‘Why do we do what we do?’ – Identity

The Importance of Having an ‘Identity’:

Having explored the concept of identity in past blog entries, we wanted to apply some of that discussion and the concepts that were generated, to this first topic within the research exercise.

Identity is crucial, not just for the individual, but for organisations as well. It is complex, multi-faceted and draws on many different concepts of which we have varying degrees of awareness. The vast majority of us will lay claim to some notion of Identity, but what constitutes that, and indeed the reasons why it is held in such high esteem, vary considerably.


 The Significance of ‘Identity’ to the Individual:

Topic 1 began by asking the Pilot Group if, and indeed why, they felt Identity to be significant. The majority of them were keen to emphasise its importance to them, primarily in virtue of the fact that it is a unique combination of many different elements, and this uniqueness is where we place the value.

The organisational implication of this is simple: we need to be clear and forthright on what it is that constitutes our identity, and why that is of interest or of value to others.


The Key Elements of ‘Identity’:

The second question concentrated on the key elements of Identity. Every member of the group identified ‘values, beliefs and passions’ as among these key elements. This is particularly interesting; the average age of the pilot study group was 21, and yet the emphasis placed on the importance of concepts like ‘values’ was clearly significant. Unsurprisingly, ‘personality’ was also identified as a key element, indicating more pragmatic concerns.

 What this implies is that, as far as our pilot group are concerned, it is important for an organisation to convey its identity honestly and with clarity, ensuring that the values, beliefs and passions of the organisation are known from the outset.

Additionally, this should be done in such a way that the ‘character’ of the organisation is one with what it purports to be; namely, that these key concepts influence, and are in turn influenced by, the unique personality of the organisation.


Organisational ‘Identity’:

The third question in this section looked specifically at the key influencers on an individual’s perception of the Identity of an organisation. The majority of the pilot group identified the actual products of an organisation as the most significant influencer on their perception of its Identity, with the ‘brand’ and ‘how we as customers are treated’ each identified by over half of the group.

Again this is unsurprising; the primary interaction we as consumers have to an organisation is through their products. If the products are incongruent with the claimed identity of the organisation, then something is clearly amiss. Additionally, customer service and brand awareness have long been associated with this sort of concept. It is clearly important to be consistent and to ensure that the messages you send out about your identity are reliably constant throughout all possible channels.

This raises an interesting question however; what happens when there are no consumer products? Surely, when this is the case a brand cannot be product-based, at least not conventionally, and one could question the importance of ‘brand’ to the identity of such an organisation at all. The assumptions made by our Pilot Study Group are telling; we immediately align brand with Identity. This can be damaging from the perspective of a potential recruit, but is equally dangerous to an established organisation.


Thinking about ‘Identity’ – The Wider Picture:

Finally, we prompted our pilot group to provide us with some thoughts of their own on this topic. The answers were varied, and in the main, highly developed. Of particular note were the observations that “identity is the reality that drives the brand”, and the importance of awareness as regards one’s reputation and the power of viral marketing and web involvement. All of our respondents remarked on the importance of identity to the recruitment process, and how it should be made clear from word go.

One respondent went as far as to remark that “the goals and reasons behind their actions will give you a clear insight into what sort of an organisation it is… other elements such as the logo, offices etc., are a façade which can easily deceive, where as the kind of work ethic they (convey) will give you a true insight into the identity of an organisation…”


Final Thoughts:

That last remark sums up what we think concludes the findings of this topic: it’s all very well saying what you are about, but if you don’t practice what you preach, you will be found out.

Identity is, as we have said before, an amalgamation of many different elements, some of which will be out of your control, but not necessarily out of your influence. It is just as important to understand your Identity as an employer as it is for an individual. A failure to do so, and to convey accurately what that is from first point of contact with recruits, could lead to problems throughout your organisation.

Of course, all of this is related to what an organisation does and what it wants/intends to do: it is related to ‘Purpose’. In next week’s post, we will look at this in the light of findings from Topic 2 of the Research Project, and explore what we, and our Pilot Study Group, think is important about having a sense of Purpose.  

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