Creating a Marketing Culture

creatingamarketingculture_coverThe following article by Tim Klabunde was published in the April edition of Marketer.

Building a corporate culture that embraces marketing can be one of the most effective ways to achieve your company’s growth objectives. Companies that are successful in developing a marketing culture reap the benefits of strong work capture collaboration, cross-selling among departments, and active participation in the marketing process. By contrast, firms that do not have this culture often find that marketing is compartmentalized among departments and are missing uniformity in their message in the local marketplace. The most effective way to succeed at changing a corporate culture towards that of marketing is to purposefully engage a cultural change process.

The Cultural Change Process

As simple as this philosophy sounds, the reality is that most firms are not successful at changing their corporate culture because they do not follow a structured process of cultural change. The result is that most corporate cultural changes do not happen by predetermined paths, but instead occur by accident.

It is important to remember that just as your culture was not built overnight, corporate culture doesn’t change overnight. It is not an easy process, but by looking at the thousands of firms that have gone before us we can identify a systematic process that yields successful cultural change. That systematic process can be broken down into four easy-to-understand steps that will allow you to take control of your cultural change. 

Step 1 – Educate and Encourage

Education and encouragement are the foundational step of any cultural change.  Without the knowledge of how to succeed in a new culture it will be impossible for employees to move towards that new culture.  In the case of changing corporate culture toward a culture that embraces marketing the first thing people need to know is how marketing works and how they can participate in the marketing program.  This often requires training in areas such as basic business marketing, networking, and business development. During and after training it is important to encourage employees to try out their newly acquired skills.  Through this process you will begin an ongoing process of training and raising up a company that embraces the new culture. 

Step 2 – Define Expectations

The second step in changing a corporate culture is defining expectations. Employees need to have a clear understanding of company expectations for them as individuals as well as collectively. Changing corporate culture depends on changing one person at a time. Because each person is unique and has different responsibilities, this also means that what is expected of individuals should vary.  For example, a project manager may be responsible to achieve specific business development goals whereas a receptionist may be responsible to learn people’s voices on the phone and address key clients by name.  Expectations should also be tailored to the strengths of individuals so that their contributions can be maximized.

Step 3 – Acknowledge & Celebrate Success

Acknowledging and celebrating success is the single most important step in changing corporate culture.  Firms often begin the process of change by bringing in outside training and defining new expectations, but the culture change never takes root.  The reason is that culture change depends on acknowledging success at the highest level. In the case of building a marketing culture this can be accomplished by the CEO taking the time to walk into individual’s offices just to say “thank you” to an employee for bringing work in the door.  That brief moment of acknowledgement will ensure that the individual knows what they did was important and appreciated, not just by their manager, but also by upper management. 

In addition to acknowledging success you should strive to celebrate success. Ways to celebrate success include popping a cork on a bottle of champagne when a new client signs up, or with bagels the next morning for the department with a note of thanks. The key differentiator between acknowledging success and celebrating success is that a senior individual should acknowledge the success, but celebration of success should be inclusive of others that were directly or indirectly a part of the success.

Step 4 – Reward Success

The final step in changing a corporate culture is rewarding success.  Title changes, bonuses, parking spaces, raises, and office locations linked to culture change successes ensure the longevity of your cultural change.  This final stage should only be implemented after the other three steps because it can backfire without the proper foundation. Rewarding success is important because it aligns the objectives of the cultural change with long-term rewards that then become evident to others throughout the company. The goal is to build the cultural shift based on people that are working to build a better company for themselves and others.   

Individuals Are Your Culture

It is important to measure your success in changing your corporate culture one person at a time. Your culture did not instantly become what it is today, and it will not instantly become what you want it to be.  The first two steps should include everyone in the company, although recognizing that not everyone will immediately embrace the new culture. Instead, focus your attention on individuals that begin to implement and show the successes of your cultural change. By doing this you will see a wave of optimism unfold as these individuals begin to build your new corporate culture.

Changing Complex Corporate Cultures

Complex corporate cultures are often the result of multiple sub-cultures that exist among distinct groups, divisions, and offices of one company. For a variety of reasons, organizations with complex corporate cultures often look to unify the organization by proactively addressing cultural differences. The task usually seams daunting, but with the correct approach it can be simple compared to the complexity of the organization.

Changing by accident
Individuals are the DNA of corporate culture. Over time our cultures are formed as people work and adapt a culture that helps them to achieve their individual and corporate objectives. Major changes to corporate sub-cultures can happen through generational differences, hiring ‘new blood’, and even through prolonged isolation. In each of these cases, as it is with most cultural changes, these changes usually happen by accident.

Individuals make up culture
The good news is that, because individuals are the foundation of corporate culture, these individuals are also the ones that can change the culture. To achieve success when changing corporate culture companies must focus on individuals, even in companies with thousands of employees. The key is to use the positive principles of behavior modification to begin adapting the culture at its source.

Don’t destroy existing cultures
This said, the goal in complex cultural change is to unify existing cultures rather than to replace them. A company that begins by identifying the goals of the cultural change can clearly identify the aspects of each sub-culture that need to adapt. This should also help identify the aspects of each sub-culture that should be embraced, providing groups, divisions, and offices with individuality.