One of my most loved music genre’s is ‘classical’ – not only compositions from the so-called ‘greats’ (Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, etc.), but also the lesser-known composers that have influenced music style in the 20th Century. This morning, it was Ravel’s turn to serenade me. Joseph Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), perhaps one of the greatest of the French composers, pianists and conductors, is often associated with impressionism along with his elder contemporary Claude Debussy, although both composers rejected the term. Born to a music-loving family, Ravel attended the Paris Conservatoire – he was not well regarded by this conservative establishment, whose biased treatment of him caused a scandal. After leaving the institution, he found his own way as a composer and started experimenting with musical form, as in his best-known work Bolero, where repetition takes the place of development. He had been commissioned to provide a score for Ida Rubinstein’s ballet company and he decided on “an experiment in a very special and limited direction … a piece lasting seventeen minutes and consisting wholly of orchestral tissue without music”. Ravel himself said that the work was “one long, very gradual, crescendo. There are no contrasts and there is practically no invention, except the plan and the manner of the execution”. Ravel was astonished when it became a mass success – it has now been recorded several hundred times. He further noted: “I have only written one masterpiece – Bolero. Unfortunately, there is no music in it!” When a family member of mine heard it this morning, she exclaimed: “Oh, what a recognisable theme!” That statement has become embedded in my mind today and Bolero still plays in my head – listen to it and you will understand.

Likewise, alignment of focus, effort and energy within the workplace can become hugely meaningful when instantly recognisable themes are ingrained within the organisational culture. Some examples could include:

  • #customerfirst – all our decisions, projects and operational focus have the customer in mind
  • “We treat everyone with dignity and respect” – customers, suppliers, leadership and employees
  • “Leave it better than we found it” – Nordstrom’s commitment to protecting the environment
  • “Simply the best” – in all that we do, internally and externally, we strive to be tops

For recognisable themes to be embedded in an organisational culture, the following tenets have to be upheld:

  1. Communication of the required behaviours – innovative, clear and explicit theme communication is necessary for employees to start identifying the theme with the company’s brand values. Communication should touch all the senses, entrench emotional expectations (e.g.: “going the extra mile”) and describe the benefits (“what’s in it for us”?).
  2. Leadership modelling the required behaviours – this setting of an example needs to be consistent, constant and authentic. All in management must be held accountable for “owning” and “living” the theme.
  3. Identifying and executing projects to reinforce the theme – if, for example, the theme was: “We care about our community and environment”, projects should be designed, where all can participate, that specifically “touch” the community and environment.
  4. The theme should impact each employee positively – if the message of the theme, for example, is “we care”, staff should experience “care” from all in leadership.
  5. Use themes to grow your reputation and brand loyalty – theme projects can be filmed and then the video used as part of marketing collateral and reputation development.

Organisations can align focus, effort and energy effectively through embedding appropriate recognisable themes within the company culture. Management ownership of the themes and subsequent behaviour alignment will ensure that the themes “stick”.