It starts with Why – Identity

As I consult to Executives, CEO’s and Senior Managers, without fail we will ultimately start talking about a problem that at some point the question of “Why…?”, “Why are you doing that thing that costs so much time?”, “Why, are you accepting that commercial arrangement..?” “Why are you losing money over there and making a fortune over there?”

What I have found time and time again, is that companies that don’t understand their “Why” do all sorts of things that takes their focus away from that is there intrinsic “Why” and costs them a fortune, their jobs or their companies.

I hope to show you here, how understanding and knowing your WHY is just sooooo important for you to lead and succeed in your business.

Your Why is a huge part of your Identity, Don’t believe me…..?

Is your company suffering from an identity crisis?

Corporate identity goes deeper than simply having a logo design updated, or hiring an agency to create a snappy tagline and ad campaign. Organizations can achieve their full potential by living according to their true identity. The core values create a corporate identity that every individual in the organization should believe in and stand up for. A logo design may be updated with every passing trend, but core values and practices are timeless and transcend the organization.

Who are we? What do we stand for?

Organizations that are rudderless, or going in every direction the wind blows, need to seriously rethink their core identity. This means you are in business because of something deeper than profit. If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. Leaders need to recognize corporate identity has a lot to do with your company values and everyday practice, more than the hip new brand image.

For a stronger, healthier sense of who you are, read two chapters every night, and meet your leaders in the morning.

Drawing on years of experience consulting for a wide range of clients such as Fidelity Investments, Maytag and Alcoa, Laurence Ackerman shares how these organizations developed their potential to the fullest, with fresh ideas and concrete strategies for maximizing value-creating potential.

The Identity Credo 

I am alive. I am unique. I am immutable, even as I grow and evolve. To truly live, I must express myself fully, and in this regard have much to give. To do so I need others, and am most productive with those who need me in return. To establish these relationships, I must first be recognized for who I am, and it follows then that I will receive in accordance with what I give.

The Eight Laws of the Identity Credo

  • The Law of Being   I am alive

Any organization composed of one or more human beings is alive in its own right, exhibiting distinct physical, mental, and emotional capacities that derive from, but transcend, the individuals who make up that organization over time.

  • The Law of Individuality   I am unique

An organization’s human capacities invariably fuse into a discernible identity that makes that organization unique.

  • The Law of Constancy I am immutable, even as I grow and

Identity is fixed, transcending time and place, while its manifestations are constantly changing.

  • The Law of Will   To truly live, I must express myself fully

Every organization is compelled by the need to create value in accordance with its identity.

  • The Law of Possibility   and in this regard have much to give

Identity foreshadows potential

The Law of Relationship To do so I need others, and am most productive with those who need me in

Organizations are inherently relational, and those relationships are only as strong as the natural alignment between the identities of the participants.

  • The Law of Comprehension To establish these relationships, I must first be recognized for who I

The individual capacities of an organization are only as valuable as the perceived value of the whole of that organization.

  • The Law of the Cycle and it follows then that I will receive in accordance with what I

Identity governs value, which produces wealth, which fuels identity.

The Law of Being

Case in point: ALCOA

Mission: To be the best aluminum company in the world.

Background: In the midst of diversification, the company simultaneously sought a return to its core identity – that of an outstanding aluminum company – a leader in its industry.

Lesson: No company that aspires to lead its market or industry can hope to do so without a mission that ties it’s own welfare to that of the society’s.

Communicating this mission fires up employees, giving them the passion for their work, the meaning that transcends mere profit.

How to strip away the layers to reveal Alcoa’s true identity:

From reading between the lines of executive speeches, existing company literature, to probing corporate history, this author conducted in-depth interviews and analysis to find out what makes Alcoa what it is.

How to see 55,000 employees as one individual with unique skills and capabilities was another question.

The unbearable lightness of ‘being’

Alcoa was truly alive in the sense that it’s R & D, engineering and marketing arms were humming with energy and life. Alcoa had its heart in a patented process. The company built customer support by effectively “packaging” information as a means of establishing authority in the field of aluminum. Enter an Alcoa client’s office and you see shelves filled with a library of customer education materials.

This author realized that the transformations needed for Alcoa people to be more receptive to change were technological, product-oriented, market-oriented, and societal.

Value flows upstream.

  • No matter where you are on the value chain, as provider of raw materials, manufacturer, or distributor, your identity draws its strength from the contribution you make to the life of the end-user.
  • When people are aligned with the right organization, they are liberated to become who they naturally

Alcoa’s identity action plan was basically diversification and decentralization.

A view to leadership

  • The characteristics of Alcoa that set it apart were its synchronization, core competencies, and longevity or maturity as a
  • The synchronization or “grand efficiency” lies in all the different parts of the organization working in synch.
  • Its integrity lies in the social value it offers while making a profit. (Aluminum is a durable and practical material used in all types of products)
  • Endurance refers to its 100-year history through the ups and downs of markets.

In essence, companies are alive, and the Law of Being implies that this life can be seen as having several levels.

  • A human value – referring to the workforce or individuals who make up the company
  • A business value – in terms of the company’s distinctive contribution to the marketplace such as products and services that flow from and reinforce identity
  • A societal value – or how it brings about social improvement in terms of transportation, food preservation, and energy
  • An economic value – referring to its stock price value over time, and portfolio turnover

“All of us also have the capacity to know our own potential – to live rather than merely exist.”

The Law of Individuality

Live according to who you are. Think of this as a test of self-knowledge. Case in point: Fidelity Investments

Two rooms. One is Ned Johnson’s elegant executive suite full of antique furniture and oriental

carpets, the other is the functional chart room where walls are papered with printouts of Dow Jones averages, s & p’s and statistics that are the business world’s equivalent to Morse code.

These two rooms were a representation of Fidelity’s identity: clinical accuracy alongside symbols of prosperity, rational thinking alongside timeless beauty, and the tension between the two rooms was where the Fidelity identity could be found.

It could be outlined in private ownership as a passport to freedom, the focus on innovation and invention, empowerment through personal judgment, and an organic cellular structure unlike other rigid organizational structures.

Fidelity’s business is celebrating individuality.

Identity action plan:

  • All employees must reinforce the one-fidelity approach, emphasizing individualism
  • Recruiting people who understand individualism and apply them to all aspects of customer relationships
  • Instituting customer relations awards for outstanding service representatives
  • Turning Fidelity’s investor centers into full-service, storefront investment operations, with knowledgeable staff, touch-screen computers, and educational programs for first-time investors as well as experienced and sophisticated
  • Conducting research to find out how many customers had personal computers and modems then developing an on-line database that would provide daily fund net asset values and other fund information to strengthen the bond between the investor and the institution.

The Law of Constancy

Case in point: Korn/Ferry International

Here the author faced an executive search firm that was searching for it’s own identity. He discovered that the dominant identity was that of its leadership in the form of Richard Ferry, and for the company to make the transition to Korn/Ferry would require:

  • Identifying and codifying the vital characteristics the founder had instilled in the beginning.
    • Simultaneously allowing the individual himself to recede but not to be lost as the firm grew and evolved.
  • Disallowing new managers to devise strategy that turned a blind eye to the past, especially to identity-based strengths that link the past to the future
  • Encouraging growth that would add to and refresh the vision of the

The Seven Enduring Qualities of Korn/Ferry were the ff:

  1. Professionalism
  2. Business problem-solving approach
  3. Size
  4. Global reach
  5. Governance structure
  6. New knowledge/ a teaching organization
  7. Multi-level and multi-functional searches

The last quality was important in that it was an executive search company that served not only top CEO’s, and top-level management, but mid-level managers as well.

Korn/Ferry is about building leadership capital.

Partners adopted a new mission for the firm: To help clients acquire leadership capital – the management asset that set all others into motion. It was a decision that wedded the company’s past and present to its future. In embracing this mission, Korn/Ferry had observed the Law of Constancy.

The Law of Constancy tells us much about the corporate brand:

  • That its definition resides within the identity of the enterprise and cannot simply be fabricated
  • That as a result, the brand is not transitory, not simply a statement of today’s corporate features. Rather it is timeless in terms of the benefits it yields to those it touches
  • The brand requires constant reinterpretation
  • The brand is or should be current in how it is interpreted
    • It is vital to establish your own brand ‘turf’ and defend it vigorously, resisting fads, fashions, and others’ standards and views, particularly those of competitors
      • The strengths of the brand develop over time and, to be fully known, must be viewed through the lens of history as well as current events and future

The Law of Will 

Case in point: The Upjohn Company

(Now known as Pharmacia & Upjohn)

This was a drug company that had its whole identity based on heritage and history, on the invention of the founding physician’s friable pill. The whole essence of the story is that the pill made life easier for patients because it dissolved inside the body. This was a new invention during a time when pills passed undissolved through patient’s bodies.

Another characteristic of the unique Upjohn culture was the status symbol of its employees: a dark brown alligator skin briefcase. It was reminiscent of the style of its founder, W. E. Upjohn. This corporate cultural icon passed down a tradition of “polite society” where things were left unsaid, but care for people and patients were of the utmost priority.

Three things factored into The Upjohn Company’s identity:

  • Quality of products
  • Quality of life
  • Quality of people

The Upjohn mission was to help mankind through health care. The company was founded on the art and science of healing with the three pillars of diagnosis, prescription, and medicine administration. The strong physician-patient bond, education-oriented environment, and people- oriented company had a unique marketing program called MSL or medical science liaisons, or field doctors.

A pill may have jump-started The Upjohn Company, but the company had always stood for more than just the pill.

The elements of The Upjohn Company:

  • Discovery and problem definition
  • Medical innovation
  • Professional care
  • Quality interface

Value creation at Upjohn replicated the healing process on a grand scale.

Upjohn was driven by the need to restore and maintain the integrity of human life. This is what made Upjohn special.

Courage in the name of integrity is what the Law of Will demands. Unfortunately, the company strategy was too narrowed down to focus on designing, developing, and marketing new drugs, leaving out other areas of health care services, consumer products, and fine chemicals which were performing well. The inevitable merger with Pharmacia in 1995 was a product of the management failing to heed the voice of the organization.

Identity precedes strategy. If strategy, vision, mission, or purpose is to have staying power, then it must flow from identity.

The Law of Possibility Case in point: Westinghouse Advanced Industrial Systems

Identity review:

  • The main challenges were to expand beyond traditional areas
  • To build a leadership reputation
  • To foster a more unified culture within AIS

The shared aspects of all the different units within the Westinghouse AIS were:

  • A holistic view of customer’s needs
  • An obsessive concern for customer welfare
  • A deep regard for technology and engineering in particular

Westinghouse AIS was also characteristically known for its SWAT team-like action, or ability to take on jobs at short notice. AIS was into customization and integrated technical services

Westinghouse AIS was distinguished by its passion for the science of industry. Realizing potential

Under the Law of Possibility, the whole of any organization is greater than the sum of its parts. Based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, AIS itself needed to reach the level of self- actualization or its full potential as a living being.

The Law of Possibility has one central aim: to liberate the productive potential inherent in identity, whether an individual’s or a company’s.

Identity provides Direction.

Both human and corporate beings must weigh the risks and rewards of each of the choices that identity offers.

In the end, the AIS unit of Westinghouse was dissolved and pieces spun off or sold, the tragic undoing of an organization’s productive potential.

The Law of Relationship 

”Before you can be comfortable with others, you must first be comfortable with yourself.”

Case in point: New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG)

From value creation to value circle:

Value begins with employees, then to customers, and finally investors who move it back to employees and so forth…

“We most need those who need us in return.”

Identity: NYSEG was distinguished by a need to help people shape their energy environments.

In NYSEG’s case, the natural relationship or connection among all the different business units was brought to the fore through the lens of identity.

Organizations are inherently relational. (Recall how Nike had to reattach itself to the society it employed to meet the demands of that society)

For NYSEG deregulation was the name of the game.

The Law of Comprehension 

Case in point: Interbrew

“Don’t just change names, logotypes, and mission statements; change the way employees live and work.”

Identity crisis:

A merger of a century-old French beer with another brand that would leave workers in the dark about their own identity.

The Interbrewed identity would become:

  • One of endurance
  • A strong presence in people’s lives through special occasions
  • One of market leadership
  • Diversity despite deep specialization

Ergo: Interbrew would celebrate people’s thirst for life.

Values most appropriate for Interbrew and aligned naturally with the organization’s identity:

  • Putting the customer first. Customers are our best friends.
  • A craftsman-like dedication to
  • The constant pursuit of
  • A passion for communication
  • An unshakable reliance on teamwork
  • A hunger for innovation

The Law of Comprehension speaks to one’s need to see something in its entirety, to “get it” and experience it. If employees were going to live what it meant to be Interbrew, to celebrate people’s thirst for life, they needed to work and live accordingly.

Interbrew was driven by a need to celebrate a thirst for life.

The Law of Comprehension demands that we take responsibility for letting others know who we are and what we stand for. The first challenge is to be comfortable and at peace with your own identity. Many individuals and companies are unsure of themselves, lacking the confidence to be true to themselves. An organization is only as valuable as it is perceived to be.

The Law of the Cycle

Case in point: Maytag Corporation

Identity crisis: What would happen to generations-old families of workers when the Magic Chef name changes to Maytag?

What did it mean to be called Maytag? Quality.

All the different operations of Maytag had its respective capacities:

From Admiral’s specialized engineering skills in refrigerators, to Dixie-Narco’s environmentally friendly refrigeration systems, Hoover’s product design and automation technologies, Jenn-Air’s innovation in cook tops and ovens, Magic Chef’s lower-end stoves and ovens, Maycor’s service know-how, and Maytag’s passion for training.

Maytag was good at five things that helped consumers live their lives: cooking, dishwashing, floor care, laundry, and refrigeration.

Maytag was a home management enterprise driven by a need to improve the quality of home life.

Getting paid

As much as identity-based management is about giving, it is also about receiving. This is a central message of the Law of the Cycle. Living according to identity is not an altruistic act. It demands wealth in return for value. One must be paid.

Unit sales, revenues, profits are one thing. Reinvestment into Maytag is another. To truly live, Maytag must express itself fully.

The cycle is from Identity to wealth to value back to identity and so forth…

Observance of The Law of the Cycle can bring great achievement and wealth if employed as a framework for organizing one’s life or the life of a business. Ignoring it can spell corporate failure.

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