Everyone knows that a unified organization is a stronger organization. But creating that sense of shared purpose isn’t always easy – especially in times of change like a rebranding or a merger. So what are the best ways to get everyone to buy into your company’s mission? We got some great advice from branding expert and corporate consultant Eric Berrios.
id8: It’s not uncommon at all for organizations to struggle with getting people together to work toward a common goal. How can leaders use branding to get everyone moving in the same direction and excited about their company’s mission?
Eric: When you have team members that are traditionally operating silos – whether it’s by a separate organization, company, or division – invariably, leadership wants them to share a sense of “we’re all one company”, this idea of one mission. They want people to come together and pool their resources for the greater good. The problem is that a lot of people tend to like to stay in their own zone and kind of keep their heads down. They live in their silo very comfortably.
The only way you really get that resolved is if everyone believes that their individual silo is contributing to something positive to what the group is doing. The metaphor I use is that you’re a bunch of Vikings out on the Atlantic trying to get to the New World. You got people with their oars in the water, someone at the wheel, another person at the helm, and someone’s reading the stars. They’re each doing their individual job, but as a group, they’re all working towards getting to land. What you need to have is that sense of common goal: Why are we all here? What does my position mean to something bigger than me, and how do I fit into that?
Thinking about the oarsmen, they’re doing their cadence, but they know that “Hey, I have to work together with the other oarsmen and stay on pace if we’re going to get the land. It’s a very simple metaphor, but it is the kind of issue that organizations struggle with because they really want the oarsmen to understand the bigger picture. They want 100% engaged oarsmen. And if they understand how important the part they play is, they’ll do their job better. That’s where the brand comes in.
Branding is so much more than a picture of the logo and new colors. Although those things can help make a group feel unified, it’s just symbolism. The iconography makes the tribe feel like a tribe, but at the end of the day they have to understand why they’re doing this work.
Id8: What are the most effective ways to achieve what you described, getting individual contributors to see the broader purpose?
Eric: A lot of this is vision-casting. You want people to see where they’re heading, and why. Vision-casting is really valuable because it gets the group motivated. It offers focus. People understand where they exist inside the organization and how they can contribute. It starts with leadership bringing clarity to that vision and creating a strong sense of purpose. Then the communication team has to deploy that sense of purpose and help people figure out where they fit in. So it starts at the top and cascades down by proselytizing, teaching, and building advocacy. Then it’s just reinforce, reinforce, reinforce – a never-ending drumbeat of this is where we’re going.
To go back to the Viking metaphor, the vision-casting is talking about what it’s going to look like and feel like when we’re finally in the “New World”. Today, we’re looking at groups like communications, marketing, operations, and sales. We all need to get from one common goal to the next and it’s hard and not everyone is going to make it, but you want people thinking about the celebratory moment when you get to the end of the journey.
id8: So thinking about, say, an internal comms team or whoever it may be that’s tasked with disseminating the vision and trying to build cohesion around the brand, are there specific tactics that you’ve identified that are particularly successful when employed well?
Eric: Road shows are great: getting your executive leadership out into the field into locations, talking and meeting with the team members. It’s a lot like political speech. There’s a reason politicians go to various towns to have breakfast at a local diner and talk to the locals. They know that it matters to be visible, and people feel like they’re being seen. They have an opportunity to engage. This is not a case of “Let me go and tell them how to do their jobs.” Road shows should be inspiring and exciting, and people need to have a real sense that you’re listening to them. Ideally, you go out with a rough agenda. You want to reinforce a message and bring it to the people. But you’re also gathering information that goes back into the organization. When it’s over, you take what you heard and saw, and that intelligence can lead to operational change. It might have something to do with safety, or maybe diversity. It might have something to do with something as basic as food. If you hear from people that the meals being served to employees are not particularly healthy, you can make changes and maybe even launch a wellness program. So, getting leadership out there listening to the people is key.
Id8: How does that look on a smaller scale? Say you’re a company with maybe five or ten employees?
Eric: Repetition and predictability are key. In some ways brand-building is a lot like religion. There’s a reason you have things like call-and-response in a lot of church settings. People feel comfortable when things are predictable. They like habits and routines. So, you get very consistent with your message that continues to share your vision. You can have a structured all-hands meeting once every month or quarter. You can have a process of recognizing individual people. When you talk about brands on a macro basis, a lot of it comes down to just consistency. You’re not trying to surprise people. You want them to say “I know how this works. I believe in where I’m going. I know where I fit in. This is the time and place where I do my thing”. It builds comfort and stability, which honestly is a big part of building a brand.
id8: On that note, what about when there’s not stability? What happens when a company changes direction or undergoes a rebranding that means changes for everyone? What’s the most effective way to navigate that?
Eric: Now you’re talking about change communications. First of all, you want to pay a lot of respect to what got us here. You want to honor the legacy at the same time you’re talking about change and where you’re going now. Again, it’s a lot of vision-casting. You have to make people believe that the new goal is something they can accomplish, and something they can get behind. It’s not just giving everyone a t-shirt with the new logo on it. It’s about explaining the new iconography, what it means to them, and how they are going to be a part of it. And this is how you know that we’re all part of it.
That change process takes time and not everyone will go along with it. But you can’t really go through real organizational change with all the same people in all of the same positions. Otherwise, nothing really changed. It’s unfortunate, but when you talk about real functional, operational change, more often than not, you’re going to lose 5 to 10% of your workforce. And you’re going to bring in new people and new thinking. That’s how things really get changed. It’s not something people really like to talk about, but it’s reality.
id8: Is there a graceful way to handle situations like this?
Eric: Well, you’ve got to own it and make it real. You say “This is what change looks like. We hope you all choose to come with us on this journey, but we understand you may not want to because it’s not what you signed up for”. Some people will be on board and some people won’t. Change is not something that humans generally like to do. In fact, it’s one of our least favorite things, but it is how we evolve. When you think about natural selection, organisms didn’t get better because every single one of them succeeded. They got better because some of them did and some of them didn’t.
Your job is to make it clear that the whole organization is going to be happier, healthier, more prosperous, and more unified. You say, “We want you to be part of it.” The communication should always be more of an invitation than a threat.
id8: So, once you’ve communicated that change is coming, how does all of this work in practice? How do you keep people engaged for the long haul?
Eric: Let’s say you’re a bank and you’re going to change your entire customer platform. It’s a massive endeavor, but it’s much easier to navigate if everything is broken down into cascading steps and everyone’s got a responsibility. You have to have clear performance indicators. And when you cross the line – let’s say you get to the point where you’re now able to provide video conferencing directly on your platform – that’s a victory. You celebrate it, you praise the team that helped do it. You know you’ve got a lot further to go and a lot more work to do, but you have to take a moment to recognize that you’ve accomplished this incredibly difficult goal.
You should also take these moments and communicate them, tell the story. The more you can make it personal, tell some background stories about what it took to get here and humanize it, the better off you are.
It all comes back to communication. The more you can talk about the successes in the moment and make it relevant to the people who are actually making things happen, the better off you’re going to be.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.