It’s a dirty little secret. Top leadership in many organizations do not understand nor can they clearly define their value proposition.  Few CEOs can say how they are supposed to work their magic within their organization.

When I’m in a mischievous mood, I will sometimes ask managers and workers in a company, “What does the CEO actually do?” It’s not unusual to get a panicked stare as my answer, followed by some trite response, like “Well, he sets the direction of the company.”

So, I ask, “What is the direction of the company?” We are inundated with direction and vision statements that would all serve as good examples of what my high school civics teacher called ‘glittering generalities.’ They are well-meaning, but often sound just like every other company’s vision statement. For these statements to become more than lovely aspirations something is missing.

So what’s missing?

What’s missing is clarity about the identity of the organization, its character. If we know who we are and what we are becoming, the people of the organization can make intelligent choices about the investment of their time and energy. So many vision statements read like imperial dreams: to become the best…the biggest…the leading…. They can be overly involved in promises of performance. They’re too pie-in-the-sky to have much effect on the majority of workers. They’re not personal enough. That’s what an expression of our identity can provide.

For individuals, the sense of identity is the mental and emotional skeleton on which hangs all our behavior and personality and values. Our sense of identity is the strong center that tells us when we are doing something that doesn’t fit who we are (or believe ourselves to be). No matter what values we proclaim, our behavior is spurred and limited by how we see ourselves. Identity gives substance to what we believe and to what we aspire.

It is the job of the senior leadership of the organization to model and give voice to the organization’s identity. As they do, people throughout the organization understand what actions are worthy and what are not (ethics). Workers at all levels can believe in the vision, because they identify with the organization and they adopt that identify as their own (execution). Identity stays the same no matter what’s happening in the market.

And, as we know, people live up to (or down to) who they think they are. It’s the job of the senior team to walk and talk the identity of the organization. Culture and values are expressions of identity.

Does your organization have a clear sense of who you are as an organization?

– Doug Riddle

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