Sunday, September 30, 2012

Does Your Organisation have an Identity?

Identity and reputation are two sides of the same coin; where Scott Livengood and Rhonda Reger (2010) state that “reputation is defined as stakeholders’ perceptions about an organization’s ability to create value relative to competitors and identity is the way the firm sees itself. Accordingly, actions that reinforce a firm’s identity will also reinforce the firm’s reputation, assuming the signals emitted from the firm are appropriately perceived by the outside stakeholders. It’s this reputation that establishes a firm’s “territory” as its identity domain and acts as a signal to other competitors that the firm is both willing and able to compete in this arena,” (p.58).
But in the 21st Century do organisations spend enough time, or in some cases any time, developing their ‘identity’ with their employees?
Is it possible that part of the problem with 21st Century business is that too many employees don’t or can’t ‘identify’ with the organisation they work for, not only creating confusing messages within the organisation, but sending confusing messages to their stakeholders as well?
The business landscape has significantly changed over the last century, not only due to globalisation but due to the nature of employment and how it is seen by the employee. There was a time, not so long ago, when the concept of life-time employment with the same organisation was the norm and where a generation would follow another into the same organisation.
The organisation had an ‘identity’ with the community, but it’s important to remember that the employees had a very narrow perspective of the business landscape. Families would stay in the same location for generations, where the exception would be that ‘rebel’ family member who would move out of their ‘known community’ to find fame and fortune elsewhere.
Now that we live and work in a globally visible landscape, we encourage our children to travel and work abroad, to gain precious International experience and the concept life-time employment is a distant memory that appears very weird with today’s generation.
But whether you work for an organisation for a lifetime or a year, the organisation should have an identity – in fact the leadership and stakeholders should want the organisation to have an identity that makes their business stand out from the competition, to make it a place where employees want to work and even when they move on, will speak highly of that ‘special identity’ and be a place they would like to return to later in their career.
But what creates an organisations identity and what makes that identity positive? Some of the key factors would include;

a)  The leadership at all levels in the organisation, where they set the ‘right’ example for others to follow and have a clear, realistic future vision and allow everyone to feel part of that vision;

b)  Where employees are recognised for their contribution, not just financially, but through simple verbal signals of recognition as well;

c)  Where employees relate to the products and/or services on offer and are proud to be associated with them (a concept that seems to be becoming rarer and rarer);

d)  An organisation that respects their customers and sees them as an asset;

e)  An organisation that doesn’t only recognise employee contributions, but values their ‘talent’ and understands their needs;

f)   An organisation that values all their stakeholders;

g)  An organisation that is in it for the long haul and focuses on sustainable generic growth (rather than a short term rollercoaster ride in search of quick profits);

h)  An organisation that implements socially responsible projects, appreciating that they are part of a community (compared to those that just talk about CSR and believe ‘they are the community’);  

i)   Ethical leadership and ethical stakeholders;

j)   A place that you are proud to be associated with and where you would want your family and friends to work.
So does your organisation have a recognisable identity and if so what is it? If you’re not sure maybe you should spend a few hours managing by walking around and ask them. You’ll be surprised by how much you might learn that can help your organisation be better tomorrow than it is today.




Livengood, R. Scott and Reger, Rhonda, K. (2010). That’s Our Turf! Identity Domains and Competitive Dynamics. Academy of Management Review, Vol. 35 Issue 1, p.48-66.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Do Organisations Find There Are Too Many Charities Chasing Too Few Funds?

In the UK the Charity Commission website will tell you that there are 180,000 registered charities in England and Wales. In addition, there are countless thousands of small charities below the income threshold of £5,000 per year that are not required to register.

They will also tell you that most charities are small, although the larger charities tend to receive the bulk of income, where;

1)  Over four fifths (84%) of registered charities have an income of £10,000 or less;

2)  These charities have less than 5% of the income recorded;

3)  Around 6% of charities receive almost 90% of the total annual income recorded. The largest 500 charities (0.3% of those on the register) attract almost 50% of the total income.

Following the announcement of a real terms funding cut of 33% by 2014/15 in the UK, the Charity Commission is conducting a public consultation on its future role and focus. It is seeking to review its key priorities and develop a new strategy, which can be delivered within the resources available.

With this in mind Alison Benjamin reported in the Guardian that, “it is no wonder 70% of the public think there are too many charities doing similar work and competing with each other” and “Gordon McVie, director general of Cancer Research Campaign (CRC), the second largest cancer charity, openly acknowledges that the public is confused by the sheer number of charities. He warns: "Out of confusion mistrust is bred, and the charity sector only functions because of trust." Numerous small cancer research charities, he claims, end up granting funds to scientists whose requests for funding have been turned down by the CRC. "Something has to be done," he says.”

If you think that 180,000 charities in the UK is a lot, in the US the number of charities and foundations registered  with the IRS is in excess of 1.2 million, where similar to the UK the biggest 100 charities raise by far the largest amount of funding. In 2011 some of the top domestic charities/foundations in the US included the American National Red Cross with $3,588 million revenue; the Salvation Army (USA) with $1,807 million revenue; and Feeding America with $1,185 million revenue - of which their donor dependency is 67%, 72% and 100% respectively (as published by Forbes magazine).

So, can anything be done to help individuals and organisations focusing on corporate social responsibility make sense of this crowded market?

Another concern that Alison Benjamin highlighted is how “the public rightly believes that charities are spending too much of their charitable funds trying to get them to part with their money. A study of leading cancer charities by Manchester Business School found that, in 1997, just 65% of money raised was spent on the cause, compared to 90% in 1992. Across all charities, the average was 67% spent on charitable causes in 1997, compared to 80% five years earlier.”

Yet there is an argument against merging charities in similar sectors since, for example, Ed Mayo, director of the New Economics Foundation think-tank, insists that not enough voices are heard in a sector dominated by the largest charities.

A further problem is that Corporate Boards often make their ‘corporate socially responsible’ decisions and commitment’s  based on their own personal preferences which might not be in line with the priorities of actual charitable needs in the community. This of course could be partly due to the actual number of causes to choose from and keeping it ‘personal’ makes the decision process so much easier.

So what is your personal experience and how does your organisation make effective corporate socially responsible decisions?


Alison Benjamin (2000). Too Many Charities? The Guardian. 8th November.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

What’s the Definition of an Expert These Days?

The world-renowned scientist, Professor Stephen Hawkins, the recent master of ceremonies for the opening of the Paralympics in London said “the greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance – it’s the illusion on knowledge.”
As social media continues to find its role in our social and business lives is it encouraging more and more people to think or pretend that they are experts in a certain subject or field – feeling that to be less could be detrimental to their social standing?
We’ve seen in the past, for example, how society has created pressure through ‘size zero’ models leading to many young people developing eating disorders to achieve what they believed society demanded to be ‘accepted.’
So is social media ‘demanding’ that everyone must pretend to be an ‘expert’ to be accepted by society  and what are the potential dangers for business and more importantly these individuals careers, if this is the case?
Everyone has valuable opinions based on their experiences and what they have learnt through a combination of education, reading, listening, and/or just experimenting; and then applying what they have ‘learnt’ in specific or different environments. Hearing what people have experienced and ‘learnt’ in this context is definitely worth sharing, as we can then all learn something from everyone else (even if it’s how not to do something).
But the question is how many experiences ‘good’ and ‘bad’ does one have to have before one can be considered an expert in the field? – what is the benchmark that allows all of us to assess whether we are as knowledgeable as we need to be, rather than as we may think we are (or as we’d like others to think we are).
Social media seems to encourage people to write comments as if they are proven facts rather than what is only a personal opinion based on an unspecified number of experiences (or possible no experience what-so-ever and just a ‘blind’ belief based on something they have heard and/or read).
The Oxford dictionary (online) defines an expert as “a person who is very knowledgeable about or skilful in a particular area;” the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines an expert as “having, involving or displaying special skills or knowledge derived from training or experience;”  and the defines an expert as “a professional who has acquired knowledge and skills through study and practice over the years, in a particular field or subject, to the extent that his or her opinion may be helpful in fact finding, problem solving, or understanding of a situation.”
All of which tells me that we don’t really have a satisfactory definition of what an expert is in the first place and maybe some language ‘expert’ somewhere can come up with a definition which allows the title to be benchmarked and used appropriately, giving people something to really aspire to – a title that can be respected and trusted.
Otherwise the younger generation are going to find such an enormous amount of unsubstantiated ‘opinions’ written as fact, that we are going to create a learning ‘minefield’ rather than a global forum for ‘real’ knowledge transfer and exchange.
The Urban Dictionary’s (online) definition of an ‘expert’ probably gives a better indication of how society generally perceives the word in today’s socially engaging environment - (1.)Someone who thinks they knew how to do something but actually just screwed everything up. (2.) Someone who goes into a lengthy and serious explanation of doing something fairly simple or unimportant.
But maybe the fact that there isn’t a serious definition of the word is part of the reason that we continue to find many countries in recession and hear a constant stream of complaints about ineffective leadership in business across the globe - (yet so many ‘experts’ offering the ‘solution’ for it).
Radnedge, A. (2012). It all kicks off with a bang…a big bang. Metro. Thurs 30th August, p.4.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Are Organisations Ignoring Key HR Risks?

A report by Ernest and Young back in 2008 found that human resource issues ranked among the top five business issues impacting a corporation's results, yet 41 percent of executives surveyed admitted to reviewing these risks on an ad hoc basis or never. E&Y surveyed senior finance, accounting, risk, and HR executives at 150 Fortune 1000 companies about their perceptions of HR risks and the recognition these risks are given within a global organization.
The top five individual HR risk areas seen as having a high impact and likelihood of occurrence within an organization are:
• Talent management and succession planning (65 percent for impact, 42 percent for occurrence).
• Ethics/tone at the top (64 percent for impact, 23 percent for occurrence).
• Regulatory compliance (51 percent for impact, 21 percent for occurrence).
• Pay and performance alignment (45 percent for impact, 27 percent for occurrence).
• Employee training and development (41 percent for impact, 24 percent for occurrence).
Even with the global financial crisis, where you’d think organisations would quickly want to implement practices and policies that would re-focus the organisations strategy and performance for practical sustainable growth in the coming years, I would suggest that these five key human resource risk areas are still not getting the attention they deserve.
Succession planning is probably one of the most talked about, yet least implemented business practices in today’s corporate world. For some reason boards, CEO’s and executive teams seem to agree, during a debate, the importance of succession planning and how vital it is to have ‘people’ in waiting, especially for key roles – yet when it comes to implementing ‘proper’ succession planning systems that are all encompassing that link to an integrated human resource strategy, they seem to fall flat.
What’s fascinating about the criteria is that they rightly see ethics and ‘the tone at the top’ as a key human resource issue, where these drivers are often assumed to be the responsibility of the CEO and as such are not ‘challenged’ as part of the day-to-day activities at the top.
In fact what’s sad about ‘the tone at the top’ as a key risk is that you’ll find where the ‘tone’ is a risk, it’s often because the CEO doesn’t want to discuss it and those that try can find themselves marginalised within the executive team. Recent scandals, including the libor scandal at Barclays, would most likely prove this point.
Regulatory compliance still seems to get too little attention and there seems to be a perception within big corporates that they are not to be dictated too (by anyone, about anything) – even when the regulation is there, not only to protect, but also to improve performance.
Pay and performance is debated today, as it has been over the last three decades and more, where equality is still the biggest deviation for pay; and poor appraisal systems and techniques are the biggest cause of dissatisfaction and demotivation in relation to performance. Where it still seems that recognition for good performance is the exception rather than the rule.
The market for employee training and development has become saturated, partly due to the advert of social media and social networking, and also due to too many suppliers offering what they think organisations need, rather than actively forming collaborative relationships with clients to offer them what they need. That, combined with internal budget cuts, has seen training and development take a back seat – yet again. Thirty years ago business guru’s like Michael Porter, Peter Drucker, etc were telling us then that the last budget to get cut in a crisis should be the training and development budget – not the first. But we seem to be slow learners.
So maybe organisations should think about reviewing these five key criteria more formally and more often – you may be pleasantly surprised by the improvements in organisational and operational performance if you do.
Steffee, S. (2008). HR Risks Are Largely Ignored. Internal Auditor; Vol. 65 Issue 6, p.14-15.