When the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) decided to overhaul its brand and visual identity, the executive team asked an important question: How difficult and emotional will this transformation be?

“Like wading into fire,” relates Portia Mount, Senior Vice President of Global Marketing for CCL, “Indeed, as thorough as our process was, when we revealed the [new] logo, we had some people say, ‘This is the best thing we’ve ever seen—this is amazing!’ and we had others who said, ‘We hate it.’ ”

That was in March. Since then, pockets of trepidation have given way to affirmation and rejuvenation at the venerable leadership-development organization, as the branding initiative evolved into a rallying point for internal change and began to resonate with clients. “Identities are like public art,” states Mount, in a recent conversation about the B2B rebranding effort. “It takes people a little bit of time to get used to it, to understand what it means and to grow into it.”

CCL is a research and client-services organization providing leadership training for individuals, teams, organizations and society at large. It has 3,000 associates around the world, of which roughly 600 are full-time. A sense of personal responsibility for delivering on the new brand promise has taken hold, Mount explains, transforming associates at all levels and across functions into brand ambassadors. “If they don’t believe it, we know our clients won’t experience it. That was a really important part of the process of coming to this new brand identity.”

So how did CCL successfully embed the change, overcoming challenges and emotions associated with revamping a brand established over four decades ago and steeped in a “quasi-academic” culture?

First came the task of identifying attributes to redefine the brand. CCL had over the years developed a broad portfolio of experience globally, yet was known mostly for training individual corporate leaders. In reality, CCL was driving results not only for better businesses, but a better world — the common denominator being what Mount calls “sustainable impact” delivered on behalf of clients. Frequently overlooked was CCL’s societal impact — working with non-governmental organizations and accelerating leadership development in conflict zones and developing countries.

Achieving sustainable impact through proven, cutting-edge research and training, tailored to a variety of disciplines and types of engagement, became something of a “clarion call” for the organization as it embarked on its rebranding mission, according to Mount. Initially, most team members associated the concept of brand merely with the logo – not a promise of distinction or the reputation they want to earn in the marketplace. So before introducing any visual rebranding, CCL undertook a carefully planned “socialization of the new identity” internally, at the business-unit and team level, via town halls, task forces and small group meetings. Voice of the Brand workshops set the tone for how to communicate values and attributes associated with the new identity.

So when it came time to change the Face of the Brand — CCL’s original, 40-year-old logo — the case for doing so was already internalized. Which is not to say it was easy: Many board members and long-time staffers shared a strong attachment to the original brand “look.” At international offices comprised mostly of newer team members, the prospect of a new visual identity received a warmer welcome.

Emphasizing the importance of consistency in messaging, Face of the Brand workshops demonstrated how the identity would translate across a range of communication tools, from email signatures and letterhead to PowerPoint templates. The purpose, says Mount, is not to come off as “brand police” but rather “to present a certain image to the market. We’re trying to earn a reputation, and when we framed it that way we got so much more compliance.”

The key drivers of success? Securing up-front buy-in to the brand promise and making it into a rallying point for team-building and the exchange of information, so that employees feel personally invested in “living the brand” and fulfilling its mission and values was key. Achieving continuity and consistency in the rollout of the new identity across the entire organization, not just in terms of sales and marketing initiatives was just as important. Too often there is a lack of ongoing communication at all levels, as executives sometimes don’t engage in the outreach equivalent of a full-court press.

Let’s face it: Rebranding can be a fraught, and the healthiest organizations are comprised of people who care. So you have to connect with hearts and minds from the outset, and recognize the powerful impact organizational culture has on implementing change. As Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

CCL’s leader, John Ryan, understood this. As the lead advocate for change as an imperative to remain relevant in a global marketplace, he undoubtedly took the brunt of the emails and phone calls from concerned board members and long-term employees. He was, nevertheless, resolute in supporting Mount, the process she orchestrated, and her partnership with our team and The Brand Consultancy.

And the process, in her view, is as important as the outcome. “We’re seeing the organization, if you will, mature around the brand identity. To me, that says that we did our homework in building the case for change way up front — helping people understand the reputation we were trying to earn, and then ultimately use the tools to be able to really present a polished, professional and consistent organization around and the world. That’s really exciting.”