Early results from the Brand-Culture Fusion Assessment show that the workplace culture at many organizations isn’t aligned with their desired brand identities. In other words, many companies aspire to be perceived a certain way, but the way they operate doesn’t support that aspiration.
For example, over 2/3rds of businesspeople who have taken the Brand-Culture Fusion Assessment that I introduced in my new book FUSION: How Integrating Brand and Culture Powers the World’s Greatest Companies indicated they want their brands to be perceived as a disruptive brand (a brand that challenges the current ways of doing things and introduces new concepts that substantively change the market.)* And yet, two of the 3 organizational values that most support disruptive brands — competition and risk-taking — are among those that people rated their existing organizations on the lowest.
In fact many of the values that people rated their organizations on the lowest correspond to the brand types that were rated as most desirable. The values of inventiveness and experimentation — key to being an innovative brand — were near the bottom of the list. Enjoyment and entertainment were also low and yet they’re critical to supporting an entertainment brand.
An internal culture that isn’t aligned with your external brand sets your organization up for failure. You can’t simply message, market, or promote your way to your desired brand identity.
You can't simply message, market, or promote your way to your desired brand identity.Click To Tweet You need your employees to think and operate in specific ways that produce the unique identity and image you desire. They must understand and embrace the distinct ways you create value for customers, the points that differentiate your brand from the competition, and the unique personality that your company uses to express itself — and they must be empowered to interpret and reinforce these in everything you do.
If you aspire to be a disruptive brand like Virgin, Chipotle, or Tesla, then you must cultivate a culture that thrives on disruption. Consider how Tesla’s core values include “Move Fast,” “Do the Impossible,” and “Constantly Innovate.” These aren’t just words on the company website. The story of how one of its ventures got started demonstrates that Tesla people actually operate by these values.
The Boring Company is taking on the task of constructing underground transportation tunnels to alleviate traffic. One Friday afternoon back in 2017, CEO Elon Musk asked some employees how long it would take to remove staff cars from the lot and start digging the first hole for a tunnel. When they told him two weeks, Musk asked why. He then gathered the necessary information and challenged them to get started that day and see how big of a hole they could dig by Sunday afternoon, running 24 hours a day. Within three hours, the cars were gone and there was a hole in the ground. Only an organization that embraces core values such as competition and risk-taking could achieve such a feat.
More recently he wrote another message demonstrating that the company is even open to disrupting itself. “In general, always pick common sense as your guide,” Musk exhorted employees. “If following a ‘company rule’ is obviously ridiculous in a particular situation, such that it would make for a great Dilbert cartoon, then the rule should change.”
Tesla’s disruption is only one example. Every type of brand requires a specific organizational culture to thrive. If you want to be an innovative brand, for example, then your culture must encourage a test-and-learn mentality among your employees. If you’ve set your sights on being a style brand, then you need to infuse your culture with design and creativity.
To identify the type of culture you need to support your brand aspiration, take the Brand-Culture Fusion Assessment. It’s free and, after you take it, you will receive a personalized report that shows the three top organizational values that are required to achieve your desired brand identity and contrasts them with the values that currently exist at your organization.
Great brands achieve their brand aspirations by cultivating a clear, focused, and distinctive brand-led culture. Learn more in FUSION.
– the brains:Nick Westergaard is described as having “a foot in the college classroom and a foot in the field,” because he is speaker, instructor at University of Iowa, consultant, and coach. Nick has been kind enough to host me on his popular #OnBrandPodcast and I really appreciate his writing style which is approachable and insightful, a rare combination.
– the best bits: The premise of the book is “To brand now, you have to both build and move your brand…They must move between everyone, everywhere—both online and off… Brands that move from person to person, platform to platform, and community to community.”
With this challenge in mind, Nick introduces the “Brand Now Framework,” which includes the 7 Brand Now Dynamics — Meaning, Structure, Story, Content, Community, Clarity, and Experience. The book closes with a toolbox to help you apply the framework to specific situations like B2B, small business, and personal brands.
Here are some of the insights Nick shares along the way:
You can’t advertise your way to a better, stronger brand today… Instead of clever ads, focus on building a clear, transparent brand with no daylight between what you say and what you do.
Simply producing more content isn’t enough, as you’ll soon discover. You have to create better content. How does one do that? By creating content that is both business-centric and customer-aware… You need to look at what purpose your content serves, but you also need to consider who it’s for.
In a crowded, cluttered marketplace, brands that are able to reduce the noise and provide pleasing communications and experiences will earn a special place in the hearts and minds of customers. More isn’t always better. Sometimes more is just more.
Too often, organizations are too consumed with HR and other employee guidelines and policies to consider adding these doses of branding and culture. And yet few things can be so effective in helping your brand grow, especially when you consider creating a coherent brand experience across all touchpoints. In many cases, these touchpoints are managed and delivered by disparate parties internally. Maintaining a strong brand culture unifies your team and strengthens your brand at the same time.
Your brand has the potential to be more than just a marketing communications tool. Your brand is a divining rod that you can use to navigate your organization’s growth.
– the bottom line: This is the endorsement blurb I wrote for the book (thanks for asking, Nick):
Brand Now is the blueprint every business leader needs for building a brand in today’s complex, cluttered, and competitive environment. It’s an immensely practical and easy-to-read resource that I highly recommend.
other brand book bites you might enjoy:
Brand A-Z by Marty Neumeier
Hug Your Haters by Jay Baer
Mastering the New Media Landscape by Barbara Henricks and Rusty Shelton
In my new book FUSION: How Integrating Brand and Culture Powers the World’s Greatest Companies, I explain that brand-culture fusion — the full integration and alignment of external brand identity and internal organizational culture — explains the success of the world’s greatest companies including the ones we’ve admired for years such as Southwest Airlines and Starbucks as well as the ones that have broken through more recently including Amazon and Airbnb. But initial results from the Brand-Culture Fusion Assessment indicate that brand and culture are misaligned at most companies.
Why You Need Brand-Culture Fusion
Fully integrating and aligning your brand and culture produces meaningful, powerful results that affect your whole business.
First, brand-culture fusion aligns your workforce, increasing the efficiency of your entire organization and the quality of your outcomes. Fusing together your brand and culture also improves your organization’s competitive advantage because it enables you to produce intangible value that is difficult to copy. By aligning and integrating your culture and brand, you truly are on the inside what you say you are on the outside—and you pass the customer test of brand authenticity. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, brand-culture fusion allows you to move your organization toward its vision more successfully, since it provides a common motivation and focus for everyone in your organization.
Instead of treating brand and culture as separate entities, savvy business leaders power their companies’ performance by fusing together their brand and culture.
What Does Brand-Culture Fusion Look Like
When culture and brand are completely in sync, their alignment is manifested visibly in four primary areas:
Purpose and Values Integration — the extent to which your overarching purpose and your core values are woven into your business and organization.
Employee Experience – Customer Experience Integration — the extent to which your employee experience and your customer experience are aligned and integrated.
Internal Brand Alignment — the extent to which your people share one common understanding of your brand identity.
Employee Brand Engagement — the extent to which your people are aligned and engaged with your brand. Employee brand engagement shows up in 3 specific ways:
Personal and emotional engagement with the brand
Day-to-day engagement with the brand
Engagement in your company’s brand strategy
Please refer to Chapter Two of FUSION for more information about each of these areas.
The Current State of Brand-Culture Fusion
Prior to publishing FUSION, I published a beta version of the Brand-Culture Assessment and 250 business leaders pre-tested it.* Part of the assessment asks participants to assess their organizations on the each of the above four areas of brand-culture fusion.
Their responses indicate that most companies have moderate levels of Purpose and Values Integration. For example, slightly over half of the participants gave a favorable rating (a “4” or “5” on a scale of 1-5, where “1” means “not at all” and “5” means “a lot”) on their employees understanding what their company stands for, why it exists, and what it values, and on their company’s leaders usually acting, making decisions, and communicating in ways that are consistent with their purpose and values. However, having operations processes that are designed and implemented in line with their purpose and values was a weakness for most, with only a third giving a favorable rating on this area.
Employee Experience-Customer Experience Integration was a weaker area for the pre-testers. While slightly over half rated their managers favorably for treating employees in ways that are consistent with how they expect employees to treat customers, far fewer reported that they design their employee experience with the same principles used for their desired customer experience — and only a quarter gave their organizations a favorable rating for using rites, rituals, and symbols that reflect and bring to life their purpose and core values.
Internal Brand Alignment also appears to need improvement at most companies. Only a third of the participants reported that their organization’s brand identity and positioning have been clearly articulated to employees. The responses also showed a significant discrepancy between business-to-consumer (B2C) companies and business-to-business (B2B) companies on the consistency of agreement among organization key stakeholders about what`s ‘on brand’ and what`s not, with 60% of B2C respondents giving a favorable rating compared to half that many of B2B respondents.
The pre-test revealed large variations of brand-culture alignment in the area of Employee Brand Engagement. Personal and emotional engagement with the brand seems relatively strong across the board, with, for example, nearly two-thirds of the participants giving their organizations high ratings for having employees who believe that their company delivers on its brand identity and who feel an emotional connection to the company.
Engagement with the brand in the day-to-day was much weaker, with less than 40% of respondents giving favorable ratings for having employees who believe they are responsible for nurturing and reinforcing the brand on a daily basis and only 21% reporting that their people have appropriate access to tools and data about how their brand is perceived in the marketplace relative to their competitors.
Ratings were moderate on the area that assessed employees’ engagement in the company’s brand strategy: only 43 % gave a favorable rating on their employees understanding what makes their brand different and special from a customer perspective. Again, B2C companies seem to enjoy stronger Employee Brand Engagement than do B2B companies.
The Brand-Culture Fusion Assessment produces a Brand-Culture Fusion Score to represent the overall strength of brand-culture fusion at an organization. The average Fusion score for all pre-testers was 63 out of a possible 100. As a summary of the general state of brand-culture fusion today, this indicates a lot of room for improvement.
How to Achieve Brand-Culture Fusion
These results indicate that few companies have strong brand-culture fusion across the board. If you suspect this might be the case at your organization (or you have taken the Assessment and found you lack fusion), you should implement the 5 strategies for achieving it:
Organize and Operate On- Brand: Implement an organizational design and run your operations to give your organization the structure and processes necessary to operationalize your culture.
Create Culture-Changing Employee Experiences: Deliberately design and manage your company’s employee experience—just as you would customer experiences—so that every facet of an employee’s journey throughout his or her connection to your organization encourages and enables your desired culture.
Sweat the Small Stuff: Ensure even the most mundane or minute aspect of your organization—from its “rituals” and “artifacts” (things your organization regularly does and creates to commemorate or symbolize important achievements or events) to its policies and procedures—advances and supports your desired culture.
Ignite Your Transformation: Use employee brand engagement tactics—stage employee brand engagement experiences, launch creative communications campaigns, and develop and deploy employee brand engagement toolkits—to kick- start the fusion process and then to regain focus and momentum when necessary.
Build Your Brand from the Inside Out: If your culture is so powerful or established that it doesn’t make sense to try to change it to achieve brand- culture fusion, leverage your existing culture to define or re- define your brand identity.
In FUSION, I provide analyses and tools and share the stories of great organizations—including Airbnb, Adobe, Nike, MGM Resorts, Salesforce, and many more—that have successfully implemented each of these strategies so you can be inspired and equipped to achieve brand-culture fusion at your company.
You can purchase the book here — or, if you can’t wait, jump right into the Brand-Culture Fusion Assessment to start understanding the current state of brand-culture fusion at your organization. And as always, contact me if you have any questions or would like to discuss how to power your company to greatness by aligning and integrating your brand and culture.
* Based on the pre-test results and feedback I received on the beta version of the Brand-Culture Fusion Assessment, I revised the survey slightly before publishing it and the book.
LinkedIn Top Companies 2018 list, published just a couple of weeks ago, includes the companies that we all expect (#6 Apple and #46 Starbucks); but it also features some surprising ones, including Uber (#12), Dell (#17), and PwC (#25). So I conducted an analysis to see if there are any commonalities among the list of top employers and what I found surprised me.
Several of the 50 companies have been plagued with controversy (#2 Google/Alphabet and the #39 NFL), others lack broad brand awareness (have you heard of #37 Citadel or #38 Kering?), and still others seem kinda boring (I’m not going to name names on this one). So I shouldn’t have been so quick to try to predict which companies found their way to the top of the list.
The employers on LinkedIn’s Top Companies list has a lot to do with how the company developed its list. Daniel Roth, LinkedIn’s Editor in Chief, explains that the company analyzed billions of data points generated by LinkedIn’s 546+ million worldwide members to assign a “blended” score to each company. As such, the factors include only those data points from LinkedIn — e.g., “job demand” is measured by the number of people viewing and applying for jobs through the platform; “company engagement” is based on the quantity of professionals who viewed a company’s career page and the quantity of new followers a company attracted. LinkedIn then “normalizes all the results to ensure that companies are measured against peers.”
So clearly the list is a reflection of LinkedIn’s user base as much as, if not more than, a report on most attractive employers. But nonetheless, my analysis of the list reveals that LinkedIn Top Companies have these three things in common:
People want to work for employers that are primarily technology plays. 29 of the top 50 companies are centered on tech. To qualify a technology play, I determined whether or not the company and its products or services seemed to be driven by technology, as I deemed to be the case at Tesla and Stryker; but I excluded companies like Abbott and EY even though their use of technology is unquestionable. You might disagree with some of my classifications, but the desirability of tech companies can’t be disputed.
B2C companies are more in demand than are B2B. 34 of the top 50 sell direct to consumers in some capacity. This result is not surprising, given that the methodology to create the list favors large enterprises and many B2B companies are small businesses. But according to an analysis by Trellis, US B2B eCommerce is estimated to be a $780 billion market compared to the $350 billion B2C market. So in that sector alone, there is more business in B2B and therefore it would seem there would be more employment opportunities. But perhaps B2B employers as a group are being dragged down by the four out of the top 10 B2B companies in the U.S. that are oil companies (ExxonMobil, Chevron, Phillipps 66, and Valero Energy Corp.), which don’t seem to be attractive employers today.
Nearly all (47 of the 50) top companies are U.S.-based. Again this reflects the LinkedIn base of individual and company users, but I’m surprised at the overwhelming popularity of U.S. employers. According to Omnicore, 133 million of LinkedIn’s 500 million users (27%) are U.S.-based — so the top companies list suggests that a large portion of the remaining 3/4ths of LinkedIn users are attracted to U.S.-based employers.
Analyses of the list by other people also show:
Friends recommend one of the top 50 companies a median amount of 76% of the time, and the median approval rating for CEOs across all 50 companies is 89% — by Louis Columbus.
Thrillist reported that 30% of companies on the list appear for the first time this year including including Spotify and Live Nation Entertainment.
And, LinkedIn’s Daniel Roth says the top employers offer the ability to work on industry-leading projects, are committed to build a diverse workforce, and are rethinking employee healthcare.
What do you think of the LinkedIn’s Top Companies 2018 list? Please share your comments and questions.
My new book, FUSION: How Integrating Brand and Culture Powers the World’s Greatest Companies, has only been out for a couple of weeks now but it’s already looking like a great success. It’s gotten nearly 50 reviews with a 4.9 rating and been the #1 new release in a couple of categories on Amazon. And people have already started asking me for tips on successfully marketing a book. So I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned about book launches from this and my first bestselling book, What Great Brands Do, and provide a few of the secrets to a successful book launch that I’ve discovered.
Please keep in mind these are book marketing approaches that have worked for business books published by traditional publishers (FUSION is published by Nicholas Brealey, an imprint of Hachette Books.) Your experience will be different if you have written a fiction or other type of non-fiction book and if you self-publish or go with a non-traditional publisher (here is an explanation of why I went with a traditional publisher as well as other insights on writing a book.) Also I don’t claim to be an expert at this (Tim Grahl, Jeff Goins, and Penny Sansevieri are some of the true experts from whom I’ve learned a lot.)
Having set that context, here are 3 secrets to a successful book launch.
1. Drive pre-orders. If you wait to start promoting your book until it becomes is available for sale, it’s too late.
To increase the likelihood of becoming a bestseller and/or dominating search results, you must sell a ton of books in a short period of time (some experts say bestsellers require moving 5,000 copies in a 24 hour period). The best way to do that is to line up pre-orders, so that all of the sales are registered on your publication date.
So start promoting your book and encouraging pre-orders months before your publication date. My pub date was March 13th and I started on January 2nd — I would have started in December but I knew it would be difficult to get attention for my book during the holiday season. So beginning January 2nd, I started driving pre-orders by:
announcing the launch and promoting pre-ordering on social media
writing blog posts and bylined articles on topics related to the book and, where appropriate, including a pre-order call-to-action
including mentions of FUSION in my newsletter and encouraging subscribers to pre-order
participating in a book giveaway promotion with some fellow authors, which not only gave FUSION exposure to their networks but also I was given access to thousands more potential newsletter subscribers
writing the FUSION manifesto that could be shared by me and others on social media
creating social media tiles of quotes from the book and endorsements blurbs, also for social media sharing
recruiting members to the Great Brand Society (see #3 below)
creating bonus materials and offering a webinar exclusively available to those who placed a pre-order (through a form on my website, pre-orderers could send me proof of purchase to get access to the materials and offers.)
And I probably could have done even more! But at least this gives you an idea of the level and range of promotion that you need to do before launch day.
2. Reach for the “stars” (and then bask in their glow.) I was blessed to secure some fabulous endorsement blurbs for FUSION from Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Originals, Give And Take, and Option B with Sheryl Sandberg; Ken Blanchard, coauthor of The New One Minute Manager; and Marshall Goldsmith, The Thinkers 50 #1 Leadership Thinker in the World, among others.
Having such well-known and well-respected leaders recommend my book raised its profile and credibility and I’m deeply grateful for their endorsements. But I don’t know these folks personally and I only met Ken Blanchard once several years ago, so it’s unlikely he would recognize me if we ran into each other. All three of these people were “long shots” as book endorsers — but I decided to swing for the fences.
So how did I get their endorsements? I asked. Yep, I simply asked.
Well, perhaps it’s not so simple. For Adam, I was able to contact him through an introduction by a mutual connection — someone with whom I have cultivated a relationship for many years. For Marshall, I follow him on social media and share his content frequently. He may not know that because people at his level usually have someone(s) to help manage their social media presence, but at least I could reference that connection in my ask. And Ken had been kind enough to provide an endorsement for my first book (back then, I had interviewed him for some work I did on TEDxSanDiego, so I had access to his assistant at the time who put me in touch with his editorial director).
So for each one, I had laid the foundation through years of networking and social media activity. Then, I crafted an endorsement request for each person, referencing specific points about their work and writings to which FUSION related. I asked for a response in 4-6 weeks, thereby giving them plenty of time to review the book. And since I know they have many demands on their time and attention, I made writing a blurb as easy as possible by providing sample blurbs that they could adapt to their own thoughts and style.
And then, I waited for responses.
Fortunately all three, and several other thought leaders, agreed to endorse FUSION. So the secret to getting great book endorsements and a successful book launch in general is really not a secret — you just have to ask.
3. Enroll a group of “insiders” to help. I initiated the Great Brand Society with my first book and have counted on this exclusive group of friends and colleagues for all my book launches.
In exchange for an “advanced reader copy” of the book and other benefits, Great Brand Society members agreed to provide their honest assessment of it immediately following publication and to help in getting the word out about it. One GBS member ran a book giveaway on his site; another sent to her email list an invitation to the book launch event; and yet another purchased copies to give to her clients. Plus their reviews of FUSION were so helpful.
Although many other people have stepped in to support the launch, it has been incredibly valuable to have this core group of folks who agreed in advance to do so and who were committed to giving it their best effort.
I have been so blown away by the support of the Great Brand Society and know that I wouldn’t have experienced a successful book launch without them. So I’m closing this post by listing each member and including links to contact or follow them. Definitely check these folks out — it’s a long list but it includes a former NFL player, an airline pilot, and experts from around the world in brand-building, leadership, culture, and employee and customer experience:
Introduction to FUSION - New Book & Keynote Presentations - YouTube
Many people have asked me why I wrote FUSION — and why I wrote it now. In some ways I had been writing the book for years. When I wrote my first book, What Great Brands Do, back in 2014, I explained the first principle that “separates the best from the rest” is Great Brands Start Inside. I showed that great brands don’t start brand-building with external communications such as a clever name, cool logo and tagline, or big advertising spend. Great brands start by cultivating a strong brand-led culture inside their organizations. FUSION picks up this one principle and explores it further.
But I also recently reached a point in work with clients on building and repositioning their brands where I had to write FUSION. I had become increasingly frustrated that my efforts were sometimes held back because of cultural issues inside the organization. I found that some leaders didn’t want to include culture as part of brand-building or they didn’t appreciate the need to tight align and seamlessly integrate their brand and culture — to create brand-culture fusion — and that prevented them from realizing the full potential of their organization and their brand.
I also have grown increasingly concerned about the state of culture-building in business. By now, most business leaders know that culture is important, but most don’t know how to cultivate culture. Most of existing rhetoric on culture either overstates the impact of the trappings of culture (like free beer on Fridays) or suggests that all companies need to have warm and friendly cultures where managers are nice and nurturing (completely untrue.) I wanted to set the record straight on what a “good” culture is and how to cultivate culture.
FUSION lays out the leadership game plan for building a healthy, sustainable, valuable culture — and a great brand — through brand-culture fusion. I am also offering two brand new keynote presentations to introduce the insights and action steps in FUSION:
If you want to know which comes first, employees or customers, Donna Morris will answer “both.” As the EVP of Customer and Employee Experience at Adobe Systems, Morris spearheads efforts to attract, engage, and develop employees and customers. Moreover, these efforts are well-integrated and aligned. In a recent interview, Morris outlined for me some of the primary ways she fuses together customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX) and provided advice for other organizations that want to combine CX + EX efforts.
CX + EX — Why
When Adobe launched its enterprise business and started to directly engage with customers several years ago, Morris and other leaders recognized that they needed to develop a stronger customer support function within the organization. They also understood that had to evolve their brand identity: Adobe needed to be known not just for its excellent products and how they enable creativity, but also for providing excellent customer experiences. When they asked themselves what was the biggest thing that would drive the way they needed to evolve, Morris said, they knew it was their culture.
They recognized that the excellence the organization had achieved with employees — the ability to fill key roles with top talent, the retention of talent, and people’s successful growth and development — could and should extend to customer relationships. “We had become acutely aware of the parallels between how you build a great experience for customers and for employees,” Morris explained, “and we want to be as exceptional to work with as we are to work for.” So they created a new department — a combined customer and employee experience organization — which brought together the support people on the front lines of helping customers with the human resources team responsible for supporting employees.
Morris believes that any business that is highly dependent upon employees to drive successful outcomes for the company or where employees operate in close proximity to customers should consider combining CX and EX into a single department. The same three core elements drive relationships with both — attraction, retention, and development — and the same success criteria apply to both. With a combined CX and EX function, you can create an organization like Adobe that is focused on world class customer and employee experiences.
CX + EX — What
The fusion of CX and EX enabled Adobe to change its culture to be more driven around the success of their customers. In her new role, Morris led the organization to implement several mechanisms to influence a stronger customer orientation among employees.
She knew that if she and her colleagues wanted employees to deliver great CXs, employees needed to know what was expected of them and there had to be “an element of risk” to it. So Adobe implemented a compensation program that ties every employee to the customer. It’s a short-term cash incentive plan that reflects company revenue performance and customer success measures such as retention and customer ratings such as “easy to business with.” The program not only makes more tangible the contribution to customer experience that every employee makes, but also produces group alignment and synergy because everyone is working toward the same goals, Morris reported.
The multiple sexual abuse crimes committed by Dr. Larry Nasser, the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor, are quite unbelievable. But they are actually only one reflection of the destructive and dysfunctional culture within the USA Gymnastics organization. And they show other organizations and their leaders exactly what not to do if they want to produce a high performance culture.
The pressure to sustain a high performance culture within USA Gymnastics is understandable. As a national governing body, it is responsible for the day-to-day running of the sport and nominating athletes for international competitions, including the Olympics. And the U.S. likes to win at the Olympics — we expect to win more and better medals than any other country, especially in a fan favorite sport like gymnastics.
So the U.S. Olympic Committee, which has the power to remove its support from and decertify governing bodies, puts tremendous pressure on USA Gymnastics to maintain a leadership position for the U.S. at the Games. That pressure trickles down from the board to the coaches and staff and ultimately onto the athletes. Moreover, to develop medal-winning athletes, the organization must spend millions of dollars; most of those dollars come from corporate sponsors like Procter & Gamble and Kellogg’s; and sponsors only want to support winning athletes, so a vicious cycle escalates on the backs of the athletes and their performance.
To keep up with all these expectations, USA Gymnastics pushes its athletes to unthinkable levels. Athletes are pressured to perform when injured, says Jennifer Sey, a former member of the artistic gymnastics national team. In a New York Times piece, she writes that after she broke her femur, her coaches pressured her to remove her cast early so she could compete in the next national championships.
Sey also says she was antagonized about her weight, hearing “I don’t coach fat gymnasts” frequently from her coaches. 2012 Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney told GymCastic that gymnasts were often uncomfortable eating to satisfaction in front of their coaches and the national team staff for fear of being perceived as not committed to keeping their weight down.
After a poor showing by the U.S. at the 1996 Olympics and the 1997 world championships, USA Gymnastics shifted from using Olympic trials as the basis for athletes’ Olympics eligibility to screening them at monthly training camps. Tracee Talavera, a 1980 and 1984 Olympian, suggested to Deadspin that this more arbitrary system didn’t represent the athletes’ best interests.
“Pretty much nothing is given to the athletes in terms of control of their career, their placement, what is happening with them,” she observed.
And then there was the sexual abuse by the former team doctor. Exactly who among the USA Gymnastics board and the U.S. Olympic Committee members knew about the abuse and when they knew it is just now coming to light. It’s clear that some of them were aware of allegations against Dr. Nasser and did nothing to address the problem. They chose to turn a blind eye given that the U.S. continued to produce winning athletes.
But getting people to achieve unbelievably high goals and perform to impeccable standards does not require leaders to breed such a destructive and dysfunctional organizational culture. Many organizations are under similar pressures to produce nearly impossible results and maintain their elite high-performance identities. Sports teams, military groups, high-risk organizations, and even some corporations face dire consequences if their people don’t perform at their highest level.
The leaders of these organizations succeed by adopting healthier, more sustainable ways to cultivate a performance-oriented culture. They:
Set and operate by core values that connect and balance the needs of internal culture and external identity.
Navy SEALs operate by a creed that clearly delineate the values of the team. The creed states that “loyalty to Country and Team” is beyond reproach and includes phrases such as “I persevere and thrive on adversity.” It also states “My Nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies” and “The lives of my teammates and the success of our mission depend on me.” By acknowledging and connecting the expectations on team members that people inside and outside the organization have in a single statement, the SEAL organization ensures they are not in conflict and actually support each other.
Implement a performance management process that clearly defines standards and expectations at the individual, team, and organizational level.
At NASA, performance targets are set at the individual, program, project, agency, and cross-agency levels. Strategies are set through a dynamic process of collecting evidence (data, research, or end product) and conducting rigorous independent evaluations of the evidence. And performance evaluation processes consist of internal and external reviews, including independent assessments and verification. All of this is laid out with clarity and transparency in a 15-page document so everyone in the organization shares one common understanding of how they’re expected to perform.
Create experiences in which people are empowered and given authority to improve their own individual performance.
Amazon embraces a management philosophy from Japanese lean manufacturing called “The Andon Cord,” in which an assembly line employee can at any time pull a cord to stop the line and force an inspection if he or she suspects quality or safety has been compromised. Similarly at Amazon, employees in customer care who learn that a product defect is causing customer complaints can “pull the Andon cord” and shut it down until the technical team addresses the problem. It’s a drastic move that employees rarely take but it’s one example of how they are empowered to draw attention to problems.
Also the company is guided by fourteen “Leadership Principles” that set clear standards for performance. One of the principles “Take ownership for results” describes how employees are expected to take complete ownership for their projects and their outcomes — including failures and poor performance. This causes them to learn from their mistakes and adjust their future actions and decisions accordingly.
These are just a few ways that organizations successfully integrate high performance expectations into a healthy, productive culture. As USA Gymnastics tries to rebuild its culture in the wake of the sex abuse scandal, it will discover that organizational performance and health are not inherently at odds and can actually fuel each other.
9 Different Types of Brands
Five Myths About Corporate Culture and Five Strategies for Cultivating a Great One