Thursday, September 29, 2011

A sense of purpose?

BA's new advertising campaign claims that its motto "to fly to serve" "runs through everything we do". After several years of turbulence, it makes a lot of sense for BA to remind customers about the company's history - and the motto has stood the test of time. But is the claim true? BA's industrial relations have suggested a very different internal culture. One can only hope that the ad is some kind of sacrament - an outward sign of an inner grace, and that as much effort has been put in to building a sense of purpose among BA staff as is now being spent telling customers about it.

If so, BA would be a rare company indeed, according to a recent survey in the US. People were asked about the corporate culture of their organisation, classified into one of three basic types:
1. Blind Obedience ... command and control, top-down leadership and coercion
2. Informed Acquiescence ... Employees follow the rules, policies and procedures ... Managers rely on performance-based rewards and punishments to motivate
3. Self-Governance ... primarily values-based ... purpose and values inform decision-making and guide all employee and company behavior
Around a quarter of leaders identified their organisation as fundamentally driven by purpose and values. However, among employees it was less than 5%. Depressing. Evidence not only that a huge number of bosses haven't got a clue about the organisations they run, but also that purpose and values - the stuff of a good brand - are marginal at best, in most businesses. Dov Seidman, who devised this classification of types of corporate culture (and who commissioned the survey), has argued, convincingly and passionately, for many years, about the potential of corporate culture:
"culture as a conscious, deliberate, long-term strategy can be the key to differentiation, success and significance"
I can only concur. If brands are so important when it comes to engaging with customers, why are they neglected when engaging with employees (or shareholders, or regulators, or media, or intermediaries, for that matter)? It must be the biggest blind spot in business - lying somewhere between the briefs of the CEO, the Marketing Director and the People Director. Like Dov, I've argued for ages about the urgency of this issue. What is so frustrating is that it is easily addressed. What seems to be lacking is intent. Maybe this survey will act as a wake up call?

If your company were a stick of seaside rock, what words would be written through it? Would it be flattering? (Or unpleasant and fattening?)

(Of course, I must declare a vested interest here. Evangelism is one of Tomorrow:AM's core beliefs and I'm always looking for an opportunity to discuss solutions - for example by making brands stickier. You know where to find me.)

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