The Leadership Cookbook: Our Culture Is Our Brand!

An early mentor taught me a lesson that’s been successful for 30 years. From “fifty thousand feet”, there’s no difference between Darden restaurants, McDonalds, Panera, IBM, Apple, or your company. We all have three areas of opportunity:  our existing culture, our strategies and our structure.  


Business culture breeds brand experience. Culture happens accidentally or it happens on purpose. Which is it for you? If your answer is, “it’s somewhere in between”, by default, you’ve chosen performance by accident. Do I have your attention?

Culture is all about behavior and the creation of norms. Like a high performing team, we can define and track performance that is either red or green flag behavior. Make a note to yourself here: most high performing teams are coached constantly, not policed.  

You likely have great elements in your business culture. Equally important are the behaviors that do not serve you. These can shift.  And how? The first step is to define behaviors you know you need to START doing, STOP doing and KEEP doing, on purpose.   


Strategy and planning, fails 80%+ of the time unless something in business structure shifts. Structure doesn’t mean just a different a wall moved or a new piece of equipment. Structure is also how we speak with each other, how manage behaviors, or meetings. 

Strategic planning as an annual event is dead! “Review and course correction of plan” is an ongoing process. Explore behavioral norms and fiscal results, celebrate what’s working, course correct what’s not. Do so with data based feedback instead of compliments or criticism. Speak the unspoken and have the real meeting in the meeting, not afterwards at the bar.  

Figure 1.  Culture is Brand Experience; What do we start, stop or keep to move


The good news is the behavioral structure in your company is a whole lot cheaper to fix than a remodel or new equipment. Take a look at how you’re running meetings, talking with each other and making decisions based on clear vision versus the fear of making a mistake or being wrong.  All the more reason to have an explicit set of values that you actually use, defined purpose and explicit vision.   

Some red flags that scream, “our culture needs attention!”

  • It’s a common belief that “no one” is loyal anymore. You hear things like: “I’ve only got 2 more years to go.” or “We don’t talk about that here.” or “Forget it, they’ll never listen.”
  •  In response to a big speech about cutting costs, wages and hours, you hear: “Yeah right, I wonder how much of their bonus they’re putting back into the company?”
  • The Company Mission is mentioned with a smirk or is mocked.
  • Sarcasm is the primary humor in the company; followed by, “I’m just kidding.”
  • “You catch yourself remembering the story, ”The emperor has no clothes.”
  • The real meeting happens after the meeting.

Culture by choice? Here are some green flag behaviors that signal, “we’re awake, thanks to our culture!”

  • “I can speak honestly”
  •  “Thanks for the feedback!”
  • “We’ve made a difference today!”
  • Team members are more than loyal; they anticipate the needs of their guests and reach out in actions that scream positive guest experience!
  • Sense of purpose, and values are used in language daily. Managers act as coaches instead of cops and celebrate their team doing right things right!
  •  Metrics are in place for any system or process which provide anticipated outcomes for any action.
  • Viable solutions are offered for complaints or any issue of concern by everyone. Do your employee want to help solve the issue?
  • Accountability reigns: “I” own my actions and raise my hand for assistance with time to still achieve goals rather than miss them!
  • The real meeting happens in the meeting, truth is spoken with dignity and respect

The work to define culture is simple, but not easy. And, conscious, choiceful culture is very achievable. Take time to define the culture you want and you’ll get more than a brand promise, you’ll create the brand experience you need.