Why Z? When Branding & Company Culture Meet

Yesterday I attended a fascinating talk on company culture by Z Energy’s CEO Mike Bennetts. It’s an area that I’m passionate about but is often dismissed as “airy fairy”. Companies often advertise external cultures at juxtapositions to the internal reality. Corporate slogans like “Ideas for life” and “Making a better world” are a dime a dozen.

But true company culture extends far beyond the branding and marketing departments.  When embraced culture can provide companies with a strong point of difference even in commodity based markets. The truly great company culture provides tangible value that benefits the customer as well as the staff and shareholders.

Mike was quick to explain that while he was behind the purpose of Z Energy, his job as CEO was to set the “why” and stand back for the rest of the teams to live it out. Most of the successes were credited to the wider Z Energy team, Mike doesn’t use the word “I” frequently.

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For Z Energy company culture is created by first having a clear set of values are communicated to all staff. Then secondly by encouraging staff to have input and build upon this purpose.

Here’s a few key points and quotes from the talk:

The importance of company purpose

Give people a reason for belonging, the possibility of a bigger purpose than they imagined, and a hunger for the extraordinary will help your team achieve the exceptional.

~ Mike Bennetts, CEO, Z Energy

  • Have a purpose, then get out of people’s way!
  • If you don’t have a clear purpose than how do you know what to do?
  • If people can create/generate/add to a company’s values (rather than simply being told them) they are more likely to be committed to them and genuinely embody them
  • Rather than “this is the way we do things” instead think “this is why we do this”

Screen Shot 2014-07-02 at 7.39.05 PMCreating value through culture 

  • When Shell was sold it was returning just 6%, below the 10% minimum required to provide value to shareholders and justify investment risk
  • Shell NZ was purchased for $700M in 2010, since rebranding to Z the company has been publically listed – it was listed at a value of $1.5B!
  • Reasons for rebranding to Z Energy – Shell was well recognised but there was little or no emotional connection to the brand/company, low customer satisfaction (as with petrol industry generally), and little/no product differentiation
  • In a commodised market Z Energy looked to create value so that they could take the focus off price solely.

Communicating values 

  • Establish clear values that are the same internally and externally
  • All potential employees are given a “Z Why” book which explains the company strategy, values and direction before starting. Candidates are expected to agree with all values (not just the ones that suit best) before agreeing to join Z
  • Mike wrote the majority of the book as part of the internal rebrand launch in 2010 (photos below – taken at event on iPhone so excuse the quality!)
  • Z only hires people who fit/believe in these values

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Creating unique, lasting values 

  • Avoid “corporate bingo” – don’t choose clichés for your values. Cliches come with preconceived ideas and people switch off when they hear ‘corporate jargon’
  • If you have your own language to describe your values then it’s easier for staff to identify with it and start using naturally (Mike quoted Z staff often question ideas asking if they’re bold enough – boldness is a core brand value)’

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Using values to drive results 

  • Create large ambitious goals, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know now how you will achieve them, but start talking about them as if you already have (because you’ve already started working towards achieving them)
  • Be outcome focused – if your team shares an understanding of where you’re going then it’s easier to work out how to get there
  • Living the brand values at all times means listening all the time – to staff and customers
  • Management team is encouraged to actively discuss areas the company is falling short of achieving purpose/goals (and plan improvements)

If company culture (and the relationship to branding) is of interest to you I highly recommend reading “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh (CEO/Founder of Zappos shoes). It’s an easy, humour filled read about how company culture has created huge value for Zappos by allowing them to provide a better experience for customers.

What other companies you think affectively use their company culture to create value to customers? Comment below with your ideas

If you’d like to see the full Z Energy “Why” book comment with your email and I will send on the PDF. 

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