Ep 43: RECHARGE: Culture Eats Marketing for Breakfast (1 of 3)

On this episode of Marketing for Good, Erica begins a new mini-series all about energy, energy, energy! She dissects the importance of culture, both in the organizational sense and the personal sense. Erica ties organizational culture to the great resignation and urges listeners to energize themselves and their employees in order to connect culture with purpose. This mini-series will take a deep dive into Erica’s new FREE ebook: Recharge: energizing your employees one word at a time. Visit https://claxon-communication.com/recharge/ to download your free copy and follow along!


This is a transcript of Erica Mills Barnhart on the Marketing for Good podcast. You can listen to the episode here and listen to more episodes on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts. Enjoy!


culture, statements, words, marketing, organizational culture, ebook, employees, organization, clients, culture vulture, identity, purpose, create, energizing, describe, connective tissue, values

Erica Mills Barnhart 

It was, in some ways probably inevitable that I would end up doing this very episode on the Marketing for Good podcast, an episode where I boldly claimed that culture eats marketing for breakfast, or lunch or brunch or whatever meal you want to slot in there. Now, before we go any further, I want to say two things. One, this is part one of a series of podcast episodes that are going to be related to a new ebook I wrote called Recharge: energize your employees one word at a time, which you can download at https://claxon-communication.com/recharge/. I’m going to talk more about that ebook in a little bit, but just know that that is something new and for you, which you can download for free. Okay, number two is just because culture eats marketing for breakfast, doesn’t mean marketing isn’t important. It’s as needed and important as ever, especially, especially when the marketing advances diversity, equity, inclusion, access all the things we’ve talked about all along on the Marketing for Good podcast. But think about this: this type of marketing can only happen and a culture that really truly values those values. That doesn’t just mamby pamby pay lip service to them, but really, really lives into them. This idea about culture being super important may sound familiar and that particular phrase was made famous by Peter Drucker when he said culture eats strategy for breakfast. So just like I’m not saying marketing isn’t important, Drucker wasn’t saying that strategy isn’t important. Obviously, it is. What he meant was organizational culture was a clear and more dependable path to success than strategy. And that’s what I’m echoing with this. Right? That organizational culture, workplace culture is a clear and more dependable path to success than marketing alone, marketing actually can’t really achieve its full potential if it isn’t supported by culture, that lives into the values. So the interplay between culture and language and words and communication has been on my mind recently. I have always fundamentally been hired by clients who need to find words, different words, better words, more inspired words. Whatever the words, it’s always been about words, words help you communicate, words become sentences that become messaging, etc. So, really, what I’ve been doing all along is helping clients find words to communicate more effectively, there’s nothing new there. I just happen to do that in what we refer to as marketing. So here’s what I noticed recently, and got me thinking about the influence of culture on marketing and the relationship between communications and workplace and organizational culture. Oh my god, that was really long sentence. Can we also pause since I’m already deep into the sentence and say the term workplace right now is very intriguing. Right? Like work place, the place of work. I think that mindshare is like the physical workplace. So, anyways, a word nerd, along with you, my fellow word nerds, I’m intrigued to see how that might evolve, this idea of workplace anyway. Okay, here’s what got me thinking about it. I first started consulting 18 years ago, 18 years ago, who’s counting? I mean, aside for me. And when I started out, I was hired mainly by folks in the marketing development, you know, sales departments, not folks in the C suite. Okay, so the words that my early on, clients wanted me to find, you know, they ended up in newsletters, on websites, annual reports, sales sheets, whatever. After an initial euphoric period where the new words were helping them get the results they wanted, the old words and ways of talking and writing would seep back onto the proverbial page. And this happened again, and again, and again. It was pretty fascinating to me, and also kind of frustrating, because it’s like, if that was working, you know, why backtrack, it left me flummoxed? So over time, I started working with executive teams, you know, CEO, COOs, executive directors, etc. They would reach out because they couldn’t explain what they did or why they did it. They couldn’t explain that you know, about the organization or the company. And they definitely couldn’t do that clearly and compellingly. So the bulk of my work has really become crafting what you’ve heard me, if you’ve listened to this podcast before, as identity statements, so mission, vision, values and purpose statements. I did a deep dive on identity statements in episode 27, you can listen to that for more specifics if you’re if you’re interested in digging in on that. So are these statements handy for marketing? Heck, yeah, they are. They are door openers, they succinctly and compellingly explain what you do, why you do it, for whom as well as clearly defining the principles that guide your work, aka your values. They’re an organization’s way really of putting a stake in the ground about what you care about what you stand for and based on that, what you do and how you do it. In other words, identity statements describe culture. Interestingly, I was thinking back on this, I can’t think of a single time when somebody has reached out and said, Erica, we need your help to, you know, we need you to help us describe our culture, maybe someone has, I have had clients reach out and say, with some regularity, we just went through this huge strategic planning process, and we created, you know, usually its mission, vision, values, because again, if you listen to episode 27, purpose statements are amazing, but they’re kind of new on the scene. So they  reach out and be like, we just went through this whole huge strategic planning process, we have these statements, and we’re putting them out to the world and like, nobody cares. They’re just they’re not helping us move forward. And of course, the reason for that is most strategic plans are written with an internal audience in mind and and those statements are developed accordingly. So you are kind of asking them to do a job they can’t do. Statements feel bad about it, too. So that would happen, but it was never like phrased this way about culture. And I think right now, you know, culture, workplace culture, purpose, all of this is on all of our minds in a way that isn’t like totally new. But it has a different feeling to it, I would say. The clients that contact me with what I refer to as a presenting problem, right? So our sales are down, donor acquisition has dipped, you know, we can’t attract customers or clients to this great program or service that we offer. So it ends up being referred to, as you know, like a sales problem or fundraising problem or a program problem. But really, it’s a communications problem. And once we start pulling on that thread, it becomes clear that what the client needs first is a way to describe their culture, regardless of what department anybody’s in, or team they’re on. Right? Culture is pervasive. So you know we care deeply about words. What do we mean by culture? Just like any word, there are a lot of definitions. So I want to dig into that a bit. A quick look at the history or etymology of the word reminds us that culture comes from the same root as the word cultivate. It originally referred only to soil eventually moved on to describe bacteria, which are organisms. And that is how in the 19th century, it eventually gained currency in the sense of organizational culture. I learned something new, a new term while I was doing this research, Culture Vulture, am I the only one who had never heard of that before? One who is voracious for culture. I think they mean pop culture and whatnot. I don’t know that just because I am super intrigued by organizational culture, I’m a culture vulture, I don’t know. But it’s fun to say, go ahead, say it. It’s pretty fun to say. So that’s the etymology. The Society of HR management describes culture as a, and here I quote, “a strongly held and widely shared set of beliefs that are supported by strategy and structure”. They go on to say it is about who or what an organization is versus what you do. I want to say this again, it is about who or what an organization is versus what you do. I would also put in there about why the organization exists. They acknowledge and a quick perusal of the academic literature supports, which of course, I look to the academic literature. It’s important that the fact that culture is a etherial nebulous, I mean, the amount of these articles that start with like culture is kind of difficult to define is striking. I think of culture kind of is like the connective tissue that holds everything together. It supports everything else, and you don’t really notice connective tissue when it’s healthy, but when it gets out of whack or is brittle, or there’s a tear, you know, anything like that you notice very fast, and somewhat ironically, I say this while nursing a lot of knee pain that is result of my body’s connective tissue, our body’s connective tissue, fascia, is like really unhappy with me. I don’t know exactly what’s going on. But you know, it’s not like most of us sit around and are like, I wonder haw my fascia is doing? So anyway, culture I mean, it really is similar. It’s like, you don’t necessarily notice that and yet it’s a living, breathing, feeds, into all the other pieces that allows you to operate at full capacity. Now, Bernard Ross at the Management Center in the UK rate breaks down what he refers to as The Culture Challenge, and he breaks it down into two parts. One is how you describe your culture. And then two is how you change it. He has a terrific blog post that we’ll put in the show notes that offers a synopsis of Johnson and Scholes cultural web, which has the following elements, stories, symbols, rituals and routines, power structure, organizational structure, and controls. These all interact and together, they form the culture. Now, the common denominator of all those is, of course, words, and language because you have to be able to describe all these things. I leave through change work itself, part two of the culture challenge to people like Bernard and his colleagues, there’s so many people who do wonderful work in this regard. It’s the first part that interests me, and where I see a huge opportunity right now, for organizations to shift and grow and align, and a whole bunch of other good stuff. It’s in the describing and the defining, and this so often gets sort of leapfrogged over because we assume like, you know, we’re all there as individuals, like, we all understand what the culture is, and it’s, you know, once you dig into it, it’s like, oh, wow, like, here, here are values with a value of empathy, or, you know, knowledge or whatever it’s gonna be and, and everybody has a different definition. So the work of creating identity statements that define and then go on to cultivate culture, it is a tricky business, because the task is to craft a set of statements that reflect the essence of who the organization is today in a way that is forward compatible. Usually, there’s some element of wanting to become, but it has to be forward compatible with who they want to become while not, you know, you can’t just like schmear identity statements and be like, No, we’re good, right, you have to walk, you have to walk the talk. So you want it to be true to who you are as an organization and also, organizations are dynamic organisms that are always in some sort of flux. So you don’t want the words describing your culture like hem you in and make you feel stuck. This is why I have a I have a very specific process I use with clients to develop these statements. Very learnable. Very simple, not easy. But definitely simple and learnable, and infinitely doable. And the process allows for that dynamism while keeping things focused. The process is emotional. It requires a lot of deep thinking, doing and developing. We play with a lot of words before landing on the right combination. And it’s a combination that like feels right, you know, because that’s when you know, you’ve nailed it. Not when the statements are technically accurate, and speak to the mind, that’s the neck up communications, and really what we are trained in our society to do is neck up communications, but our bodies are wise, right? Did you know that I learned this recently, that our brains process 40 bits of information per second. Which is a lot not to like, you know, downplay that, that’s a lot our bodies, wait for it, wait for it, they process 11 million bits of information. 40 versus 11 million. So this is why when I’m playing with words, right, which is how I describe describing culture and creating identity statements, because to me, it’s fun, replaying, I avoid the question, what do you think? That is neck up. And what do you think invites what’s wrong with this? And obviously, you want to use discernment, but like, I favor questions like, how does that land for you? Or like, just straight up, when you read that or hear that, How does it make you feel? Where do you feel it in your body? I know that that sounds kind of woowoo because, you know, feelings are considered woowoo. But okay, let’s go back to if you’re relying on your body, that is not woowoo that is based on 11 million bits of info per second. That’s, that’s just, it’s smart to listen to your body. So here’s what I can tell you. Having done this work for many, many moons, I started 18 years ago, organizations who do the work and get to a point where they’re able to describe their culture, take an important step towards sustainable success is a biggie, right to being, you know, in a place where people feel included and inspired where employees like to work and where potential employees want to come to work. But the ones that really derive the full value and benefit of having done that work are the ones that create the opportunity for employees to personally connect with the culture. And this can look a whole bunch of different ways. I’ve gotten to do all sorts of fun stuff with clients around this, but one thing has to be in place before connecting with culture can happen. Employees need to have their batteries sufficiently fully might be you know, too high bar although that would be ideal, but your batteries have to be sufficiently charged for you to be open and create that space to be like how do I feel about the values of this organization, the purpose of this organization. I mean, let’s be honest, all of us need to recharge a bit, right? The past few years have been rough. Let’s just call it rough. And like, I’ve never heard anybody say, Have you heard anybody say like, what we really need is a culture where people feel burnt out. You know, we we say things like, we want them to work hard, but they’re not like we really want to burn out, that’s what we’re going for. And yet, when we go through a period, especially the period that we’ve been through the past couple years, unless you’re super intentional, that’s often where you end up, it’s where so many organizations have ended up and you know, this is one of the reasons for not the not the sole reason, but a big reason for the great resignation, people just leaving their their jobs in droves. So you want to create that space so that your employees can connect with personal purpose. This is why I wrote an ebook called Recharge about creating space and opportunities and like offering really, it’s very tactical, you know, it’s practical. Anybody who knows me and my work like yes, yes, it has sort of this academic bent. And then let’s get practical because the change and the momentum comes in the application of all of it. So, again, you can download the book and read it. It’s short, it’s a shorty. But it packs a punch. And in there I talk about how how do you create a purpose statement as a person, personal purpose statements. So my friend and colleague, Dr. Akhtar Badshah, who I’ve had on the show, and he wrote the book, The Purpose Mindset, we’ve now helped hundreds of people, from executives to students, all points in between, write their personal purpose statement. It’s such a cool process, you know, I mean, it really comes down again, I lay it all out in the book. So you can go take a look. But I mean, it it is really straightforward. You can do it in 10 minutes or less, it does not need to be hugely time consuming, everybody is busy. But a lot of magic happens at the intersection of personal identity and organizational identity and culture. I just cannot recommend enough that, that step that piece of the process of creating culture. The great resignation rages on, right. And I don’t know, if you saw the McKinsey report from 2021, they found that 82% of employees rely or want their employer to give them a sense of purpose, 82%. And they go on to say quite bluntly, that unless you help your employees connect to purpose, you’ll watch them leave. And I quote from the title of the report. So now that mean, this is the time, right, it’s an important time to revisit culture. And simultaneously, we have to be like, Oh my god, culture, that sounds like a heavy lift. And this is again, like getting energized any way you can. And once you get the insights that are in the ebook, like, oh, wow, wow. In some ways, it’s as simple as we can just change a word, right? We can just change a word. So again, we’re gonna go into this, there’s three C’s in the book. So like three steps to energizing yourself recharging your batteries. I just, you know, I honestly believe one of the best investments any company can make right now is one of those identity statements and two and in energizing their, their employees. Am I bias, probably, but I’ve had the great good fortune to see the impact when this work is done. So as I’ve said in past episodes, and I went into with passion and in detail in episode 41, where it’s better because they are matter. They have physicality, they carry energy. So find words and you can there’s so many words out there that create the cultural energy you want. Right? Right now you may be like, umm Erica I like I’m just trying to get through every day. I get it. I’m there with you. Right, like I get I get charged up talking about recharging through words, of course, but I’m there with you. Right and I’ll tell you very candidly like, part of the reason I wrote this ebook is because these are the steps that I took to start recharging my batteries. Because they were low, very depleted, right. And words are like charging cables, or they can be, so I’m excited to have you read that book. It’s quick. It’s high octane. And you can get it at https://claxon-communication.com/recharge. So in the next few episodes, we’re gonna walk through the ebook together. I’m really excited about this. So break some things down more because I wanted to keep the ebook itself like, really quick, you know, high level something gratifying so that the the read itself would create momentum, which is it’s the third C, I’ll just out that, which is creating momentum. But I want to go in you know, dig in a bit more with you. So go download your copy, and then follow on over the coming weeks. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for all the work you do on the world. Thank you for listening. If you liked this episode, would you take a second to rate and review it? It would mean a ton to me. It means more people getting to hear about the power of words. How marketing can be a force for good and all those things. Never forget you’re amazing. Never forget it. Do good, be well and I will see you next time.

Are you a leader that communicates with clarity and confidence?