[caption id="attachment_834" align="alignleft" width="209" caption="What is Behind the Profile?"][/caption]
A man’s work is his dilemma his job is his bondage, but it also gives him his fair share of his identity and keeps him from being a bystander in someone else’s world. — Melvin Maddocks
As an organization, who are you? What is your internal and external story? If you cannot crisply define yourself in a few words you likely have a problem on your hands.
The market shapes corporate brands and heavily influenced by the company upon whom the brand is bestowed. Companies spend a great deal of money on branding, shaping market perception in the way the company wishes to be defined. The reason is clear, there is too much at stake to let the customers and potential customers independently set their market positioning.
Pulling in the focus, what is the identity of your IT department? Does it convey a promise which is translated into a brand? IT organizations typically are not oriented around branding and when pushed to think about it realize they have many disparate, confused, and mixed identities, each shaped by recent events with their customers. From a brand perspective, there will be no clear message which the IT customers can positively associate with.
For companies at lower maturity levels (see Vaughan Merlyn’s great series of posts on IT Maturity levels) the primary time IT interacts with their customers is when IT applications fail – roughly equivalent to the heroic people who work in lost luggage at the airport. Carrying the analogy a little further, each person who may lose their luggage typically have their own private lost luggage department. This drives a confused IT organization identity as the group operates in a reactive way to many IT customers. As the IT customers will unknowingly control the IT activity, the IT message is lost. By being primarily reactive, the IT organization is not able to proactively define themselves, their identity, their promise, and their brand. This is a situation which is all too common – all too unfortunate – and all to unacceptable.
Let’s look at a different scenario. An IT department which has a proactively defined its internal sub-identities (system maintenance, help desk, research and development, software engineering, etc). Each of these groups not only have well established sub-identities but also internally and externally known set of accountabilities and responsibilities within the groups. This hypothetical organization would also have well understood interactions and dependencies between the groups. What this drives from an external perspective is a higher order of identity. Rather than a personal identity, the organization will develop its own identity. An identity, which when developed with a move to a proactive culture, will form a promise of control and (ironically) greater responsiveness to the right things than in a overtly reactive culture.
From an IT customer perspective, there is an attractiveness to this. Knowing how the IT organization operates, what areas of the organization are directly related to each IT customer and how they should work with the IT organization will attract energy from the customer base. IT will in turn be able to feed on this energy producing a positive feedback loop to the relationship.
Internally there is a great attractiveness to defining your identity. When there are clear boundaries established there is comfort in knowing what is within each individuals scope of control and what is not. Knowing where to build and grow specific expertise in your sub-identity is culturally focusing. Knowing what your story is and how to tell it empowering.
The journey to building the identity is adventurous. In many ways the organizational identity can be shaped directly by the IT organization. The interesting part come from how the IT customers shape the identity based on how the promise from IT is defined and delivered. There is an attractiveness to this as the IT organization will be better able to place a value to their identity and brand.
My challenge to you is simple. Define who you are. Build and live your promise. Change your brand.
[Update: Seth Godin presents sound wisdom in this area in Finding Your Brand Essense, that if you have to pay someone to find your brand essence you are unlikely to find it. The process of giving up things to focus on others will drive your brand (identity)]