Research: When Brand, Culture Collide

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A credit union's brand is the place it holds in the minds of its members. In the same way, its internal brand, or culture, resides in the minds of its employees. Culture amounts to the written and unwritten rules that govern how employees behave, think and feel. The external and internal brand must be aligned because it's very difficult to deliver an exceptional member experience, without an exceptional staff experience.

Since both brands are about perceptions, impressions and feelings, one can only learn about them by asking members and employees. Qualitative rather than quantitative research is the answer, i.e., interviews and focus groups. The ideal setting for culture research is a two-day, offsite workshop. On the first day, identify the organization's "artifacts"-things that are readily observable such as the frequency and length of meetings; appearance of executive offices; existence of reserved parking spaces; and how decisions are made. Then, explain the reasons behind the artifacts in terms of the organization's values and "espoused" beliefs. The next morning, come back for a reality check. Re-examine those explanations. Are they the real reasons, or just the politically correct ones?

For example, one institution considered mistakes unacceptable. The results were excessive meetings, purportedly to make the best decisions. In reality, they served to distribute the risk and get everyone's buy-in before moving on. The resulting risk-averse culture made progress impossible.

Internal and external brands impinge upon each other. A culture that silently condones mediocrity, for example, can manifest itself in poor service quality. Conversely, a negative external brand image can impinge upon the internal climate of the institution. Most importantly, to create an exceptional brand for one's members, the internal brand - the culture - must support the necessary attitudes and actions. That's why it's important to survey members and team members, respectively, to understand both one's external and internal brand and how they interrelate. Once both are understood, they can be either leveraged or changed. When both internal and external brands are in concert, it creates a powerful engine for success.

Neil Goldman is President of Member Research. He can be reached at 310643-5910 or by email at ngoldman (c) 2007 The Credit Union Journal and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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