Your branding strategy needs an organizational design strategy

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We know the pandemic has caused great upheaval and uncertainty for businesses, but it has just as often served as an accelerator of trends that are already shaping our competitive landscape. Among the most important truisms which are only confirmed: for brands to stand out, they must take a stand. According to a recent global survey, consumers are four times more likely to buy from a targeted brand and four and a half times more likely to recommend it to others.

Organizational design is often not seen as an essential tool for driving consumer engagement. But the kind of authenticity demanded by consumers and employees means more companies will need to pull the practice out of the far corners of HR and make it a central part of their branding strategy. Marketers and brand managers will increasingly have to see themselves as designers of organizations.

Here are three tips for thinking about organizational design that even the less knowledgeable about HR among us can use as a starting point.

Listen to your people as you would your consumers.

One of the biggest mistakes we see in organizational design efforts is that they are too often focused on narrow goals, such as immediate cost reduction and efficiency. Ultimately, a flowchart is just a structure on a slide if the people who make up the boxes and rows don’t connect to its underlying purpose. Like good branding, a solid organizational design should begin with a clear vision of what you stand for, what is most important to your organization, and why your consumers and employees should care.

Treat your employees as you would consumers, using focus groups, digital ethnographies, and other listening tools to understand what motivates them and how they connect with your brand. When an insurtech startup wanted us to help them restructure, they were surprised when we started talking to some of their frontline employees. This in-depth listening helped us design around a shared vision that made the effort a rallying point for the company as the IPO approached, rather than a cause of anxiety.

Define your central organizing principles.

Once you have articulated a vision for your organization’s design, you need a set of safeguards that connects that abstract idea to the specific details of your organization’s structure and processes. The next step is to create organizational principles (about three to five) that serve as filters for each design decision.

We worked with a clothing brand to develop a goal that put consumers at the heart of their business. Realizing that their organizational structure had become an instant relic of a more product-oriented organization, they decided to overhaul and adopted customer focus as one of their core tenets. The premise led them to transform their Marketing Director into Chief Customer Officer, overseeing products and marketing under one roof.

A good strategy is to focus on the few things that matter; organizational principles help you apply this level of laser focus in everything you do.

Design new rituals that reinforce your brand’s history and values.

Every organization has rituals that shape the rhythms and routines of daily work. Moments, from meetings at all levels to team checks, are opportunities to realign people around your brand vision, reinforce standards and expectations, and shape your culture every day.

Google executives wanted to maintain the culture of a startup even though the company had more than 100,000 employees. To do this, they adopted OKRs (Goals and Key Results), a goal setting system that encourages people to focus their work on a few ambitious and flexible goals that are reviewed quarterly. The quarterly meeting at all OKRs has become a ritual that reinforces the entrepreneurial vision of its founders, galvanizing a great organization to push the boundaries of what is possible today to achieve an ambitious vision for the future.

In your own organization, identify one or two rituals that have a disproportionate impact on your culture, whether it’s a regular meeting, some form of recognition, or some other time that shapes behaviors and norms. Experiment with small changes. For example, if your goal is to become more innovative as a brand, try starting team meetings with a preparatory thinking exercise. Tinker around until you get the results you want and scale what works.

At a time when authenticity is more important than ever, branding requires an organizational design strategy to bridge the gap between what you say and what you do. Listening to your employees, aligning them with a few principles, and defining rituals that shape daily behavior are three crucial steps in ensuring you live out your brand’s purpose inside and out.

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