Three ways to embed brand values in your business

Post by Remona Duquesne, Managing Partner based in Singapore

Brand values can be highly effective at aligning, engaging and inspiring people in a business, provided they drive behaviours and are not just empty words framed in posters on the office walls. They are especially powerful in today’s turbulent times, when companies need to act quickly and decisively to respond to change and challenges.

Brand values are difficult to create, requiring the buy-in of many internal stakeholders. And they are even harder to implement, especially for large corporate or service brands with thousands of employees. How do you ensure that brand values are understood, believed and lived by everyone, from the CEO down? 

A great way to find the answers to this question is looking at strong brands with equally strong cultures. In this post we look at what Amazon, Lego and Netflix do to get their employees to embrace and enact their brand values. 

Tip #1: Create rituals like Amazon

Amazon’s purpose is to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” Central to this mission is the core value of Customer Obsession (called a Leadership Principle within Amazon). How does a global organisation with over 1 million employees ensure each employee lives and breathes this value, especially when not all employees are customer-facing. 

Amazon has found a way to make the customer impossible to forget. In every meeting, whether it’s with three people or thirty, a seat is ‘reserved’ for the customer. This visual cue compells discussions within the meeting to reference Amazon’s customers. The empty chair is a constant reminder that everything Amazon does must be done to enhance customers’ lives. As CEO Jeff Bezos is known for saying, “start with the customer and work backward.”

Jeff Bezos talking about Amazon brand values relating to consumer obsession

Action point: identify key moments within the employee experience to embed a ‘ritual’ (like Amazon’s empty chair) that keeps your brand’s values top-of-mind.

Tip #2: Recruit based on values like Lego

Equally important to ensuring employees embrace and live a brand’s values, is to recruit the right people into the company culture. Skills can be trained. Knowledge can be learnt. But hire someone with values that are not in line with those of your brand and you will have a hard time trying to align and engage them with your brand purpose.

LEGO’s purpose is to “inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow” with values including Imagination, Creativity, FunLearning, Caring and Quality. To assess if candidates reflect these values, LEGO includes questions and activities in the recruitment process. For example, a commonly asked question is “What do you do for fun?”, which isn’t a question you’d expect in a classic interview question. Fun is a core value for the brand and it’s important to LEGO that its employees know how to have fun and make time for it.

Another unique aspect of LEGO’s interview process is a hands-on building exercise. Candidates are asked to build something with LEGO bricks that represents themselves. This has two benefits: first, to see how familiar candidates are with the LEGO product; second, to see how comfortable they are at creating something imaginative. If candidates are successful and are hired, the model they build of themselves will be waiting for them on their desk on their first day of work.

Action point: consider including questions or activities within the interview process that help to evaluate how strongly a candidate reflects your brand’s values.

Lego brand values are reflected in the way they recruit people who love to play

Tip #3: recognize and reward living values like Netflix 

Perhaps the most effective way to get employees to live and breathe a brand’s values is to reward and recognize people for doing this. Netflix’s iconic ‘culture deck’ details the values that uphold Netflix and provides examples of the behaviors that get rewarded. Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg described this deck as “one of the most important documents to ever come out of Silicon Valley”.

Netflix employees who follow the values to the letter are most likely to be promoted. On its website Netflix says, Many companies have value statements, but often these written values are vague and ignored. The real values of a firm are shown by who gets rewarded or let go.” Netflix is well known to pay above market rate salaries across the board (top 10% say some sources). And the company does not beat around the bush when it comes to poor performers. No “performance Improvement Plans” here, they simply let people go, dramatizing the highly accountable and radically candid culture. The Netflix culture isn’t for everyone, but that’s the point. They only want people who fit the company values.

Action point: tie performance appraisals to values, not just roles and responsibilities.

Netflix reflects its values in the way it rewards high performers

In conclusion, in this time of business transformation, brand values are the backbone that aligns and unite a company’s culture, as shown by Amazon, LEGO, and Netflix. But to be effective, brand values must be more than words on a poster; they need to be embedded into the organisation’s daily practices and behaviours.