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Brand values – a bit of necessary navel gazing

Despite not initially being a fan of brand values, Rotageek CEO Chris McCullough was converted to their worth and ended up with a useful document for creating future growth

Chris McCullough has always had a strong vision of the kind of company he was trying to build. “I started life as a doctor. As part of that move into the business world that felt quite alien, I leant on the core principles of medicine, which are ‘try to excel’, ‘always be honest and transparent’ and ‘try to learn from your mistakes’. We embedded those in the company culture and they became part of our vision.”

However, one practice he wasn’t particularly keen about was brand values. “I’d say, ‘It doesn’t mean anything, let’s just get on and do some work’.” But, having undertaken a major piece of work to articulate the company’s vision and values, he is now a convert. “It’s a little bit of necessary navel gazing,” he revealed.

Creating meaningful vision and values

One of the historical problems Rotageek, which produces scheduling software, encountered involved never really articulating the leadership vision to employees – which became an issue as Rotageek took on new staff. “What we began to see was that we feel very strongly about our beliefs and the way we expect our new team members to behave, but we didn’t tell them about it,” he added.

“We’re of a size now that we need a bit of clarity, a bit more structure, and a bit more process. Not too much to be overly prescriptive, just a vision that helps galvanise the team.”

Communicating vision and values

In deciding to document the company’s vision and brand values, McCullough considered hiring an external contractor to do the work, but said: “It felt slightly uncomfortable and worked much better doing it in the team”. Instead, Sofie Malá, Rotageek’s communications strategist, led the project.

Malá began by conducting hour-long interviews with each member of the team, then 20-strong, asking what they believed Rotageek was, and what its values were. McCullough said there was broad agreement around the company’s underlying values.

There was, however, some discussion over the company’s mission, McCullough remembered. “Some folk had slightly different views about what we do, and the problems that we solve for clients. As we started to grow, there was a lack of consistency in the way that we were seen.”

It was therefore important, he noted, that those differing views fed into the final document. In fact, the one piece of advice McCullough would give to other companies attempting something similar is to “make sure it’s organic”.

“The reason why our brand book feels like an amazing piece of work that has galvanised the team is that it really does reflect who we are. If it is that, it then becomes a really functional document. A top-down aspirational piece of work doesn’t work.”

Rewarding commitment to vision and values

McCullough believes Rotageek’s “brand book” will help the company determine whether staff performance and behaviour resonates with the company’s core values. He gave an example, saying he received feedback from a client that a demo from Rotageek’s product team had been “really easy to understand” with very simple language. “One of our key beliefs is that we talk plainly and simply. So it’s nice to tie that back to our founding principles,” he added.

The forward-thinking company is now considering rewarding behaviour that aligns with Rotageek’s vision and brand values. “It’s potentially a really good thing to do. But if it’s not well thought out, it can be really harmful.” He harked back to the NHS, where well-meaning targets often lead to unwanted outcomes.

Rotageek is now developing 360 reviews that take into account not just performance, but also how well an employee connects with the brand and how well they reflect Rotageek’s brand values. These will look at whether someone is collaborative and not individualistic, for example. Malá said: “It makes it easy to measure and sense check these softer things that make up a brand.”

Scores at the doors

Rotageek shares its new brand book with investors, clients and new team members. It is assessing its website and external communications to ensure they fit into the company’s brand identity.

Malá thinks the document has made the brand more coherent. Previously, there were no guidelines to create customer-facing documents and different teams would highlight different things. She added: “That meant at every touch point people were getting a very different idea of Rotageek, so this document has helped us align this brand view and control it a lot better.”

Rotageek has also seen results in terms of improving efficiency. “It’s given teams freedom to create documents without having to run them through design or communications first. It’s now easy for people to use the Rotageek tone of voice, and to make things look and feel like Rotageek, without it having to go through so many control processes,” Malá commented.

The immediate benefit McCullough has seen is the impact on recruitment. Rotageek gives the brand book to job applicants to give them a sense of what kind of company it is.

The process of articulating Rotageek’s vision and values is also having a fundamental impact on product development and even company strategy. “I sense check strategy decisions against that. Does this fit with our core beliefs and our core values?”

Malá gave the example of deciding whether to outsource data work, or bring it in-house. “You’ll think, our brand is based on this belief that we do things in a clever way and we love to work with data, so let’s do it internally, that’s an important business strategy for us because it aligns well with our brand.”

Overall, McCullough said the process has strengthened the company’s vision and values. “There’s definitely a sense that the team are much more aligned. It feels a bit odd because inherently we believe those things, but having stated them is much more powerful.”

He now hopes all that hard work will impact the bottom line. “The brand book makes it really clear what our aspiration is and the type of company that we want to be. That helps make sure that the team are content and satisfied that they are doing the right thing and have bought into that vision. Ultimately, they are more dedicated – and that drives productivity.”

If you’re interested in developing a set of visions and values then utilise our benchmarking tool. We’ve also got some helpful quick tips below.

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