The Culture Trap: When Your Organization Derails the Brand Strategy

May 28, 2015 | Branding Strategies

Developing and implementing new strategies would be so much easier if people didn’t get in the way. But alas, we can’t escape the people problem.

Nothing derails a brand strategy faster than a cultural misalignment. If your team doesn’t buy into the strategy or is unwilling to change its behaviors to achieve the strategy, the strategy will fail.

This is the “Culture Trap.” It’s the human resources issues that slow down or prevent a brand strategy from being implemented effectively.

The Culture Trap is caused by well known HR issues:

  • The wrong people on the team, which is often a “few bad apples” versus everyone.
  • Misaligned compensation plans, especially at the middle management level.
  • A fear or inability to change at the field level — the rank-and-file employees. The bureaucracy becomes cancerous.
  • Competing corporate priorities. This is a little like trying to serve two masters, and not knowing who to follow.
  • Mistrust between the organization and the executive team. As the old adage goes, “Once burnt, twice shy.”

These are the issues that keep me up at night when working with a client to reposition their brand and implement a new strategy. I don’t have a silver bullet to overcome the Culture Trap, but here are a few tactics I lead with.

Start With Why

Explain to your team the strategy and why it’s important for the organization:

  • Where we’re heading, and how we’ll get there.
  • Why now.
  • What we know, what we don’t know, and how we’re managing these variables.
  • What needs to be accomplished, and by when.

The more context you can share with your team the better. Fear, uncertainty, and doubt are triggered by a lack of knowledge.

Share the plan with your team and why it’s critical for the organization’s future. What’s the why behind your brand strategy?

Over Communicate

Implementing a new strategy requires deliberate communication. How will you get the word out on what’s happening on a regular basis?

Build a communication plan that includes a launch, weekly huddles, and quarterly or monthly updates. Then reinforce your verbal communications through print and digital versions. Look for every opportunity to share the story.

You really can’t over communicate when you’re going through a transition.

Ask For Participation

You can tell your employees what to do, but that’s not very motivating. Instead, ask them to come along for the ride.

As you communicate the strategy ask each member of your team for their participation. Ask them for their support.

Change happens so much faster when your team volunteers.

Bite Size Chunks

In larger organizations it may be beneficial to break up the strategy into bite sized chunks. Where can you achieve early wins? Where can you achieve buy in? Where can you shift the culture?

You may focus the strategy implementation on key regions, products, or departments. You don’t have endless resources, so consider how you can roll out the strategy both internally and externally.

Prepare For Turnover

This isn’t pretty or nice, but not everyone on the team may be a fit for the new strategy.

The faster you can replace the people who don’t fit the new strategy, the faster you can overcome the Culture Trap.

Many times the Culture Trap is magnified because the leadership cannot make the hard decisions to terminate or move members off the team.

If a person cannot keep up they’ve got to go.

This can be very hard, but if your organization is not prepared to put the right people on the bus, it’s probably not prepared to be successful either.


An effective strategy is malleable. You don’t know everything when you develop the strategy — listen, learn, and adapt.

Implement feedback loops into the strategy implementation process. You not only want to monitor how the brand strategy is being received in the market place, you want to monitor how it’s being received internally.

If you’re listening you can catch and resolve issues before they become problems.

Celebrate The Wins

Finally, have fun.

Transitioning your organization and your brand puts a lot of pressure on your team. This can be a very stressful period.

At every opportunity — no matter how small — celebrate the wins. Acknowledge them. Amplify them. Make them important.

Your team is trying. Let them know you truly appreciate their efforts.

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Jeremy Miller

Top 30 Brand Guru

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