnership" between HR and marketing. At Corner Bank, the two functions report to the same executive. It's a title I'd never seen before, and I asked Jana how her fellow bankers tended to react to it. "They're usually kind of shocked," she admitted, "because at most companies the head of marketing and the head of HR have very different personalities."

I must admit if I had been at Bill's talk, I would have probably gone up and shown him my business card as well, because my title here at Red Hat is Senior Vice President of People & Brand.

This is no accident. At Red Hat we believe the culture you create internally is a powerful tool for driving brand perception externally.  As a company that grew up quickly, without the benefit of a huge advertising budget to grow our brand, Red Hat found creating a strong, distinctive culture not only an effective way to build brand, but an inexpensive way as well.

I've been in this position spanning HR and brand functions for almost two years, and the connection points between the traditional HR and brand roles have never been more clear for me. By working closely together, HR and brand professionals have a unique opportunity to mold the external perception of the brand by impacting internal practices.

A few examples:

  • Employer value proposition: What is the company "story" you use to attract the best and brightest employees to the company?
  • Hiring: How can you change the hiring process so you ensure you are recruiting and employing people who are a good fit for the brand and culture?
  • Orientation: How can you ensure employees have a common vision of what the company is trying to achieve (and can tell that story to others)?
  • Performance management: How can you set up a system that rewards those who live the brand, both internally and in their interactions with customers and partners?
  • Internal communications: How can you consistently tell and teach the story of the company through company meetings, announcements, and events?
  • Celebrations of brand and culture: How can you reinforce the brand and culture by showcasing it (we host a "We are Red Hat week" every year)?
  • Brand ambassadors: How can you identify and support the most enthusiastic proponents of the brand and culture within the employee ranks?

Do I think HR and brand need to be combined into one function in order to work well together? Of course not.

But my experience running People & Brand at Red Hat has shown me there are endless opportunities to better connect HR and brand efforts within organizations. If making an organizational change is out of the question, I'd definitely recommend getting the HR and brand groups together to look for additional opportunities to collaborate.

My belief is that a company living a common brand story internally is going to be more more effective at showing a passionate, differentiated, and consistent face to the outside world.

Bill sums it up well at the end of his post:

You can't be special, distinctive, and compelling in the marketplace unless you create something special, distinctive, and compelling in the workplace.

Have you seen the strong connections between brand and culture that we see here at Red Hat? If so please share your experiences below.

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bala-subramanian's picture
I am glad Redhat has discovered the "edge" in an "open-innovation" world and is willing to engage its employees to be creative, democratic and innovate. Is that enough though, to succeed in the market place? I am afraid, employees engagement is only a small piece of the total pie. Innovation takes place, much more frequently outside the organization, in unexpected places such as the users, the vendors, schools, colleges to list just a few. Is there not a better way to harness all those potential contributors in a systematic and productive way? I believe, the future of engagement is in Virtual Offices, one for each one of us, so that what we do reaches that market place immediately and gets monetized either by your own employer or by its very cometitors or by the other entrepreneurs that are just waiting for the next big thing backed by thier VC s.