By Janice Cavaliere and Tana Hall of Gensler
We’ve seen a lot of change this year. From the isolation of COVID-19 to sweeping demands for social justice, we are grappling with some of the most complex social issues of our lifetimes. The habits and activities that defined our daily lives have been shaken up — a fact that is acutely highlighted by how we are (or are not) working now. When it comes to our work, we are struggling to answer the question: What is the future of work and the workplace?
Work is evolving. According to Gensler’s 2020 US Work from Home Survey, only 12% of us want to come back to work full time, and as many as 65% of us envision a more flexible, hybrid model of home/office work.
The connections we are making and the relationships we are forging have transcended place for a while. To understand the future of workplace, we need to look at the future of work culture through the lens of a brand identity that starts with people.
When we talk about brand, we are really talking about brand identity. Forget logos. The reason for a brand’s emotional resonance is that a good brand is a story, and stories provide us a framework through which we can understand and express our own identity. This collective self-expression builds culture. According to a 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Report, 78% of companies still aren’t making the connection between corporate brand and internal culture; they’re still not providing the backdrop for meaning that their employees crave. Understanding what is shaping the identity of your workforce and how that plays a role in building culture and community will be critical to creatively adapting for the future.
Companies can take the first step to understanding what’s shaping the collective identity of their workforce by exploring three key drivers that define a culturally grounded brand: Purpose, meaning, and belonging.
Purpose is more than a cause, it’s our reason for being. For employees, purpose translates to a desire for impact, personal growth and community; aligning your identity with something bigger than yourself that is making a difference.
The idea of a purpose-led brand is not new. Brands that focus on connecting customers to purpose are significantly more successful in the marketplace. Three quarters (75%) of Americans, for example, are more likely to buy from brands that contribute positively to society, according to a 2018 Cone/Novelli Purpose Study, brands spend an average of 10% of their revenue annually speaking to their external customers. Companies meticulously craft language around mission, vision and values. But is there action beyond the words? Are employees empowered by the agency to live their purpose and shape the brand from within?
We find meaning when we realize our purpose and achieve fulfillment by making connections that align with our own values. Brand stories play a pivotal role in establishing a framework for meaning. By tapping into our emotions, powerful stories bypass our brain’s critical thinking mechanisms and build trust. We need to be looking at how our culture and stories are reflecting our purpose and enabling us to link that purpose to meaning.
Over the past 20 years, the terms “employer brand” and “talent brand” have become synonymous with highly visible perks, like amenities and benefits. We’re now seeing more employees paying closer attention to their employers’ values and how those align with their own beliefs. With a rise in social issues being thrust into the spotlight, employees want to know they are working for a company that shares their values—and shows it. A brand’s story, and actions, need to be meaningful.
We’ve entered what many are calling the “Age of Belonging.” People are tiring of the surface-gloss of Instagrammable moments in favor of more meaningful co-creation, sharing, community building — all of which is ultimately driven by a shared sense of purpose.
According to Deloitte, 93% of global respondents representing 119 countries believe that a sense of belonging drives organizational performance, but only 13% of that group feel their organization is ready to address this trend (Deloitte 2020 Human Capital Trends). A culture of belonging matters now more than ever to individuals, communities, and organizations. Absent a community fueled by a shared sense of purpose, brands — and the companies behind them — will not have a strong and lasting foundation for the future.
It’s Time To Flip Your Brand Inside Out
We need to flip how we think of brand, placing the same value on investment in internal culture as on external marketing. Organizations need to have the courage to truly give employees the agency to fulfill their purpose. Currently only 28% of employees ACTUALLY feel that they have purpose in their work (Northwestern University), leading to a staggering 550 billion of the Gross Domestic Product lost annually due to disengagement (Gallup).
Understanding what’s important to employees and giving them tools to own and influence the brand, not only builds community and culture — it converts employees to brand advocates, the most valuable champions you can earn. Millennials, in particular, have an influencer mindset and want the tools to help them advocate. Are brands listening to them?
According to Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2016, employees are three times more trusted than CEOs, which means your employees’ engagement results in higher levels of consumer confidence. By connecting personal beliefs, aspirations, and stories to organizational goals and actions, organizations can build stronger, purpose-led talent brands that foster belonging and support a community based on shared values, providing opportunities for employees to help steer the brand’s course.
We’ll soon be back together again, in a hybrid-remote, tech-enabled reality. We will learn and grow from this disruption, and we’ll keep making change for the better. The shared experience that has held us together during crisis must now be replaced by another kind of communal bond — culture and values. While it may be a while before we reunite physically, our collective beliefs, stories, and rituals will bring us back together emotionally, strengthening both our individual and organizational emphasis on purpose. This sense of community will keep us inspired and engaged, and the organizations that foster it will build brands that stay relevant and are equipped to navigate whatever change comes next.