By Leon Labovitch. Published on 19 December 2016
As if the constant need to innovate and stay ahead of the competition aren’t enough, the resolution that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ has only added more uncertainty to the workload of business and governments.
The constant need for businesses to innovate has created a corporate environment of constant change. Understanding how best to manage transformation is clearly important, and an often overlooked part of this is the need to continually establish and communicate a clear corporate identity that is aligned with change.
But how do you create an identity that explains to your customers who you are, what you stand for, your new direction and capability in a way that motivates and engages internal and external audiences?
The importance of identity
Our individual identities are cardinal in determining who we are, how we behave, our values and what motivates us. This is equally true of organisations, with the added challenge of creating, communicating and getting buy-in to that identity from a number of individuals, each with their own identities.
It’s challenging, but not impossible.
For NASA in the 1960s, the identity was built around one core objective: ‘to put a man on the moon’. It was a vision to which everyone at NASA was dedicated, achieving the landing against massive challenges.
An identity that captures both hearts and minds can be highly engaging and motivating. But it must be authentic.
An arresting image
I’ve always loved Constable’s most famous painting, The Haywain. The picture captures the essence of pre-industrial Britain as a peaceful, timeless and idyllic rural landscape. It’s motivating and admired across the world.
So during a recent visit to Suffolk I decided to visit Flatford, the area that inspired Constable’s genius.
You can immediately feel the magic of the Haywain, although a modern photo itself is rather more prosaic than the landscape presented by Constable, lacking his creative spark and purpose.
In fact, like many painters, the great artist only made sketches at the location, returning to his London studio to create a romanticised interpretation of the image. Which makes for a beautiful painting, but is not considered best practice when creating a corporate identity.
Our objective is to create a unique, visually impressive and motivating company identity for staff and customers as our business changes, without creating expectations we can never meet. Otherwise the inevitable result is disappointment and disillusionment.
The core elements of an authentic identity that engages and motivates
Over several years of helping organisations create and maintain their identity, I’ve created a simple five step model to guide the process. It’s important to involve staff at each stage as not only does this bring invaluable inputs, but also it creates engagement and a sense of ownership that will help improve adoption.
1 – Define the organisation’s purpose (or the strategic narrative), values and unique selling points that form the heart of the corporate identity.
2 – Create the essence of the brand with visual storyboards, case studies and brand promise – what does the identity look and feel like in practice?
3 – Describe and model the staff behaviours that are required to underpin the identity.
4 – Update company policy, reward, conditions and training to reinforce the behaviours.
5 – Design and deliver an engaging roll-out plan for all internal and external stakeholders.
The identity model in practice – case studies
I’ve enjoyed helping clients create identity and deliver change combining both rational and creative approaches using the described model in several sectors.
Mining and aggregates
The Carbon Trust needed to engage mining and aggregates companies across Britain in its efforts to reduce carbon emissions and energy spend.
We established a strategic narrative by listing the top ten ways in which energy could be saved and then made a movie, filmed in clients’ mines and quarries across Britain, where these ideas were being put into action. The film started with a dynamite explosion to good effect – literally starting with a bang!
After we showed the film at many sites across the country, quarrymen and managers could answer the question ‘What do the ten carbon saving principles mean to us and how can we apply them at our location?’. By using the ‘What does this mean for me?’ question, all the companies and individuals became engaged and were successful in changing to low energy inputs.
Here, an in-depth analysis of the industry combined with creative filmmaking together led to a successful redefinition of identity and a positive change in behaviours.
Energy generation and transmission
We assisted the UK’s main generator of nuclear electricity to ensure company-wide resilience after the Fukishima nuclear disaster in Japan.
After a ‘stress test’ study on the business, we created a three-part strategic narrative for all eight nuclear sites, comprising structural resilience, disaster rescue equipment and human response to emergencies.
With this clear mandate and the help of pictorial storyboards we asked staff at each generating station to answer the question ‘What does this mean for us, and how must we locally adapt to become resilient?’ By working as a team with HQ staff, a combined programme management and creative approach helped redefine a new resilient identity, receiving accolade from the client.
This large and important government department wants to establish an identity and level of cohesion to enhance internal motivation and external reputation. Having formerly integrated its revenue and customs legacies, HMRC is now faced with establishing the right culture and tax structures for a post-Brexit Britain.
The Way Ahead
The way ahead may seem daunting, but all transformation should start by establishing a business model for the ‘new world’. A fundamental part of this is establishing clear company identity using both rational and creative expression. The model described above combines purpose, values and USP on which to base a strong visually engaging storyboard and models of new behaviours.
A meta-analysis of studies suggests that when employees are motivated and confident they are 31% more productive, make 37% more sales, and are three times as creative, so this is clearly an area in which the potential return on investment is great.
Organisations may find the guidance of an experienced interim invaluable, particularly in achieving delivery and roll out within tight timescales. The effects can be immediate and long-lasting. I recently met an old client, as we were by chance staying in the same hotel together in Malaysia. As the hotel lift doors opened, the sales director stepped out and his face broke into a smile. ‘We remember how you helped us seven years ago – and we’re still talking about it today!’
This was all based on creating an identity of which that organisation was proud, motivating their staff and clients for many years after the formal project had ended.
Leon Labovitch is the founder and CEO of Labovitch Consulting Limited, helping clients deliver holistic change across private and government sectors. A systems approach ensures strategy, operations, information, organisation and people are included. His passion is also to renew corporate identity and employer brand, leading to highly motivated and engaged staff and long lasting transformation.