Recently I wrote that your organizational identity is not your brand. It’s also not the responsibility of your marketing department.
Identity is a leadership issue that should reach into the highest ranks of the company or institution. The marketing team’s work revolves around identity, but in the end identity is the leader’s responsibility, because if it’s made clear what the organization stands for, then everything about leading the organization becomes easier.
Identity Is the CEO’s Tool
A CEO can run around in the organization and say, “Why did you do it that way?” or “What’s this about?” or “I don’t like that.” And CEOs can exhaust themselves doing this—especially if they are running global organizations. But when there’s clarity around identity, the organization manages itself more knowledgeably and effectively.
Strong organizational identity:
- Clarifies communication: It enables CEOs to clearly convey their vision for the organization to critical audiences, such as employees, customers, partners and shareholders or funders.
- Sets direction: With clear identity, employees know how to act, customers know what to expect, and shareholders and funders understand the value the organization creates.
- Makes decisions easier: Employees need less supervision and can be more productive because they intuitively know what’s right … and what’s not.
An example I always think of is Walt Disney. You can go to Disney World and talk to one of the janitors sweeping up the grounds and say “Disney is thinking about a movie that has some hard language and violence and nudity.” And they’ll say to you, “That’s not us.” Everyone there knows what Disney stands for and how to represent it. No one has to micromanage the entire team company. That frees up the CEO to think on a higher level.
When Can Identity Help Management?
Often when we work on identity strategy we’re going into organizations where there is some kind of malaise or confusion. Maybe the company is in trouble: People don’t understand it or are confused about it. Maybe there are disruptive forces in the market that make what they used to do no longer viable, relevant or compelling. Or maybe they’ve acquired a lot of companies, and people with different mindsets have joined at different times with different perceptions and capabilities, and pretty soon no one knows what the company is all about.
The lack of a clear organizational identity can interfere with everything. One person may have a grand idea and start going off in that direction and others say, “No, we don’t do that.” Which direction are they going in? Nobody knows. And everybody’s at cross purposes and unhappy.
But with thoughtful and strategic work on clarifying who you are, what you do and why you matter, it’s a different story. When we leave our clients with a strong, clear identity we leave them energized and motivated by who they are and what they do. Everybody knows what makes them special.
That’s the power of identity.