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Benjamin Drury - September 10, 2018

Culture Truth #5 – Talk the walk!

Have you ever met someone famous?

Not just randomly bumped into them and taken a selfie, but actually specifically met someone famous to have a decent conversation with them. Someone you’d seen many times on the screen and in the press. Someone you’d formed a particular opinion about in your mind from what you’d seen and read. Someone you perhaps looked up to.

Have you met them in the flesh and had a real conversation with them, only to find out that the image you held of them is completely false. Once you finally spent time with them, you realised they were nothing like you expected them to be.

Generally, people in the public eye have PR firms and advisors to help them portray a specific image. Some of them work very hard on creating a public persona and they do this for many reasons, some good and some not so good. However, sometimes, those facades are just that, fake! The tabloids are full of stories and incidents that show when the cracks appear and the “real” person starts to show.

We tend not to like it when that happens. We tend not to like them when it happens. We tend to judge people quite harshly.

There are some celebrities, however, who are exactly as you’d expect them to be. Individuals who “walk the talk”. The ones whose public image matches their private character. The ones who practise what they preach. These are the people we long admire. The ones that the tabloid don’t write about. (Probably because it doesn’t sell newspapers.) Those are the ones we look up to. They are consistent in what they say and what they do. People with integrity. Authentic people.

There is a wonderful story about Keanu Reeves who was attending the wrap-up party for the film ‘Daughter of God’ that had just finished filming and in which he’d been the lead actor. The bouncer at the club where the party was held didn’t recognise him and kept him waiting outside for 20 minutes until his friends arrived. He didn’t complain and was so relaxed about the incident that he didn’t even mention it to the organiser of the party. He just patiently waited until he was allowed in and let the bouncer do the job he was there to do.

It’s not just celebrities. We’ve all met people, spoken to people and spent time with people who talk a good story but don’t behave consistently with what they say. People who don’t “walk the talk”. We find them untrustworthy. We don’t give them respect. We’re sceptical of what they say and we don’t trust what they do. They are inauthentic and we are unlikely to follow with any enthusiasm, even if they are our boss, our designated leader or pay our wages.

Unfortunately, it’s exactly the same with organisations.

How many times have you seen the marketing from phone companies, espousing how great they are with their customers, only to call up and discover the reality does not match the rhetoric? “Press 1 for billing; Press 2 for Support; Press 3 for…….”

It’s not long before we have to find an outlet for our frustrations and that usually involves complaining to those around us about how poor the organisation is.

When did you last call an online retailer to sort out an order gone awry only to talk to someone who didn’t listen, didn’t understand or didn’t care, despite the façade of the company saying how much they want to make their customers’ lives easier.

Take an unnamed health insurance company, for example, which, according to an inside source created an advertising campaign letting everyone know that the “welfare of patients” was the company’s absolute top priority, but, when talking with employees and shareholders, their attitude and rhetoric on the inside or the organisation defined their main goal as increasing the value of their stock options through cost reductions.

If you want to build a consistent, authentic culture which people trust and relate to (both internally and externally) then what you say and how you communicate internally – your organisation’s voice – is massively important and has to match the way you’ve articulated how you want to behave. It has to be consistent with the rest of the defined purpose. It has to match all the other things you say, otherwise you are merely one of our inauthentic, disrespected celebrities with a facade building PR machine. No one really wants to work in that organisation and customers only do business with them if they lack options. We can all list companies we’ve dealt with that fit this description.

What you say must match how you behave
to create a truly authentic culture.

But when you get it right….

When your voice and your actions do match up, when what you say throughout your organisation over time shows consistency, it all adds weight to your trustworthiness and authenticity and creates a legion of loyal customers and employees.  It truly builds a brilliant, effective and authentic culture, where people love to work and what customers choose to talk about.

What examples have you seen where what an organisation communicates fails to match it’s behaviour?

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