Anna Malmhake, Chairman and CEO of The Absolut Company, explored the strong connection between company culture and brand at the Engage For Success 2018 conference, which took place in London in March 2018.
When it comes to creating a consistent brand, Absolut has a big challenge on its hands. The company is active in 150 countries and has 18,000 colleagues, so not only does it have to be consistent across time, maintaining its iconic identity from 20-30 years ago, but it also has to be consistent across the globe.
“A brand is a promise,” highlights Malmhake, and it’s crucial for Absolut’s brand managers in each of the 150 countries to hold a deep understanding of the company culture and how this aligns with the brand.
“We can’t just create a manual with every little detail in, we have to provide a compass, a culture for our employees to have the freedom to move around in,” says Malmhake. This means that the brand has to be incorporated into a company culture.
How does Absolut make sure its people get the culture? It used to be from going for after-work drinks on a Friday, but of course this had to change with the company’s growth, and the use of slogans, symbols and mottos has become essential. One slogan in particular has taken centre stage: ‘Passion for Progression’.
The phrase was inspired by Absolut’s founder, Lars Olssen Smith, whose philosophy was “the world has to progress, and the world can only progress if individuals can progress, and individuals can only progress if they’re allowed to be free.”
Absolut's five core beliefs
From this philosophy, Absolut has created five core beliefs for its people to live by:
No matter where you’re from we’re all human
Everyone should be free to express themselves
All genders are equal
People should be free to love who they choose
Producers should be transparent about their production
These beliefs were not just dictated by the leadership team, highlighted Malmhake. They asked their workforce what is most valuable to them, and this is what led to creating a Passion for Progression manual. “Everyone came together to say what they wanted to stand for,” highlights Malmhake.
Actions speak louder than words
Does Absolut live by what they preach? The clear and resounding answer is yes.
During her talk, Malmhake showcased key examples of the kind of work and campaigns Absolut supports:
Absolut created a photo exhibition that highlighted the fact that there is still over 90 countries where homosexuality is still illegal. This was created for UK Pride and quickly spread around the world.
In terms of consistency over geography, Absolut supported an African artist with a big music project in which people from across different African countries were invited to collaborate in developing a song to unite people.
The Absolut leadership team today is 50/50 men and women, and this is not because of a quota, but from picking the best people for the jobs, says Malmhake. And they are constantly keeping check that all the teams have a fair gender balance.
The company also drives culture through corporate social responsibility. For example it works with its Mexican employees to support poor Mexican families through a Coffee for Change initiative.
In terms of career development, Absolut makes it clear that in a ‘Passion for Progression’ company, employees have the freedom to drive their own career path.
These are just a few of examples of how Absolut lives and breathes its values. Its belief in transparency and sustainability is also of the utmost importance. Absolut has “the vodka with nothing to hide,” highlighted Malmhake in her closing remarks, and it has also built a culture with nothing to hide too.
About Becky Norman
Becky is Editor of HRZone and Trainingzone, global online communities of people working in the HR and L&D industries. Becky works closely with leading HR and L&D practitioners and decision makers to ensure the publications offer a rich source of real-world insight and fresh advice to their audience.
HR and L&D professionals today must adapt to a complex mix of challenges caused by ongoing business disruption, technological advancements, a changing political landscape, varied employee needs and more. Becky aspires to make HRZone and TrainingZone the destinations for professionals to seek guidance, analysis and opinion on how to tackle these challenges and continue to deliver value.