Sunday, January 27, 2008


Don’t wipe out divergence

By D. Murali

This is ‘the Age of Identity’ proclaim Hamid Bouchikhi and John R. Kimberly in The Soul of the Corporation ( They find that identity is increasingly problematic across all levels of human organisation, owing to globalisation, M&As (mergers and acquisitions), disruptive innovation, accountability and more.
To respond effectively to these challenges, leaders have to see if they can leverage their identity as an asset. The I*Dimension, as the authors explain, is the set of shared beliefs, both implicit and explicit, that gives the visible elements of the firm coherence and ‘puts boundaries around how much change is possible without altering its essence.’
Just as an individual’s identity can be anchored in gender, nationality, social group, educational credentials, or particular skills, the I*Dimension of an organisation ‘resides in multiple anchors,’ such as core business, knowledge base, operating philosophy, a legendary founder, and a governance structure.
“Leaders who are sensitive to the I*Dimension focus on where and how to drive a company to high convergence among key stakeholders about its essence,” the book states. “As long as identity is in harmony with the firm’s industry and with the wider environment, it is a very effective compass for management.”
But don’t wipe out divergence, Bouchikhi and Kimberly caution. “Extreme convergence in an organisation’s identity brings about narcissism and insulation from the outside world.”
Leaders should therefore strive “to maintain some tension between the two forces to achieve the minimum of consensus without which collective action is impossible, and the minimum of dissent without which change is impossible.”
I*Dimension has both pluses and minuses, the authors find. The positives include loyalty and commitment, cooperation, guidance for problem-solving, recognition, predictability and so on.
And the ‘dark side’ of the dimension has identity conflict (caused by mutually exclusive views of the employees), drift (with a clear and consistent identity progressively losing focus), and fragmentation (arising from individuals and groups identifying more with subunits than with the organisation as a whole).
The authors compare corporate identity change or rebranding to an individual changing his appearance by changing the clothing, makeup, cosmetic surgery or name. In contrast, changing the I*Dimension reaches much deeper, say Bouchikhi and Kimberly.
They note that the substantive levers of identity change are decisions about the firm’s more tangible dimensions. “Among all substantive levers, however, the choice of the chief executive has the highest potential impact on a firm’s identity.”
There are five ingredients of successful identity change, the authors list, as follows: vision, effective communication, consistency, leadership continuity, and luck and positive signals.
You may count yourself lucky if you can lay your hands on the Soul.