Inside-out design: Creating the Ideal Work Culture

Business success doesn’t just happen because you want it to. You have to work hard at putting the foundations in place. One of those fundamentals is an internal culture that supports the external brand and market aspiration. Well-designed staff engagement translates to better reputation and business results, writes Steven Giannoulis from Insight Creative.

Over the last few years we’ve seen many of our clients focus on internal communications and culture.

They have realised that there is significant value in retaining staff, giving them the information they need to do the job well, engaging them in the ideation process, and aligning their behaviours with the company’s strategy and desired external positioning. 

From my own experience as an employer, engaged employees are more likely to go that extra mile. They work harder, think about the job they’re doing and actively seek ways to improve it and the business as a whole. 

They champion the company’s vision (and regulate those who fall out of line), focus their actions on key goals and can make an enormous difference to sales and customer retention. Their actions, and results, are contagious and inspire others to follow suit.

But engaging staff is easier said than done. Many companies I talk to say they communicate with their staff regularly.

This usually means they send an email when there’s something to say, maybe even have a staff newsletter or an intranet site. Telling staff is not the same as engaging staff. To truly reach them, we need to speak to the heart as well
as the head. 

Broadly speaking there are five key engagement issues that design can helpto address:

Creating a consistent culture across the business, especially across locations, product-lines and brands. 

You see this, particularly in large firms, where employees associate the brand only with what they do and where they are, rather than with the organisation as a whole. 

Well-designed internal branding, staff induction and values programmes, underpinned by a strong and consistent company-wide communication framework, can help address this.

We’ve helped Mighty River Power achieve great results with a strong values brand. Lion had similar challenges and one of the tools we used (as part of a wider programme) was to make the walls of their offices a canvas to tell a united Lion story.

Embedding the company’s strategyand goals into everyday business. 

I see it in our own business, with the focus on creativity sometimes overshadowing other priorities like making money. Few companies make a big thing about ‘launching’ their goals and plans for the year ahead and then they wonder why staff don’t focus on them.

We launched our Creating Powerful Work strategy in April using the sort of creative flair that tells staff the type of agency we aspire to be for our clients.

An on-going communication programme that tracks, reinforces and celebrates the delivery of key milestones supports this.

Strong, bold visual targets will act as constant reinforcers of what’s important to our business. 

Getting buy-in around major change. 

Change communications are an area that many businesses struggle with. They tell staff what’s happening and when, and consider the job done.

Effective change communications draw staff into the change, helping them understand why it’s needed and what it means for them. They encourage staff to embrace the change.

A few years ago we helped financial services provider ING rebrand to OnePath. One of the key pieces we developed for them was a change passport that allowed staff to acknowledge where they’ve been, understand what was happening and why, and to play an active part in the change journey.

Aligning internal and external brands. 

Just the other day I was on hold for 15 minutes listening to a company’s own ads telling me about how important service was to them!

Brand perceptions are largely formed by experience, not what the company’s brochures say.

We recently worked with NZ Transport Agency to build on its reputation for exceptional customer service by developing a set of visual communication tools to stimulate the right internal service behaviours. The internal programme Sign Up, Team Up, Front Up has become part of the cultural vernacular and has directly contributed to its enhanced external reputation.

Engaging staff to contribute their ideas, actions and enthusiasm to better the organisation as a whole. 

For many companies the internal communication focus is very much on telling staff. More emphasis, however, should be placed on two-way communications.

Effective internal communication programmes have a number of feedback loops and opportunities for discussion and idea sharing. For example, intranets should allow comments and blogging providing an avenue for ideas to be shared. 

Well-designed internal communications aren’t the miracle cure that will solve the problems of poor communication, lack of vision or strategy, or just bad work environments.

They will, however, go a long way in driving the right behaviours that underpin your business success.

New and small businesses may read this and say ‘I don’t need to worry about this stuff – these are big boy problems.’

But they have the opportunity to put the right things in place today to establish the culture that will allow a successful tomorrow. Culture is much harder to change once it’s entrenched.

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IN BRIEF

Insight Creative is a design communication agency that has been helping businesses achieve their goals – through effective communications with their customers, investors, employees and communities – since 1976. They specialise in brand, digital, environmental experience, marketing and investor communications.

Steven Giannoulis is CEO & Strategy Director at Insight Creative. steven@insightcreative.co.nz