Developing sustainable brands in post-colonial Asia

A couple of weeks ago I had a delightful chat with Jon (Dr. Jonathan A J Wilson) on my career experience & the work I do involving employee engagement & brand sustainability.  The interview is in the “maestro” section of the Indonesian based marketing magazine– ‘’ magazine.

The discussion provides some industry insights that aid companies in developing sustainable brands.

Your culture is your reputation

In today’s globalized era organisations operate  multi-cultural teams on virtual and physical basis. Multi-cultural team processes and culture is, in itself, a separate topic but  as organisations reach their brand to various parts of the globe, there is an image &  identity that goes along with it.

This is the brand image, personality and identity.

Physically this identity manifests as a logo and the people representing the organisation and the contents being offered.

But interestingly, the external manifestation of the brand, is totally dependent on the value system that the organisation believes in and alignment of the same with its employees.

Coming from different corners of the world, individually, we carry with us our own baggage of diverse cultural beliefs into work. Whilst most self-development books and managers’ guides tell us to operate, in what’s possibly, two silos– a personal self  and a professional self– in reality that’s a tough call!

Tough because we are governed by our emotions and our emotions come about due to the habits we have.
Habits are behaviors that we project every minute of the day.


From personal experience of having worked across industries and countries and developed a few multi-cultural teams, in my opinion, an organisational work culture comes about from a collection of beliefs and the resulting behavior from it.

These beliefs come about:

  1. From the organisational processes and the purpose of the specific processes for e.g. monthly management meetings and purpose of those meetings
  2. From the way senior management manages these processes i.e. the individuals own work-style personality that is expressed in the meeting

These in turn result in certain behaviours which, directly impact employee motivation and engagement, as well as the quality of work output. Overtime this set of behaviours, becomes the unwritten norm for the organisation in terms of:

  1. Interaction within colleagues  i.e. internal brand representation &
  2. External interaction with stakeholders i.e. external brand representation

This behavioral environment represents itself as the character of the organisation through
staff and becomes the organisational culture.

Is culture important for an organisation?

It’s important because it’s the work culture and the underlying behavior that allows you to know if specific changes can be brought about successfully. In leading a change management process the single most critical aspect of the change process is to have full comprehension of the organisational culture present.

How does this help?

  1. It helps identify specific leadership behaviours and work group climates that benefit the organisation.
  2. It helps in reviewing which processes are effective based on specific desired behaviours.

Lastly if a change management program is on the cards, undertaking specific behavioral changes prior to the implementation of the change management program, enables the organisation to re-train key executives on both leadership style and processes.

This has a direct impact on doing things differently in order to get the planned results.

A word of cautionwhilst training is one thing, enforcement or ensuring that employees use the new learning is another.

We human beings are creatures of habit and habit comes about through the discipline of continuous behaviours.

To bring about desired behaviours some amount of discomfort would have to be created through meticulous enforcement.
As only through continuous enforcement will behaviour change. When behaviours change, habits are impacted upon.

Thus, with a long-term approach towards the business and its operations, behavioral change that impacts on work culture, can be brought about and  along with it the development of  brand reputation.

Does your business take vitamins?

Visual Courtesy:

Visual Courtesy:

For those of us who manage, run or own businesses, we all know the three key ingredients that go into making sure the enterprise is healthy:

  1. Cash Flow—Liquidity is the life blood of any business. Managing and having the necessary cash flow enables a business to invest and grow.
  2. Employee Engagement—Motivation leads to productivity & efficiency. Employees represent the organisation brand and their output determines the organisational brand value. They are the heart of any business.
  3. Leadership— The right leadership provides strategic clarity & direction to the business through coaching the employees in their self-development. Leadership is the vitamin for a business to give it stamina, immunity and growth.

As a business owner or a corporate executive, whilst we give a lot of attention to the first ingredient—Cash Flow—most of the times we don’t focus on employee engagement or on the leadership the organisation has.

Without giving the due attention these two important areas deserve how do we expect our businesses to deliver growth year on year?

Here’s why:

  1. Leadership needs to be priority number 1. With the right leadership getting employee engagement becomes easier.
  2. Employee engagement occurs when the employee sees a clearly defined benefit, in doing his or her functional role with efficiency. This occurs when the leadership is able to show alignment between the employee’s individual goals and the organisational goals.
  3. Engaged employees are more productive and deliver a far better customer-experience. This results in a high cash flow for the business through sales, repeat sales and higher customer satisfaction.

So if we are looking to grow our business, the first area to study is not the new market opportunity or the pricing or doing the cost-benefit analysis. The first place is to look at the leadership of the organisation and evaluate if the leadership is:

  1. Being effective
  2. Having strategic clarity

Why are these two factors so important?

Leadership is the link to having engaged employees. In any organisation you need to have engaged employees to generate growth. Without the employees being engaged a business simply exists up until a point where the cash flow would severely be affected resulting in the closure of that business.

The way to get employees engaged is to ensure that the leader is able to clearly articulate and align organisational goals with direct benefits that impact the employees. Answering the ‘what’s in it for me?’ question brings about an empathetic connect between the employee and the leader. That aids in motivating the employee to perform.

This is why leadership is vitamin for an organisation! Leadership is that all-pervasive and all-encompassing element for a business that provides it with stamina and energy to have a sustainable brand.

Eid Mubarak

Visual courtesy

EID is the combination of 3 meaningful letters:
E – Embrace with open heart
I – Inspire with impressive attitude
D – Distribute pleasure to all

May Allah this occasion flood your life with happiness,
Your heart with love, Your soul with spirituality,
Your mind with wisdom.

Ensure you know your purpose in business

Following up from exercise choice carefully, here’s my top 10 steps of  ‘purpose that help in answering the  ‘why are we in business’ question. The outcome of using this model is in having a transparent, engaging and involving work culture.


Identify Business Purpose

1. Articulate a clear sense of purpose:

Revisit ‘why’–  The “why” are we doing this business OR “why” are we going into this business.  This is the question which needs to be identified and answered with clarity. You see how the ‘choice’ you make starts affecting the outcome?

The articulation of purpose brings forth the business mission. The business mission should then be evaluated for the impact it    would have on society. This would come about from the product or services it intends to market and how it affects the consumer. This social aspect of the business’s mission would be the heart and soul of its brand identity & experience. It’s the raison d’être of the brand.

2. Create a workforce committed to your purpose:

Articulating the business purpose does two things:
(A) Provides the framework for the brand experience to be in place.
(B) More importantly, articulating with clarity the business purpose creates employee engagement on the business mission i.e. employees working together for a common goal.

3. Define how the purpose is delivered i.e. ‘how we do things around here’:

People, by nature, like to belong to groups. In order to form such a group it’s necessary to provide employees a clear value system and a common cause. These, usually, are the organisational values that lead to behaviour and become the guiding principles of how business is to be done.There are three critical factors in detailing these values:

  • ‘The understanding of the business unit in what’s the social benefit of the business’
  • ‘The understanding creates certain believes which need to be genuine and strong enough to withstand stress & tension when tested’
  • ‘And they need to be translated into practice’

4.  Manage the intangibles that the business purpose would bring up:

Financial profitability is only one dimension of the value provided by the business unit.    Other factors which add to the value of a business include:

  • Strategic Clarity: A clear strategic direction based on practicing the values articulated i.e. ‘walking the talk’
  • Leadership: A strong leadership at the top in order to champion the brand values and represent the brand identity to the stakeholders (in this case any and every one that interacts with the brand in any function)
  • Employee engagement: In order to have the brand represented and projected correctly
  • Competitive Advantage: Identify and develop a strong competitive advantage based on the brand value and
  • Delivery: Deliver, consistently, on brand value through brand experience

5. Develop a clearly articulated governance policy that would reflect the business purpose:

Ethics, adherence to specific regulations and standards should be clearly articulated and proper process flow and directions provided for employees. Special focus should be kept in the functions of investment management, compliance, competitive differentiation, reputation management and customer intelligence management. Taking preventive care at the start would automatically create a work habit that would ensure very negligible slip-ups in governance.

6. Create your brand’s personality based on its purpose:

In the end, a brand is represented by its employee. Thus, it’s critical that the personality that’s projected be reflective of the business purpose. To this end, critical personality behaviour traits should be identified and documented as ‘must-have” for potential employees.

An organisations’ employees project the brand in order to earn trust from the stakeholders.

Trust comes through managing and delivering, time and again, consistently. Having trust leads to a ‘preferred relationship’ which in turn leads to transactions over and over. In order to generate this trust, the personality projection has to be one that is liked by the stakeholder. It may be the way the employee speaks, looks, mannerisms. Small things, but things that immediately create a “like or dislike” choice in the stakeholders’ mind. ‘Perception, after all, is belief’.

7. Listen with  purpose and involve people:

In gaining trust one has to learn to listen not just hear!

If a brand does not have its finger on the pulse of stakeholders’ opinion it doesn’t have a feel for its brand health. Listening, using the variety of mediums that are available, to hear what the stakeholders are saying and thereby get into a dialogue with them and involving them in the brand’s purpose is very important in order to have continuous growth. The more engaged the people are the more involved they would be.

8. Manage risks that are identified from the business purpose:

It’s strange that ‘risk management’ is still in the purview of the finance departments. But financial risk (though the most common is, actually, step two in mapping overall brand risks). Ideally every quadrant of the brand’s activities should be evaluated and potential risk identified. Then marketing and finance jointly, should approach evaluating both the financial and brand reputation risk.

A part of risk management is to ensure the brand’s reputation stays positive. Business leaders have this responsibility and need to ensure that the brands activities protect its reputation from foreseeable risks. By identifying and managing risk,
preemptively, you can head off financial risks.

9. Leverage social change that fits your business purpose:

Businesses tend to think good corporate responsibility is about managing the footprint of their brand on society. But real progress is achieved when they use their business purpose to achieve genuine social benefit . It can be done in a way which wins trust and leads to genuine social and business benefit.

10. Invest in communications  but make it a dialogue:

There are many stories in almost every business. Bring these stories out. Communicate them to your stakeholders. After all the stories involve people and people are interested in people per se. Stories allow for a dialogue to take place by eliciting reactions. This leads to engagement and an engaged stakeholder is better than a nonchalant one!

Exercise Choice Carefully & Ensure you know your purpose in business, when used together would aid you in having a clear mission and vision statement and in explaining the same to employees & external stakeholders.


I hope you have liked this series on ‘Take a new look at your business'; ‘Exercise choice carefully'; & “Ensure you know your purpose in business’. Do share your comments on the site.

Exercise choice carefully


The act of choosing; selection.

The power, right, or liberty to choose; option.

Choice consists of the mental process of judging the merits of multiple options and selecting one of them. 

Every minute of our lives, we are ‘Choosing’ i.e. selecting a course of action that brings about a particular effect. In other words, our process of choosing provides the cause and based on the choice we have an effect that affects us.

In our daily lives we go through this process without even realising it. Where the effect has a low impact or is part of routine we don’t ponder on the choice for long. But when it’s to do with an issue that we feel is important, we do take our time to evaluate all the information we have and then ‘Choose’.

Yet, many a time, as professional managers, there are choices (for our careers, for our work and for our self-development) that we make where do not fully exercise C.H.O.I.C.E.

What’s C.H.O.I.C.E.?

Choice is six simple steps that have been very helpful to me in decision-making. Here’s how I use it:

Clarity   Honesty   Objectively   Intelligently   Commitment   Express

1. Clarity:

  • Understand what the problem, issue or opportunity is clearly. Without clearly understanding the issue we won’t know what information we need to solve it.
  • Be clear on the result that you want i.e. the goal you want to achieve. Without clarity on the end result, we won’t know the destination we want to arrive at.

2. Honesty:

  • Be brutally honest with yourself and your team in identifying the problem or issue.
  • Be equally honest in evaluating if you have the required resources and ability to deliver the chosen course of action to achieve the goal.

3. Objectively:

  • Be rational in planning each step leading to the goal. Identify the skills, expertise and resources needed, who has them, where you can get them from and at what cost.
  • Make the team members understand the problem and the solution recommended and how their individual skills and expertise would help in providing the solution to the problem. This will help in the team understanding their own responsibilities and value. In addition, it will help the team in developing trust for each other by knowing that individually they can’t achieve but pooling in their collective skills and working on each step together will bring them to achieve the end goal.


  • Obtain the necessary information that you need to make an objective choice.
  • Use information to fill in knowledge gaps where applicable i.e. a new market entry for a product—research the consumer segment, know all about the consumer’s need for the product you are going to introduce, understand competitive environment.

5. Commitment:

  • Be committed to the task at hand. Show passion for it and own the project: A team that sees commitment will invariably be motivated to deliver their best as passion (with facts) is a very strong influencer in team dynamics.

6. Express:

  • Communicate always with your team, your superiors, and peers. Express your thoughts and your point of view succinctly and take feedback. This shows your willingness to make the choice based on rational and beneficial facts and empowers your team to support you in the decision-making process.

So the next time you need to make a choice, use these six steps. You may just surprise yourself at how smoothly you’d achieve your goal.

If you found CHOICE helpful then you’d like –‘A new look at your business.  

Coming next– ‘What’s your purpose in business’.

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§Be rational in planning each step leading to the goal. Identify the skills, expertise and resources needed, who has them, where you can get them from and at what cost.

§Make the team members understand the problem and the solution recommended and how their individual skills and expertise would help in providing the solution to the problem. This will help in the team understanding their own responsibilities and value. In addition, it will help the team in developing trust for each other by knowing that individually they can’t achieve but pooling in their collective skills and working on each step together will bring them to achieve the end goal.


§Obtain the necessary information that you need to make an objective choice.

§Use information to fill in knowledge gaps where applicable i.e. a new market entry for a product—research the consumer segment, know all about the consumer’s need for the product you are going to introduce, understand competitive environment.


Take a new look at your business

With all the talk of change in business, economic climate, consumer behaviour sometimes it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of information coming through.

To ensure success in business, you constantly need to renew your business strategy.

RENEW is a 5 step process that I use to ensure clarity and success in business operations:

Here’s the five steps:

  1. REVIEW: Undertake  a simple review of how the business operations are performing against the plans implemented i.e. are the specific activities initiated bringing the desired results or not.
  2. EXPLORE: For areas of operations that are not delivering the desired results, look at the process and the tactics initiated. Is something missing? Would you do something differently? Explore other solutions for the desired result you need.
  3. NEGOTIATE: In small to medium organisations and in partnerships, often times, there is a conflict in terms of the strategic direction and the necessary action to take. Having reviewed and explored options that may be more effective, you would have to present a possible tactic or solution tactfully i.e. you’d have to negotiate with your senior team in order to ensure their compliance so as to be able to deliver on the new tactic.
  4. EXECUTE: Sometimes, the best laid plans often fail due to bad execution. A strategy is as good as its execution. So when executing a new solution as a tactic or an activity, keep a close eye on the input and reactions and be adept and flexible enough to react and change as you and your team carry out the execution.
  5. WIN: Finally, having done the “renew-al” get ready to win and enjoy the success that comes in. Through out the “Renew” process, its crucial that you keep a positive attitude that communicates “confidence” to your team and your clients/customers. This positivity would rub off during negotiation and execution and finally bring you achievement of your targeted plans.

Coming next–Make the right Choice!