Managing business energy, brand and design thinking

Posted on 9 Apr 2018 by The Manufacturer

For obvious reasons, most manufacturers are focused on ‘energy’ – costs, usage, efficiency, requirements, generation and the business case for producing and distributing. Here, Paul Stead looks at another type of energy – one that can drive or drain a business.

Managing business energy, brand and design thinkingProfit and loss captures the use of energy as a cost of business; something that with control and careful supplier selection should, and could be, as efficient and cost effective as possible.

Engineers, physicists, and buyers tackle the energy issue with alternative suppliers, new technologies, alternative energy sources and more efficient ways of creating or consuming joules, calories, watt-hours or BTUs (to name a few).

However, they are not the right people to solve the other significant energy crisis that manufacturers can suffer from: LBE (low business energy) in the most important resource – your people!

It is important to understand the impact of LBE on two levels. First, from a corporate perspective, a lack of organisational energy can quickly percolate through the business, to customers, channel partners, the media and beyond.

Second, from a team or individual perspective, low energy levels can be detrimental to productivity, to individual’s well-being and personal health.

The two are clearly connected, they both affect business performance, and both are usually seen as the domain of the HR function, general management or even marketing.

However, I have a different perspective, Energy within a business comes top down and bottom up, from the CEO, from the shop floor and everyone in between.

This article first appeared in the April issue of The Manufacturer magazine. To subscribe, please click here.

The board delivers the purpose of a business (which is more than the profit drivers); they give the whole organisation something to believe in – mission and vision. From the shop floor comes a sense of pride in the product, the quality and the service.

Ongoing training, team working, and equality brings satisfaction from working in the business.

I see the brand as common denominator for everyone. Brand is the outward expression of a business, to prospects, customers, or advocates.

However, this is only half the story. It applies equally to inside the business, creating loyalty, belonging, a sense of pride and an energy that drives the business forward.

The brand is more than a logo and a name, it is the ‘business flag’ to rally around, a belief system with a mission and a vision.

At the formation of the business, it’s usually the personal beliefs of the founder with a small team of disciples that drive the energy.

As the business grows, so do the numbers of staff (new joiners) and so customer interactions with the founder and disciples that formed the brand belief system become less and less.

Successful businesses find ways to codify the brand energy, to pass it down through the organisation, the not so successful businesses do not.

As I have said previously “brands are built in the mind, products are built in factories”. Therefore, it’s the internal brand that drives business energy that inspires the organisation with motivation and enthusiasm.

However, just as ‘life’ throws in ups and downs, so does ‘business life’, consequently business energy goes through cycles.

When the business is powering ahead most people we come across tend to be ‘radiators’. These radiators exude energy, they are go-getters, they go the extra mile, are amazing advocates for the internal and external brand, nothing is too much trouble.

However, when businesses struggle, we see fewer radiators – and more drains. Drains suck energy, make heavy work of tasks or projects, can be critical of management, leading to a point where their negativity becomes destructive.

Turning on radiators rather than shutting down drains

As mentioned, drain behaviour can be prevalent when businesses are struggling to grow, to adapt to market conditions, or sometimes because they are growing too fast with insufficient resources.

In most cases there is a disconnect between the brand vision and business energy – a fundamental lack of belief in the future of the business.

When reviewing energy across a business we have found four key drivers, each contributing to radiator behaviour:

  1. Confidence within sales: driven by motivated, incentivised teams who have excellent relationships with customers, each other and are highly valued.
  2. Portfolio of innovative products: often designed, engineered, developed and manufactured in close collaboration with customers or end-users.
  3. Supportive channel partners: who know that their customers believe in the product and service offering, and have confidence in the relationship.
  4. The external and internal brand values are fully aligned: the organisation has a clear internal structures, roles and responsibilities, and control systems. The teams work and play together well, there is a sense of camaraderie, a can-do attitude.

Conversely when reviewing energy across businesses with growth challenges, there are four drivers that contribute to drain behaviour:

  1. Lack of confidence within sales: high staff turnover, lack of up-to-date sales collateral. Sales tend to be driven on price and volume discounts rather than differentiated benefits. There is often a ‘farming’ relationship bias.
  2. Products haven’t been updated for some time: new products are late coming to market; few products are customised, or customisable; and there is little after sales service.
  3. Channel partners sometimes don’t exist: or they offer multiple competitive products from multiple vendors supplying similar products – little trade loyalty.
  4. Brand isn’t mentioned in a holistic business context: it’s seen as the corporate identity, logo or colour system that is applied across all products, staff uniforms, vans and brochures on the basis of a consistent look.

I’m sure you all have come across radiators and drains in your organisations, and when times are good the over-all positive business energy lifts everyone to perform and succeed.

When times are tougher, radiators are actually needed more and more to lift the internal brand, to lift business energy.

So, what’s all this design thinking got to do with brand and business energy I hear you ask? From my perspective everything!

And in order for you to check your business energy levels – your radiator versus drain potential – we have put together an online 20-point question diagnostic tool which gives you an instant business energy score.

Think of it as a smart energy meter; who knows, you might learn something new! What are your business energy levels?

Visit and find out!

Dr Paul Stead - Brewery Group - Design Matters