Telling Tales: Finding a company’s soul, and uncovering its greatness

I often work with companies to identify and articulate their brand, values and culture.

My assignment ofen starts with a desire to increase acquisition, retention, and advocacy; but the key to achieving these goals lies with understanding a company’s core brand, values and culture and what makes up their core DNA.

I call this search for values, brand and culture, the discovery of a company’s “soul.” 

A company's soul, or core DNA, is hard to find, as it rarely discussed, and often not on the surface. But your soul is always there, and always in action.

Once we uncover a company’s soul we can find the best way to deliver a clear positioning and messaging in the marketplace.

A company's soul is reflected in who you are, what you believe, how you act and why.

I worked with four companies last year on a search for their company’s soul where company executives found the results particularly surprising.

Their surprise was partially a result of having never viewed their company as being based in a set of particular traits, and partially because they had never looked to find their DNA. They examined behaviors of the company, and the result of those behaviors (products, distribution channels, growth strategies) but never though about WHY they acted the way they do.

But once understood, articulation of their soul became part of decision-making within each of these companies--an understanding of company’s values, brand and culture that now impacts hiring, product and business development, and messaging.

The first company came out of the soul closet. My client had just re-located its headquarters from Israel. They were a services company doing business with Fortune 500 companies. They had tried hard to shield traditional Israel stereotypes and cultural norms from their American clients. However, those cultural behaviors they brought over from Israel were part of their soul—and it turns out, their most well regarded behaviors.

The second company fought their soul, but their soul won. My client had just been installed as the new President and COO. This new chief brought with him a set of values and culturally accepted norms from his previous company. Unfortunately, they didn’t match the soul of his new organization. After interviewing staff, I reported to the new chief that “transparency”—open dialog with employees, was one of the key driving forces to happiness within the culture. He told me, “We have to stop that. We are a publicly traded company, and can’t be sharing information with employees.” He fought the company culture for a while, until organized employee walk-outs forced him to rethink fighting the “soul” of the company.

The third company found their soul in what wasn’t there. The company asked me to help them develop new organizational processes within the company. For too long they had been conducting business without formal guidelines, or an official employee playbook. After some digging, I realized a guidebook, or formal structure would stifle creativity and drive down company morale. It turns out that employees thrived in this company because of the lack of structure. I encouraged the company to embrace their current way of working, and re-evaluate some of their hiring practices.

The fourth company found their soul by listening to their customers. When I arrived, I interviewed key executives who spoke at length about the behaviors of their customers. They called them “lazy,” “narcissistic” and “vain.” These derogatory terms were used because of a lack of understanding of the key motivators of their customer’s behaviors. It turns out that over 80% of their customers were considered “Generation Y.” The negative perception of their customer’s behavior was driven by the generation gap between company and customers. I instigated a customer immersion program, and before long, the Gen Y audience’s soul—and outward behaviors began not to be seen as lazy, narcissistic or vain, but as personal-goal driven, and self-confident (among many other traits). My client found the soul of its customers, and changed the way they did business with them, almost immediately.

In each case we went hunting for a company’s soul, and in each case we were successful in our search, and discovered the company’s greatness.


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