– Why you should always begin with an inside-out perspective
Most of us work with strategy these days. But regardless of whether you work with a business strategy or brand strategy, work on strategy, in my view, always starts with the company’s, organisation’s or brand’s identity.
Identity, in this context, is to me the answers to the following questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What makes us unique? Identity-work, together with the prime commercial target for the strategy period, forms a solid and sustainable foundation for the development of a strategic plan. Without that link between purpose and goal, the exercise creates no value in the long run.
When I say that I work with identity, I often encounter the question of whether we just sit down and invent a company’s identity and purpose. And that’s exactly the opposite of what we do in our work – it’s about discovering, not inventing. This is the only way we can ensure authenticity and a sustainable competitive edge.
A clear approach to identity work and to identity as a foundation for further strategy work ensures the ability to stand out in a market and differentiate oneself from competitors, to attract the right talent to the company, and this should be used as the basis for making the most business-critical decisions.
Identity as a (Self-) Management Tool
Identity is more than just a fancy word for the marketing and communications department. Identity, for me, is a holistic concept that becomes relevant in all aspects of a company that wishes to achieve a goal. If you, as a business, organisation or brand, know your true identity, your core narrative and your values, these can be systematised and used as a compass, a compass that not only gives direction to management but, optimally, is used throughout the company. For how otherwise do we ensure that everyone goes in the same direction? It is, therefore, essential that decisions made, whether in HR, the supply chain or customer service, are based on the same values. Be true to yourself – as we say here. It is your strongest asset.
Be true to yourself – as we say here, it is your strongest asset.
Knowing your true values makes it significantly easier to hire people who believe in the same thing as you. Likewise, it’s easier to make the right decisions in customer service cases, to choose the right suppliers, etc.
As I previously wrote in Monday Morning, leaders today face a major challenge in finding qualified labour. And future generations in the labour market – Generations Y and Z – must be managed differently from previous ones. They make other demands, such as a higher degree of freedom, work-life balance, to be part of something bigger, and of course also to be challenged intellectually. And it places great demands on future management, and perhaps a higher degree of self-management than ever before. Here is where the compass comes in as a possible aid, to ensure direction and common values throughout the organisation.
Always start Inside-Out
In these data-driven times, many companies have become all too eager to follow even the slightest trend and jump on the bandwagon. The focus is on “What do customers want?” and so some brands and companies try to find their place in relation to just that. Just look at Proctor & Gamble, which, according to a Bloomberg article, has applied to trademark so-called “Millennial-friendly” words such as LOL and WTF. How is this approach unique? Where is the authenticity? Where is the proprietary content that will ensure return on investment? Identity work, which I think should go ahead of strategy work, should always start from the inside and move outward. Not the other way around. You also don’t go out on the street and ask people about how you ought to be, so that they will want to be your friend. Having said that, I definitely believe that it is subsequently important to keep an eye on customer and consumer preferences and on how your brand, business or organisation remains relevant in this context. What is important is that the order of factors matters.
Regardless of whether it’s about friends, brands, companies or organisations, it’s ultimately about relationships. Relationships with customers, colleagues, employees, suppliers, etc., as all of them are human beings. Therefore, identity must also be on the agenda at the CEO level, as it is a tool that should permeate all decisions. So “be true” – thus ensuring a unique starting point for your strategy and giving you the opportunity to add direction that makes sense to the entire organisation.
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