The two things CEOs always want - immediately

Want more fun in the workplace? I recommend jammies. Bonus points if they have built-in feet.

Want more fun in the workplace? I recommend jammies. Bonus points if they have built-in feet.

In over two decades of being a Fearless Brand Champion, CEOs and executive leadership teams have routinely asked for the same two things:

“Can you make us a brand, then create a company culture for us?”

Ignoring the philosophical and grammatical errors in that question, the answer is always the same -- every company, organization and lemonade stand on the planet already has both of those things.

I take a deep breath and quietly explain, “You already have a brand. It’s the emotional and psychological relationship people have with your company.”

He leans back in his chair, nods his head.

“You already have a culture. It’s the combination of all your daily behaviors.”

He steeples his fingers, offers a contemplative “hmmmmm.”

I continue with a few more details and mention examples like Starbucks, Zappo’s and my favorite, Kenneth Cole. Finally he responds, “Yes, but we really need a new look and we need to have some fun around here.”

At this point, this Fearless Brand Champion wants to drop her sword and exit the battlefield.

To be fair, I’ve worked for some of the best CEOs out there. Most of them trusted me to lead the company on a branding and culture journey, and there were some amazing moments when everything just clicked. Eyes opened, light bulbs turned on, and the team totally gelled. (So much so we eventually wore jammies to work.)

This journey takes months or years, and is an ever-moving, ever-evolving thing. Fearless Companies respect this journey. Why else would Starbucks close its doors for a full day – globally – to wipe the slate and start over?

Brand and culture aren’t the same thing, but that’s another story. For now, before you ask for an instant brand and culture, get honest with yourself:

1.  What is the current health of your brand or culture?

You, your board of directors, and your executive team cannot answer this question. (Though it can be fun to compare their responses just to prove the point that there’s a major disconnect.) The answer comes from the front lines. Get out of your office and get out there. Don’t talk, just listen.

Do your front line teams show energy, use the same language, reinforce your mission and ask for the business? Are they problem solvers or order takers? Do they go above and beyond for each other? (That last one will tell you everything.)

Do your customers feel good in your space? Do you feel good in your space? If you mentioned your company’s name in the grocery store checkout line, would you get smiles or groans? (Yes, I’ve tried it.)

2.  Does your brand or culture mirror the customers you want?

Notice how countless companies are chasing younger consumers? So they give their boring products catchy names, put salespeople in polo shirts and decorate their properties with lime green stripes. Why? Because lime green is trending, silly.

And sales go………nowhere.

If you want younger, you have to see, hear, think, speak and BE younger. You have to hire to it, train for it, reward selling to it and live it.

Whoever your customer is, they must see themselves reflected in everything your company does. Every time they interact with you, they should feel like they belong, like they’ve found their long-lost tribe. This requires a level of authenticity that makes many executives nervous.

3.  Is your brand or culture on target, but no one knows about it?

Let me guess: you spent thousands of dollars on a branding consultant a few years ago, did a huge launch complete with fireworks, and now all you hear is crickets. You’re not alone. The truth is launching things is easy; maintaining things is the hard part. It’s also the most important part -- and you cannot do it from your office. (See earlier point about getting out there!)

What you’ve asked for will require endless hours of listening, lots of uncomfortable conversations, getting way out of your comfort zone, and more energy than a caffeinated squirrel. You must fearlessly live, eat, sleep, drink and speak your brand and culture into existence all day, every day. And right about the time you’re sick and tired of doing that, your employees and customers are just catching on.

I salute every CEO fearless enough to start this journey. It won't be easy, and it won't be instantaneous. It will be the most important work you do. So put on your fluffy jammies and get out there.