Culture is the engine of transformational change

At Holos our primary focus is on culture. We help organisations address the fundamental challenge: how do you intentionally create and curate the kind of culture that delivers sustained success in a disrupted environment. Our end game is authentic leadership, but just as important is how this is expressed through the brand – and how the brand informs the culture. 

The reality of any brand (regardless of the fevered aspirations of the marketing team) is how people experience the organisation. If I as a customer experience the automated phone system as complicated – that is the reality of the brand for me. If an employee experiences a chaotic organisation, that is the brand for them, and if employees experience chaos it is likely that customers will too, since you cannot create reliability externally, if you do not create it internally. 

So regardless of whether a platform is formed as an automated, dynamic and cutting edge brand, it is the lived experiences of that brand expression that defines the brand in its thousands of interactions with people, externally with customers, investors, suppliers, press, partners, and internally with leaders, managers, makers, sales people, HR, new hires. Even office dogs. 

At Holos we are privileged to have a diverse team to work with. Hanne Klintøe is one of our agents, who brings incredible experience and expertise from the exact cross-field between brand and culture. I have asked her to contribute to this post and dig further into how the two interloop – so here’s Hanne.

The cultural compass

To direct a fleet through a disrupted environment, you need a workable compass. You might think that is your strategy and firm leadership, but think again. Come storm, broken sails and high waters, nobody has time to read your strategy deck and they can’t see you through the waves. The only real go to is a strong culture striving towards purpose, constantly adjusting direction through the strong compass that is brand.

But hang on. What do we even *mean* by culture? On a societal level, we recognise culture in the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the traditions we keep, the way we meet and the expression of it all through activities, art, media, language. 

Culture is the living expression of shared values and beliefs and it’s what you get wherever humans are brought together around a mission – any mission – whether you want it or not. It lives  through the feedback loop of action-reaction and how these iterations affect what we believe, value and connect with, and as such it develops continuously, through thousands of small manifestations and adjustments, every single day. 

Culture is brand activation

When then CEO Alan Mulally set out to save Ford during the 2008-10 automotive crisis, he faced an organisation riddled by fear. Losing a job at Ford meant unemployment. There were no other jobs to be had in the entire industry. The fear was real and created a culture of secrecy and rivalry, hiding system failures, short-comings and mistakes and tearing the organisation apart. 

Mulally’s solution was the vision ‘One Ford; One Team, One Plan, One Goal’. It revitalised the brand according to Henry Ford’s original vision of a people-centric organisation innovating for a better future for all. Somewhere along the way Ford had become disconnected, and Mulally developed the tool that would reconnect the company as one, and plug it right into actual customer needs. 

Through a meaningful, connected brand, Mulally could cultivate an open and supportive in-it-together culture of trust that would. to replace the closed, secretive culture of fear and rivalry. 

His first initiative was to open all management meetings by celebrating mistakes. One by one, managers would share problems or failures and their disclosure would be applauded. “Great! Now we know!” Then, as one team, they could act on it. The second was updating team-structures and launching 16 ‘expected employee behaviours’ supporting the vision, which were printed on the back of the company access cards. The vision was outlined on the front.

Typical expected behaviours included:

– Deal positively with business realities

– Set high expectations and inspire others

– Believe in skilled and motivated people working together

– Respect, listen to, help and appreciate others

What Alan Mulally did was not only to launch a new vision for the organisation, but also reconnect and revitalise the brand and activate it into a culture, that made sense and was supportive for all employees. It became ‘a Ford thing to do’ to help and appreciate others. To celebrate failures as a route to solutions. To believe in one another. So activating the brand into a culture of defined beliefs and behaviours, he unified and empowered his people throughout the organisation – and the crisis. 

A brand conveys meaning

You might still ask what exactly makes a brand so powerful. Can’t you just tell people how to behave? Er, no. That’s called dictatorship and cannot deliver sustained success. The value match between brand and individual is one element of the answer, but the real power of the brand is that it ties together all that your organisation does – from purpose to method and offer – into one conceptual expression, and as such serves as an applicable guide to “What the h*** am I doing here?”.

As humans we organise ourselves around meaning. Where there is none, we make it up, and group around ways to enhance it. Our brains are built to guide that behaviour. Always confirming what we believe, altering it to environment feedback. When we direct cultures through the compass of a brand, we enable meaning to collect around intentional parts; values, beliefs, purpose. ‘I’ becomes ‘we’ when work makes sense.

Translated into behaviours, organisational routines, meeting formats, team work styles, support mechanisms, expectations and celebrations, we can enhance the meaning, even when we have fun, chat with team mates or share a meal. The branded culture becomes a deliberate, agile, and completely coherent structure directing the living organism of your work place, even as it is renewed daily through thousands of interactions. 

What further raises the brand’s value as a compass for culture is that it is;

a) constant – when the world changes, the brand is reliable (building safety)

b) predictable – a codex for what to expect and how to behave (fostering connection)

c) human – using language and symbolism that resonates emotionally (enabling belonging).

So a branded culture can help fulfil the fundamental human needs for safety, connection and belonging in the work place, enhancing trust and openness, but also open up for self-expression and self-realisation in a match on values, beliefs and purpose, feeding both innovation, motivation and drive. 

Build a culture with intention

Culture is what makes your organisation come to life every day. You can use your brand to direct the organism it embodies and establish coherence, even through chaos. Or you can deal with a wild beast on a daily basis, not knowing where it’s heading or why. 

Culture leads your people, whether you want it or not, so build a culture with intention through authentic leadership and on the basis of your brand, and you have a living organism with a workable compass that will drive your mission with conviction every day, in all interactions. 

Holos helps make change easy. We help organisations develop their leaders, map out and deliver the changes required to achieve sustained success even in a highly disrupted environment.

At Holos we have been studying change leadership and leadership training in the crucible of reality for years. We know what great leadership looks like and we know the journey to achieve it. We have developed a suite of diagnostic tools to understand where companies and teams are on this journey and how to take them from there to sustained success.

Holos has a wealth of specialist leadership and culture coaches and consultants with decades of experience working with a huge variety of leaders. Holos can help you or your organisation to upgrade it’s leadership to flourish even in a challenging business environment.

Please share your ideas, comment and discuss here – click on the blog title and scroll to the bottom to find the comment box.

You can subscribe for free at,



Neil Crofts

+447803 774239

About Neil Crofts

Writer, coach and consultant on authentic business and authentic leadership. Neil has inspired and motivated hundreds organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written three published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a coach, facilitator and consultant helping people and businesses find their authentic purpose and use it to inspire and motivate them to be everything that they can be. Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish. Neil has been independent for over 10 years and delivered his Authentic Leadership message to a diverse range of business audiences including people at BP, Shell, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, MSN, Jamie Oliver, South Gloucestershire Council, National Blood Transfusion Service, KaosPilots Business School, Fashion company By Malene Birger, German technology company Eleven.
This entry was posted in authenticity, Leadership. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s