I was listening to an interview with Jeff Bridges the other day and he said “cynics are usually crushed romantics”. I think that’s gorgeous and I like the idea. It suggests hope and a way forward.
Because if there’s one thing that we know from all our work at PlanetK2 over the last 15 years helping leaders perform at the top end of their ability in the conditions they face, that when it comes to seeing how good you can be, cynicism is fatal.
Whether you’re Jeff Bridges, an Olympic athlete, a surgeon or a rock star, what you give every day at work is your performance – and performance is about the most real thing we have to give.
It’s more real than results because in the end, performance is a matter of choice. In most high-performance environments, the result is outside your control. Good and bad results can happen for all sorts of reasons. A great result can sometimes happen when your performance didn’t merit it. A crap result can happen on the back of a great performance. That’s just life. We attach so much meaning to the result, though performance is the thing that’s real, because it’s a choice – and that’s why it deserves our attention.
As some of you reading may know, the heritage of our human performance expertise at PlanetK2 is the world of elite sport and the decades of research and application that helps us understand, better than any other arena we’re aware of, what enables human beings, individually and collectively, perform at the top end of their ability in the conditions they face.
Of course, in high performance arenas, everyone’s a performer, they just have different roles and job titles; CEO, CMO, manager, receptionist….their performance – doing the things they do to maximise their chances of getting the result they want – is the thing that unites them, whatever their title, role or status. We are all performers.
The conditions bit is really interesting; while everyone has the responsibility to make the best performance choices they can, it’s the primary role of leaders to care for the performance of everyone in the organisation and that means creating the best possible conditions where performance can thrive. That’s the leadership job, right?
A key element in the playing conditions for any performer is the brand. The brand tells everyone what they’re signing up for…what spirit, vibe, culture they can expect; what’s expected of them; what they will be giving and getting in return; and most essentially, the meaning of their work. The brand as we all know is not just what you do – you do those things because the brand is a reflection and amplification of who you are, who you want to be and why you do the things you do.
Or at least it should be those things – if it’s a real brand.
In the last 15 years or so, as we’ve worked shoulder to shoulder with leaders who are serious about creating the best possible conditions, we have seen a lot of conditions.
Some have been great, some ok and some…less than OK at the time. That’s where we’ve also seen first-hand the power of a brand that lives and breathes and shines inside an organisation, just as brightly as it does to the outside world. Even that tells us something – that our natural starting point is the external impact of the brand. I’m pretty sure we’ve only ever seen levels of degradation between the outside shine and the internal reality. Rarely – though it does happen – do we see a brand shine as brightly internally than it does to the outside world.
Bountiful Cow are a great example of when this stuff is done brilliantly. Henry Daglish and his team have worked tirelessly to ensure that their brand, their essence, who they are and what they stand for lives and breathes inside as well as out and so far, it doesn’t seem to be working out too badly.
Make it Cheaper are another shining example of a real brand. They are long term partners with PlanetK2 and their brand lives and breathes inside that business with a vitality that’s impressive. They deliver great results, for their shareholders as well as their customers, living their brand is one of the key ingredients to that success.
Our experience is that these organisations are often the exceptions. Maybe a brand that seems to live in the external world much more than it does on the inside doesn’t really matter. Maybe that degradation is OK. Maybe that external story is all that matters.
Our bias – by that I mean the PlanetK2 bias – is to see things through the lens of human performance and viewing the world through that lens tells us that it does matter…and that it matters a lot.
It matters because the brand is the promise we make to people who choose to spend their time, energy and talent working in our demanding organisations. If the first thing we see is the brand, if the brand is what we’re signing up for, then a promise we don’t deliver on damages trust; it disappoints; it’s something less than. Maybe it’s not such a surprise that motivation and excitement seem to deteriorate six months in compared to how it was on day 1.
That matters because everything we know about motivation and this thing called engagement is a function of trust, confidence and respect. A real brand feeds those things. An advertising hoarding doesn’t. A broken promise does more harm than a promise not made in the first place. A promise made and then broken every day – even just a little, is a breeding ground for cynicism – and for crushing romantics, the ones that dream that things could be just a little better than they are now. Leaders tell me that these are the very people they want. Crushing them seems self-defeating, if not a little cruel.
Great performance – characterised by things like consistency, persistence and intensity – requires high levels of motivation. One of the fascinating things about our motivation is that it’s at its best and healthiest when, amongst other things, we feel connected to, we can relate to, we feel part of…something bigger than ourselves. Our brands are the obvious place to help those we say we care for – the people in our organisations – feel that sense of connection and belonging to something bigger than themselves.
Your brand is one of the greatest performance tools you have. The chances are you’ve invested time, effort, skill and creativity in building, nurturing and sustaining that brand – leveraging that investment to power performance, motivation and results inside the business is an opportunity not to be missed. It’s a rare free hit in the search for increased ROI.
Right now, we all have a choice. Pay the performance tax for a brand that under-performs inside the business – or, like Bountiful Cow or Make it Cheaper, reap the performance and results dividend from one that fulfils its performance potential. One of the things that distinguishes high performers from the rest is that they get more out of the same resources than their competitors. Your brand is one of those resources.
At the recent Glow London launch event on 14th March at The Shard, we had an amazing group join us to celebrate – from many different organisations and a variety of industries and markets. We were joined by a lot of incredible marketeers and some equally superb leaders in the world of HR and OD. Sometimes, those two worlds seem to operate separately. It’s only anecdotal and maybe your experience is different, though seldom do we witness CMOs and HRDs talk about how crucial their relationship is in nurturing and sustaining the brand while powering the performance of the people we all serve.
I don’t believe that lack of connection between marketeers and human performance professionals is wilful or deliberate. Few organisations seem to be set up in a way that drives what could be such a high impact connection between these sets of experts.
Glow London, led by the force of nature that is Emma Harris (+ us at PlanetK2) nurture and make explicit that bond that unites brand, performance, culture and motivation, so that we deliver better performance, a greater connection to our organisations, more meaning in our work and competitive advantage that leads to better results.
We’d love to help make that happen for you– the opportunity is right in front of us. Get in touch if you’d like to grab a coffee meet with us or know more about how to link up Brand, Culture and Performance – we’d love to hear from you.