I have recently almost completed a culture change/change management process with a group of beverage companies in an African country – three companies, with a total of seven production facilities dotted around some of the cities. In summary, one of the companies makes clear beer (with a 6 month shelf life) and bottles carbonated drinks, another of the companies makes opaque beer (with a 4 day shelf life for cartons or 21 days if bottled in plastic) and the other company makes milk-based shakes and other forms of soft drinks (with some of the products having an 8 month shelf life). All the products are well-known brands within the country and sell well. The group of companies quenches the thirst of the nation.
What I have found to be of particular interest in the process, however, is the seeming relationship between brand perception and how an employee values his or her particular company within the group. The more “elitist” a product is perceived (due to advertising strategy, market perception, positioning, etc.), so also the employee ascribes value to his or her company and feels either proud or dis-heartened as a result. Some of the employees from both the opaque beer and milk-based shake companies even saw their respective companies as “second cousins” to the more “elitist” clear beer sister company and some even went as far as saying that they felt as if they were the “neglected step-sister” in the operation. These perceptions generate feelings of unfairness, envy and suspicion, end up in political games being played and inevitably harm collaboration efforts and productivity as a whole. Even more significantly, ironically and probably unknown to the majority of employees, the opaque beer operation is cash-positive and has a higher value than the “elitist” clear beer company on the stock exchange.
What is needed here is for all the employees of the three companies to take an owner’s perspective of the businesses. Let me illustrate: if I own both a bread-baking company and a biscuit-baking company, I need to be aware that the two companies will give me very different kinds of results, albeit that they both bake. The bread-baking company, for instance, even though quite an intensive early morning operation, on account of a short shelf life and daily deliveries, gives me daily sales and resultant daily cash. Cash flow is positive. The biscuit-baking company, on the other hand, with sales predominant during festive and holiday seasons and other religious holidays, may break even at best for eight months of the year, but would capitalise on the profits generated during the remaining four months of high turnover. Both businesses occupy valuable places in the market even though their sales cycles are quite different. Now, if I am a bread-baking employee, I might well feel like I would prefer to associate with the biscuit company, with chocolate-coating and vermicelli, rusks and an assortment of other tasty goodies, beautifully packaged – after all, I just make bread – a low-end product! From a business owner’s perspective, however, both companies, if profitable, have high value for me – I want both of them to succeed.
Business needs to be conducted from an owner’s perspective. Brand perception is important in the market-place, but staff cannot go on the same alone in terms of placing value on their respective companies – neither on the roles that they play in making these companies profitable and sustainable. Leaders have a fundamental responsibility in communicating product and company value to the staff to develop a sense of pride in and ownership of the business – its processes, products and its people.