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.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Nigel,

    I agree with you – having identity means an organization knows where they are and what values they represent and transmit. In other words, recognizing your own identity helps you make a strong impression on your employees who in their turn will make the same impression on their customers.

    But this sometimes doesn’t work. In my opinion, the point c) in your article – “employees relate to the products/services on offer” can lead you to some interesting consideration. When you are a customer, you can immediately feel whether an employee is proud of company products/services or not. You, as a customer, have positive or negative feelings, emotions, and attitude towards a company – you deal with employees that represent an organization. An employee, who works with you or any other customer, should have positive feelings, emotions, and attitude towards products/services and be able to create a warm, kind, respectful, and professional atmosphere. And this is a rather weak point for some organizations. Professional knowledge of products/services is a must but not enough for customers.

    Best wishes,