What Does a Company Stand for in Peoples' Minds?, January 21, 2008
Donald Mitchell "Adventures of an Optimist Au... (founder of the 400 Year Project to demonstrate how to make improvements 20 times faster -- www.fastforward400.com -- in Boston)
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For centuries, corporations have been treated as "fictitious persons" for legal purposes. Since the mid-20th century, academics have been interested in "corporate culture" and how that influenced performance by employees. In the late 20th century, people began to write books about the customer, employee, and stakeholder benefits of companies standing for accomplishing something more than making a profit . . . citing firms like Timberland, Ben and Jerry's, Starbucks, and other consumer products and services firms. With The Soul of the Corporation, identity is separated from reality to explore as a central manifestation of these and other effects on living, breathing people who are somehow affected or influenced by corporations. The concept is encapsulated into something called The I*Dimension which is the cumulative effect of shared values and beliefs; structures, systems, and policies; ownership mode and governance structure; goals and strategies; products and technologies; and people characteristics and skills feeding back into shared values and beliefs again. Is it real or is it an academic concept? My experience suggests it is real. When I start working with a new client company, I interview the leaders I will be working with to see what the shared values and beliefs are. I always find a very strong core of those values and beliefs . . . as well as assumptions about the world and the future. Usually, the leadership team is unaware of this consensus because these areas aren't much talked about. When you do surveys of customer and potential customer perceptions, there is usually a strong identity among the customers that's different from the non-customers. And on it goes. This is the first book I've read about identifying, managing, and improving identity as opposed to the company's purpose. I thought it was a useful addition to the literature with its examples and paradigm. I suspect that an in-depth study of how one company changed all of the elements will be needed before the field will seem very meaty. I hope the authors will have a chance to explore such a situation and report on it to us.