We chose our logo to represent the balance between “walking” and “talking” when building the culture you want. And we wanted it to portray how the “walker” is usually hurrying to catch up with the “talker”. It is common for the talk to be a little ahead of the walk, but in many cases it gets way too far out in front.
You build trust with your employees and your customers when you walk your talk. There are two paths to closing the gap between these two. One is to improve your “walk”. The other to downplay your “talk”. Ultimately, if you want a sustainable culture that will allow you to deliver on your promises, you need to improve your walk. However, until you reach that point, there are dangers to be found in hyping up the “talk” too much.
Take a look at this article in the Harvard Business review. It makes some excellent points about the additional burden BP as placed upon itself by its positioning of being ultra environmentally friendly. It contrasts BP’s culture with that of one of its Brazilian competitors, Petrobras, where there has been deep, consistent work achieved to lay the foundations of a safe, environmentally aware culture.
It is tempting, when you hold a vision of having a great culture, to communicate this both to employees and customers. How can you word your communications so they describe aspiration without making claims that you cannot fulfil? From an internal perspective, communication that is worded as an absolute: “We are customer centric, open and a meritocracy” will evoke cynicism if employees see a lack of investment in customers, an unwillingness to listen and non performers being given bonuses. This will actually put your culture efforts into regression. “We aspire to be customer centric, and we need your feedback and your help” evokes a very different response.
When it comes to marketing campaigns, the temptation to overpromise is often even more embedded. And it may cost BP dearly right now.