Looking to refresh your identity as a company? Here is why it is important and the five keys to making it real (and meaningful!)
What is a company’s identity exactly? It should not be mistaken for just a purpose statement. There is a lot of talk about the need for companies to have a “purpose” – which answers the question of why a company exists. But having purpose without connecting it to the company’s culture and business strategy can be meaningless, and there is danger in thinking about any of these pieces in a vacuum. Similar to individual identity, the identity of a company is what defines it and represents beliefs about the kind of entity the business is. A meaningful identity is formed when a company is able to connect the dots between its purpose in the world to a culture that supports that purpose, and alignsto business strategy and performace.
For this edition of our newsletter, we talked with Anika Latif, a principal at global change consultancy Daggerwing Group, to illuminate the key steps needed to effectively refresh a company’s identity. I had the pleasure of witnessing Anika and the Daggerwing team in action as they helped develop the “Identity Blueprint” at one of my coaching client’s company.
A company’s identity is at the intersection of a couple of important areas. The first is the workforce. From factory line workers through to the C-Suite. As employees move from place-to-place, they really want to find purpose in their places of work that extend beyond earning a paycheck.
The other part is that employees, as a cohort, are placing more trust in their chief executive officers and company leaders. In fact, this trust in company leadership is even stronger than trust they have for media and elected officials. This places company managers on an important pedestal, however, this trust can be eroded or diminished if workers do not feel like the company’s identity is meaningful and connected to how the business operates.
“Company identity is important because it’s lasting,” says Latif. “It lives long after a good or bad quarter, beyond profits and losses, beyond any changes that a company might make to their products or core services.”
Latif points out that companies with well-established senses of identity – that rightfully connect their purpose, strategy and culture – by-and-large perform better than businesses without this self awareness.
This has never been more evident than during the pandemic and social justice movement. Last year, we saw personal care and alcohol companies retooling their manufacturing plants to produce hand sanitizer, and car companies, like Ford, use their plants to produce masks and respirators. Recently, we’ve seen big tech companies, like Salesforce and Microsoft, leverage their capabilities to support vaccine distribution and management. The common thread among companies weathering the storm effectively is an authentic commitment to living their larger purpose and identity.
To be sure, there are a multitude of positives that can come about as a result of articulating a well thought and purposeful company identity; however, there are very real pitfalls to consider.
“There are many examples of brands that tried to reposition their purpose to be ‘good for the world’, but they were clearly jumping on the coattails of a social movement to cash in on the cause,” says Latif “These companies failed to focus on how the new ‘purpose’ tied to the holistic direction of the business and the culture.”
So, how can you make sure your company truly lives up to its identity? Here are five lessons learned:
1. Clarify how purpose connects identity and strategy: Many companies are rushing to define their purpose. Butit’s important to explain why you are making the change, why it matters, and how you’re setting up your culture to support that purpose and your business to align with it.
2. Invest in your purpose and identity: We recently worked with a company that refreshed their purpose and values to include diversity, but they didn’t stop at just asking people to embrace diversity. They led efforts to develop a DE&I strategy, activated a taskforce and set goals for their DE&I agenda.
3. Equip leaders to role model the new identity: If leaders and managers aren’t engaged, aligned and accountable, no change can ever happen. A programmatic approach is needed to ensure this group is modeling and communicating how to live the identity for the teams that they manage.
4. Engage and empower employees: Enable your people to fully engage and adopt the identity consistently. Make sure they understand what it means for their individual role and what they need to do differently.
5. Sustain the “new normal”: Integrate identity into people and business processes in a real way, so it is not superficial, can be scaled and continuously improved.
Latif says what really matters is answering how companies are truly living their stated purpose and identity, and what actions follow the words. Take Lego for example. The world’s largest toy company’s purpose is to inspire and develop children’s creativity. They supported this through their core company values, which were backed by defined behaviors that employees live by. They also aligned their strategy accordingly. LEGO does not just make toys, they welcome children to their workplace to help them innovate.