How aligning brand and culture can deliver sustainable success
Law firm leaders who consider their actions through three lenses – routines, rhythms and rituals – can better support a workplace culture that is aligned to its strategic organisational objectives, writes Keegan Luiters.
According to a resource-based view of strategy, a key part of an organisation’s sustained success and competitive advantage is to identify and leverage its capabilities in a way that is difficult for others to imitate or approximate.
With this in mind, I was recently delivering a leadership development program with Melbourne Business School Professor of Strategy, Geoff Martin. He identified several factors that are difficult to imitate. Of those mentioned, this article focuses on and connects two – culture and brand.
Creating a compelling market offering
Brand is typically seen as the external experience of an organisation, whereas culture is the internal experience. There is good reason to link the two.
In a 2010 Harvard Business Review article, the co-founder of Fast Company, Bill Taylor, gives away the punchline in the title: Brand Is Culture, Culture Is Brand. He says that “you can’t be special, distinctive and compelling in the marketplace unless you create something special, distinctive and compelling in the workplace”.
Through this lens, the ability of a law firm to establish and maintain a position within its market is directly related to the culture that a law firm establishes and maintains. It also implies that a culture which is misaligned to strategic objectives can be a significant handbrake to strategic objectives. For example, a law firm could be seeking to be known for providing client experiences that are professional, personalised, solution-focused and innovative. This will be made more difficult, and less likely, if interactions within the firm are unprofessional, transactional, problem-focused and compliance driven.
This rationale is typically one that is understood at an intellectual level by most leaders. There are two things with which leaders will often struggle, however. The first is articulating what culture is. The second is what leaders can do to influence culture. The first challenge informs the second, so let’s begin by defining culture.
What is culture?
In academic and business writing, there is no single agreed definition of culture.
For our purposes, I have chosen the definition presented in 2016 by Christian van Nieuwerbergh, a thought-leader in the field of coaching, who says culture is “the generally accepted beliefs, conventions, customs, social norms and behaviours of people who self-identify as members of a particular group”.
For many leaders, even if they have an agreed definition, culture can and does feel like a nebulous concept. This can result in many leaders believing that playing an active role in supporting a desired culture is not within their scope of responsibility.
Perhaps the most useful phrase that I have heard shared in organisations around the topic of culture is that “culture needs to be lived, not laminated”. This speaks to the fact that any culture is not about espoused values; it is the actual beliefs and values that manifest through repeated behaviour.
Research from the Centre for Creative Leadership has found that 95% of knowledge workers are on more than one team at a time. Leaders within law firms form part of multiple teams – the teams that they hierarchically lead, the client engagements that they lead, as well as the broader leadership teams of which they are a part. This offers leaders the opportunity to influence culture through a variety of actions and in multiple directions.
Enacting routines, rhythms and rituals
The question then comes to how leaders can choose to take actions that support a culture that is aligned to organisational objectives. My recommendation is to consider actions through three lenses – routines, rhythms and rituals.
Routines are the actions that a leader takes regularly. Typically, they may include things such as team meetings, project reviews and one-to-one meetings. The purpose that they serve is to orient (or re-orient) us in terms of the work that we are doing. The repeated actions of routines send a strong message about what is important.
While routines are what leaders do, rhythms refer to how often those actions take place. Together, they set a leader’s schedule. For example, the routine could be a team meeting, but the rhythm for that may be weekly. As a result, weekly team meetings become part of the schedule.
This cadence helps to reinforce what is valued in any culture. A leader meeting with team members individually on a weekly rhythm sends a different signal to one who meets with team members on a quarterly rhythm. Either rhythm may be appropriate for an organisation’s culture, but it is important to design and implement rhythm that supports a leader’s desired culture.
Finally, rituals are events that take place in order to recognise or acknowledge certain events. The rituals of a group, and what is chosen to be celebrated, in some way send signals about what is valued. The rituals that a leader chooses to incorporate and the events that are acknowledged continue to inform the organisational culture.
Carefully considered rituals can send strong and consistent messages that guide team members to desired behaviours. The choices and actions that a leader takes through routines, rhythms and rituals act to send signals about what is important and valued.
Leaders in law firms who consider their impact across the multiple teams in which they contribute are able to amplify their impact, align their culture to strategic objectives and ultimately build capabilities that are difficult for others to imitate.
Keegan Luiters is an independent consultant who works with leaders, teams and organisations to lift their performance. His book, Team Up, explores how and why to take a deliberate approach to team performance. Visit www.keeganluiters.com for more information or connect with him on LinkedIn.
O’Leary, M.B., Mortensen, M. and Woolley, A.W., 2011. ‘Multiple Team Membership: A Theoretical Model Of Its Effects On Productivity And Learning For Individuals And Teams.’ Academy of Management Review, 36(3), pp.461-478.
Taylor, B., 2010. ‘Brand Is Culture, Culture Is Brand.’ Harvard Business Review, 27.
Van Nieuwerburgh, C., 2016. Interculturally-sensitive coaching. The Sage handbook of coaching, pp.439-452.
Westrum, R., 2004. ‘A Typology Of Organisational Cultures.’ BMJ Quality & Safety, 13(suppl 2), pp.ii22-ii27.