No board can make the right decisions if they aren’t considering the organisation’s brand in their thinking.
Yes that’s a bold statement. But I’m here to make the case for your Board to rethink your relationship (or lack of) with your organisation’s Brand.
The brand I am talking about here is not the one commonly beholden to marketing and the customer for its existence, or held within a name and logo. It is a more broadly drawn framework that contains all the actions, decisions and promises of the organisation (including those by the board). Those actions, decisions and promises work in concert to build a strong, resilient result that people care about. That’s your brand.
I define brand simply as the result of the promises you keep. And as the framers and architects of the promises the organisation makes, the board has a singular, and singularly important, role to play in building that result.
However, it’s likely that your board doesn’t think or talk much about the role they play in building and driving the brand. If it is does come to your attention it might be as a request for sign off on the budget cost for marketing to “rebrand”. It might have popped up as a line item for awareness in the strategic plan, or as something to monitor in the risk matrix. Or perhaps it even hit your agenda when an organisation failure has spilled over and threatens the so-called “brand reputation”.
While all of these things are valid (well not the “rebrand” one but that is another article entirely), the relegation of brand to something the board reacts to misses the myriad of opportunities for critical alignment that actively considered inclusion of the brand can bring.
Making what you care about visible and connecting it to others is the work of your whole organisation, including the board. When aligned in this way, the decisions your board makes with respect to purpose, strategy, structure, values and the ability to follow through and do what you say you will do is the mark of an organisation that people know stands for something.
Here are just a few examples of questions your board might face where including brand in the discussion will benefit the outcome:
- What is the organisation’s legal structure going to be?
- What products, services or programs do you offer (and which should you stop)?
- Who should you hire as CEO?
- How can you stay true to your purpose and at the same time navigate a changing environment?
- Does it make sense to merge with another organisation?
- What partnerships can you build to have a greater impact?
In every one of these cases there are a series of promises being made and the nature or those promises will have a direct impact on the brand and the brand will in turn then impact other future promises.
For example, take the case of a merger with another organisation. The obvious promises involve how their operations, products and services will merge. However, when consideration is given to bringing together the brands of the two organisations, a far more complex set of concerns emerges – and I’m talking about a lot more than the expected arguments around name and logo.
Considering the brands of each will be the key to the success or failure of the merger. Do both organisations care about and stand for the same thing in the same way? If not, how will that change? And when that changes (because it will) how will that impact the staff, customers (or members) and other stakeholders and their ongoing engagement with the new entity.
From this example you can start to see how the promises made by your board are more important to the organisation’s brand than any marketing campaign. The board originates the promises the organisation makes and the nature of those promises determines the organisation’s ability to keep them.
Make the wrong promises and the organisation can quickly head off a cliff. Make the right ones, building alignment and strength around what you care about, and the result is a brand that everyone who interacts with the organisation will stand behind.
This article was first published in the Better Boards Conference Magazine 2014.