How do you fashion a culture to be proud of?
Helping N Brown define and express their true selves
N Brown were a changing outfit
Fashion retailer N Brown has been helping customers look and feel amazing for almost 150 years. All the way through, the business has evolved, diversified and grown from mail order to the digital organisation it is today. So it wasn’t surprising that, when we started talking with them, change was at the top the agenda and had been for some time.
Having reached a key milestone in their digital retail transformation, N Brown was at the start of something big. They had a new CEO, and a fresh three-year strategy in place. They also had a focus on profitable digital growth and an open desire to become the market leader in fashion fit.
The one thing they didn’t have was a clearly defined culture to enable their diverse and varied workforce to move forward with confidence. But we’re helping make sure they do.
This needed to be more than just a makeover
For N Brown, a common purpose was more important than ever. After all:
- Their workforce had become challengingly eclectic, being largely made up of either new starters or longer servers
- There were marked differences between the head office and warehouse working experience
- Some parts of the business had gone digital, while others remained resolutely paper-based.
All of this made it increasingly challenging to deliver a consistent message.
The one unifying feeling in N Brown was that change had ‘happened’ to people, rather than it being a shared journey. People had become tired of change. Yet still remained passionate about working for N Brown.
We needed to show all colleagues that the change had a purpose and a focus. And that it was something they could all be part of.
This is what we were looking to build
We knew from the start that this was going to be a big one. Here’s a quick look at everything we were looking to create:
- Comms & engagement
So we set out to get the big picture
To create work that meant something to everyone in the business, we knew we had to gather thoughts and feelings from far and wide. So here’s what we did:
- Colleague survey – 510 responses
- External candidate perception survey – 210 responses
- Competitor research – eight key competitors
- Exec workshop
- Senior Leadership Team workshop
- 21 colleague workshops across Head Office and warehouses in Hadfield and Shaw
We got to the heart of things
As well as gathering thoughts and feelings from right across the business, we had been asked to test N Brown’s recently written Vision, Mission and Purpose (VMP). The suspicion from the Executive team was that the wording of these wasn’t right. The sentiment of them was on the right tracks, but the wording left audiences cold.
Armed with the business’s strategy and all our findings, we got to work rewriting the VMP. We needed them to be authentic, believable and inspiring – something everyone would recognise, and could get behind. These were going to be our ‘North Star’, so we worked closely with the leadership team to get them right. And here they are:
We’re obsessed with our customers – and have been for generations. We delight them with products, service and finance to fit their lives.
Championing inclusion, we’ll become the most loved and trusted fashion retailer.
We exist to make our customers look and feel amazing.
It all started slotting into place
With an agreed VMP in hand, we developed the EVP.
This turned everything we’d learned and created so far into two paragraphs that neatly summed up what working at N Brown really means to their people.
Here at N Brown, we champion inclusivity by making our customers look and feel amazing. We don’t believe that age, size, shape or background should stop anyone from feeling confident, stylish and happy with the way they look and feel. With our industry leading expertise in creating fashion that fits, we’ve been proudly breaking down these barriers for almost 150 years. We help our customers to express themselves with stylish products, helpful services and flexible finance. Now, we’re moving forward together, embracing innovation and new technology, to continue to delight our customers.
Working here you’ll explore everything the world of digital retail has to offer — asking questions, trying new things and chasing new opportunities. Combine this curiosity with the freedom to make your own decisions, take charge of projects and work flexibly, and you’ve got the perfect place to show your skills and learn new ones. It’s fast and furious here at times, but this just means something new and exciting is always on the way. So, if you collaborate, think on your feet, embrace innovation and love rising to a challenge, your work with us will have a serious impact on the business, your career and our customers’ lives. We are proud to be N Brown.
To underpin this EVP, we developed a suite of values. These were based solely on the things we’d found out in our research. We knew that, to make an impact, they had to be:
- Recognisable, yet aspirational.
and be more to people than just words on a wall.
So we came up with these:
Together for the customer
We’re all working towards one goal – to help people look and feel amazing. We challenge and support one another. We’re always honest and can rely on each other. Because win or lose, we do it together.
Driven by curiosity
The more we ask, the more we learn – about customers, fashion, our business, our industry and ourselves. We question, we explore, and we dig deeper because that’s where we find opportunity.
Motivated by pace
We keep up in the fast-moving world of retail and we’re ready for anything. Ready to think. Ready to plan. Ready to be brave. Ready to deliver.
Empowered by trust
We encourage people to express themselves and build relationships on trust, not control. We give everyone the opportunity to take responsibility and get things done.
Each value was then the inspiration for a supporting set of behaviours. And everything – from the VMP and EVP to the values and behaviours – was workshopped, from the board to the shop floor, to make sure it was all hitting the mark.
A badge pulled it all together
The vision, mission, purpose, EVP, values and behaviours, along with our research, came together in one simple statement that summed it all up. And it was just a few words long: Proud to be N Brown
This is more than just a statement. It’s a badge that people can recognise, embrace, rally round and share. And it’s set the tone for how we’ve started getting the whole project out there.
It was in the business already, but had lost its impact. We gave it a new purpose, and a new lease of life.
We came up with a whole new look
Proud to be N Brown is a big, bold and personal statement. It needed a look to match. So we got creative with our messaging and their people. The result is characterful creative that celebrates the pride, the purpose and the people who make N Brown the digital retailer it is.
We also collaborated with N Brown’s marketing team on a colleague photoshoot, to ensure they captured the perfect shots.
And it’s been attracting attention since day one
The brand launched in style with four weeks of activity. This was designed to not only introduce, but to celebrate, what was a huge moment for the business — one that marked the beginning of a new positive, winning culture that’s going to drive the company forward.
Prior to launch, wall vinyls were secretly installed ready for the big reveal. On the big day the team really made some noise with a live launch event, complete with a DJ and cupcakes all round.
The Senior Leadership and Exec teams, were also been briefed the week before, so they knew exactly what was going on and could help build excitement amongst each of their teams.
We’ve also seen early, and very pleasing, signs that the outcomes of the project are being embraced across the business. The Proud to be N Brown badge is being used on customer-facing communication – showing that it’s reaching beyond the employee experience to become the North Star they’d always wanted it to be.
Just shows how far a message can go, when it’s true to a business.
To maximise reach and engagement in these vital first four weeks, the brand was promoted at every level of the business and supported by an always-on comms plan spanning intranet, huddles and social media.
Managers across the business were given ‘huddle packs’ including exercises to try out with their teams. Colleagues were invited to join in with regular values workshops. And the People Team, EVP Squad and Culture Group were out spreading the word and answering questions fully-clad in values T-shirts.
To top it all off, colleagues are given the chance to win awards and nominate each other for truly embracing and living the new values on a weekly basis.
The client started showcasing the work they were doing internally, externally – to show people the cultural change that was starting.
We’ve also seen early, and very pleasing, signs that the outcomes of the project are being embraced across the business. The Proud to be N Brown badge is being used on customer-facing communication – showing that it’s reaching beyond the employee experience to become the North Star they’d always wanted it to be. Just shows how far a message can go, when it’s true to a business.
The end of the story?
Not even close. Culture change is an ongoing process, and we’re already busy taking the next step. We’re working with N Brown to help them roll out the project, and embed it inside and outside of the business.
N Brown have also created a role because of the work we’ve been involved in. They now have a Director of Colleague Experience, who’ll be taking Proud to be N Brown forward, and making it a living, breathing part of life across the business.
We’re excited about this. We’re looking forward to helping N Brown take it to the next level. And we can’t wait to see where it goes after that.
When launching a new EVP there really is no substitute for enthusiasm from the client and that’s something N Brown delivered by the bucket load.
“I have worked at N Brown for a number of years and believe, very passionately, that we can succeed in our ambitions. I feel very proud to have this amazing opportunity to support the People team on culture and colleague experience and I am really looking forward to being part of the team. Having the right behaviours will drive the right mind set and, ultimately, drive the performance culture that we need and I can’t wait to be part of the journey.”
Alison Forbes, Director Colleague Experience at N Brown.