Tag Archive for organizational identity

Top Posts of 2012: Your Core Values Might Accidentally Suck

corevaluesFirst, Merry Christmas to you and yours! Over the next week, we’re going to take a quick trip down memory lane and check out the posts you guys read and shared the most. So sit back, grab some coffee, and enjoy the year’s best Mojo according to you, my esteemed readers.

I don’t mean to be unkind, but sadly, it’s true in many cases. Many well-intentioned folks–executives, managers, consultants, and so on–craft core values that end up being almost entirely meaningless if you accept that core values are supposed to be your organization’s DNA. Folks rightly understand that your values undergird your culture, and I think most know on at least some level (even if they don’t want to admit it) that an organization’s culture is a potentially huge–and often untapped–competitive advantage. However…

If you glance at many organizations’ lists of core values, you’ll find things that sound great at first blush. Things like honesty, integrity, respect–those things are all fine and good, but they really don’t speak to what makes your organization different from every other one in your market. I mean really, have you ever seen a financial institution not list those as their values? Yeah, me either. So unless of course you’re suggesting that your organization is more honest, has more integrity, and is more respectful than everyone else (which would be pretty arrogant, right?), you should be looking at your values differently. Think about it–most of us just generally assume that most organizations are honest, aim to conduct business with integrity, and are respectful of, well, whatever it is that organizations are respectful of. So for you to list those as your core, defining values is almost redundant and unnecessary. Those are attributes that we expect most businesses to have; they don’t really make you unique.

Keep thinking. What if we took your core values or your marketing pieces and put them on a piece of paper without colors, identifiable fonts, logos, or anything else. If people read them, would they know it was you? Would your employees even know it was you? Many times, the answer is no. And again–it’s not that those values themselves are bad; they’re just not unique. They’re not you.

What about these? Warrior’s Spirit. A Servant’s Heart. A Fun-LUVing Attitude. Those, of course, are from Southwest Airlines. Now underneath each of those values, there are specific behaviors outlined. By the time you’ve read through them, you have a pretty good idea of who they are and how they roll. Are you stoic and serious-minded? Then Southwest’s not for you, and that’s OK! Core values aren’t moral judgements; they simply speak to what defines the culture of that group of humans.

And please–don’t misread this and think I’m saying everyone needs to be like Southwest or any other organization. That’s not what I think, and I’ve said as much in previous posts. You need to be YOU, warts and all. We don’t need another Zappos. We don’t need another Apple. We don’t need another Five Guys. They’re all great organizations, and we can admire what they’ve done from a culture and branding perspective. But what makes them great is that they’re them. They’re unique and unflinching in regards to their culture and brand.

Your core values should give your employees a sort of behavioral compass, and should give the outside world an idea of who you really are as an organization. It’s essentially your brand. Great organizations find ways to really blur the line between internal organizational culture and external brand, and that’s how it should be. An organization’s brand ought to be simply one face of its culture. But frankly, that’s not possible with those almost default, expected values. You being honest and respectful is great; but it’s also not at all unique. We would all nod and say that those things are sort of standard operating procedures, sure. But they don’t really define your organization in a unique way to your employees or the broader public.

So dig deep. Figure out who you really are. And then be you.

What Socrates Would Say to Your Organization

I’m about to kill my own little consulting practice with two words. I’m going to spare you the time, effort, and cash commitment connected with contracting a consultant to help your company clarify and cultivate its culture.

In the interest of full disclosure, and in an effort to avoid plagiarism, it should be noted that the two words didn’t originate with me. My source? Socrates. (Or So-crates, for you Bill and Ted fans.)

Now word on the street is that Socrates was a smart fellow. If they had used charts and stickers back in his day, he would have been that kid whose whole row was filled with bright, gold stars. Judging by many artists’ renderings of him, perhaps one critique of ol’ Socrates would be that he occasionally donned togas that didn’t fit him very well and consequently exposed more of himself than maybe some of us would like. But heck, with abs like that, who could blame him? But I digress.

What are the two words? Well, as Socrates purportedly said, “Know thyself.”

Yep. That’s it. Know thyself.

You see, this idea lies at the very core of an organization’s culture. It’s your identity. It’s who you are. And out of that identity flows everything else you do. Knowing thyself is like organizational self-awareness in a way. And without that–if you don’t do the work to build a healthy, distinct organizational culture–you’re in big trouble.

So many issues we wrestle with on a regular basis stem from our culture and identity. They emanate from how we’ve chosen to answer (or not answer) basic questions about our organization: Who are we? What’s our purpose? Why is that our purpose? What are our core values? How is our community or the world better off because we’re in it? How are we different from others in our market?

Or maybe you want to get a little more creative with the questions you use to get to some of those know-thyself answers. For example: If a former employee were to write a tell-all expose about your organization, what would it reveal? Say that five years from now your organization is on the cover of Forbes. What would the story say about you? If one of your main competitors had unlimited funds and resources, what could they do to put you out of business? If you had one tweet (140 characters) to describe how your company is different from others, what would you say? If you stripped the interior of your building of any verbiage or logos, and if people from your community were blindfolded and led inside, after walking around for a few hours what would they say was important to you?

Most of the time the very first step for organizations looking to shift or cultivate their culture is becoming more self-aware. You have to know yourself—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

To do that, we have to be willing to ask ourselves tough questions and give honest answers. Have we in some ways lost our mojo? Our self-awareness? Our identity? Our purpose? Our—dare I say—soul?

It’s only by taking the advice of the sage Socrates that we’ll be able to give an honest answer.

(This a modified version of a post I wrote for CUInsight that you can find here.)


Halloween, Clowns, & Organizational Identity

Halloween is cool. For the most part, anyway. Seems to be a fun thing for kiddos (unless, of course, you grew up Baptist, in which case “Fall Festival” was a fun thing for kiddos). But regardless of what you called or call that thing where kids dress up in costumes and get candy, it seems to be a pretty good time.

For me, the scary part every year, and really whether it’s Halloween or not, is the clowns. I’m one of those weird people who thinks clowns are creepy all year round. They’re grown adults with painted skin and a variety of expressions smeared onto their faces. You’ve got happy clowns, sad clowns, surprised clowns, deranged clowns, constipated clowns, goth clowns, and so on; but for me they all fall into one category: creepy.

I’m not entirely sure why, but ever since watching Bozo the clown when I was little, I always just sort of assumed that most clowns were actually serial killers or some other sort of equally-evil humans underneath the rainbow-colored hair and painted-on smiles. I’m only half-kidding. My first, gut instinct on the rare occasion I see a clown is to kick that clown in the shin and bop him in the big, red nose.

And don’t get me started on Santa and the Easter Bunny…

In some twisted sense, it seems like that’s what some organizations do too. We try to dress ourselves up and paint some weird identity on our collective faces that’s different from what we really are or hope to be.

For example, deep down inside, maybe you want to be a fun, even quirky organization. You start hiring fun, quirky people. You start having more fun during the day. You begin to laugh more. People start to have a good time working together and helping customers (or members, for my credit union gang).

And then, for some reason, someone, somewhere says something like this: “Well, we can’t have people laughing in front of customers….” Or asks something like: “What if people see us having fun on the clock? Will they think we don’t take our work seriously?” Or maybe it’s some other similar question.

Right then, right there, you’re at a decision point. Your organization has to decide who it really wants to be. Do you want to paint a particular facial expression onto your collective faces? Or do you want to hire people with the right attitudes and let them be themselves?

I’m not saying every organization needs to be any particular thing–fun or otherwise. I’m just saying that organizations need to figure out who they are and then live it loudly. You’re not going to make everyone happy, so quit trying. If you want to be a fun organization, then be that. Some people will like it; others won’t. If you want to be consistently serious-minded, then be that. Some folks will like it; others won’t.

But whatever it is you think is important to you, and whatever it is you say that you are, just be that. Forget the face-painted smiles or frowns or whatever else.

As a closing side-note, if you’re a nice human adult who enjoys dressing up like a clown, please don’t take this post personally. I hope we can still be friends. Like the kind of friends who don’t go anywhere near each other when one or the other is dressed like a clown.