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In 2013, I was invited to speak at the Ben & Jerry's Global Franchise Meeting in Las Vegas. My discussion topic was catering sales for the brand and how the franchise business could capitalize on a winning off-premise business strategy.
For me, it was a special, completely unique and transformative experience. While much has been written on the ways culture trumps strategy, I have never seen this philosophy in effect until I was able to spend some time with the Ben & Jerry's family. And let me just say that what I learned from this experience is that culture trumps strategy every single time.
For me, their heritage and culture is so rich that it completely trumps their business strategy. They are connecting emotionally in their communities and their group understands that waking up in the morning to do important work is not just about making money. While they acknowledge that profitability needs to be there, it is in fact a byproduct of their group’s higher purpose.
Culture is the set of expectations companies place on their workforce and the unwritten (or written) guidelines that influence individual behavior within the company. In contrast, strategy is an outline of a company direction and how it intends to get there as a unit.
In order to build your own thriving company culture, follow these four guidelines that have aided Ben & Jerry's culture and value-driven success.
Whether you're running a new business or want to change the structure of an existing one, make sure the leadership team is in agreement on the type of company culture everyone wants to create. Without leadership alignment, even the best company culture can get derailed. Once you have determined the company's culture, make sure that culture is reflected in the leadership values from the top down.
Establishing a company culture is just the first step toward the goal of creating a successful one. One your team has decided what it wants to create, it will take time, focus and energy to keep it moving forward.
This is key when it comes to sharing your brand values and culture. Not only should they be communicated internally, but externally as well. Shareholders, family members, media and other business leaders will be interested in your story and what your brand culture is all about. Employees must also understand the brand culture you're trying to create and why. This will give them an opportunity to identify and engage with the brand, its leaders and its place in the community.
Put a structure in place that consists of quarterly, semi-annual or annual reviews that are designed to ensure things are progressing. If the focus has shifted, use these reviews to get everything back on track or to re-engineer the company's cultural and value-driven priorities.
When co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield founded Ben & Jerry's in Burlington, Vt. in 1976, it was on the principles of product, economic and social values designed to promote environmental, financial and philanthropic sustainability. For the past 36 years, the founders and executives at Ben & Jerry’s have worked tirelessly to build a culture and strategy that supported these early principles.