So it seems likely that the most successful corporations of tomorrow will not be those best tailored to serving the self-interest of each employee, but those that acknowledge that economic self-interest is a paltry carrot and a feeble stick -- that human beings yearn for belonging, community, kindness and love, emotions that the groups for which they will fight and even die have always been able to stir.
The successful C.E.O.'s of the next century will recognize that corporations that deny such yearnings will not long endure. The tom-tom of Us versus Them beats deep in the human spirit. Corporations that succeed are those that can learn to be economically rational while marching to that primordial step.
It may sound like a college bull session topic, but corporate identity is a subject of intense study among academics and among the curious industry of "identity consultants." Their experiences suggest an executive can do much more than muse and gab. Some practical tips:
Work with the grouping instincts, not against them. People will form teams and bands whether you want them to or not -- especially people who work face to face. So organize the office with these teams in mind.
Find people who are at ease being part of something. Beth Israel HealthCare, a Boston-based network of health care services, tries to hire people who are used to group environments -- those who do volunteer work, join organizations and so on.
Pay attention to the "organic" aspect of your company's identity -- the ways in which it resembles something living. Some companies, with fewer and fewer veterans around to serve as living connections to the past, have used technology to create "knowledge bases" that can serve as repositories of the company way of doing things. Booz-Allen & Hamilton has such a system in place, called Knowledge on Line; other organizations do, as well. (See "Finding the Knowledge Needle in the Data Haystack," in Issue 5 of Strategy & Business.) Such a knowledge system also counteracts the scattering effects of far-flung offices and telecommuting, by making everyone's expertise available to all. That enhances the "genealogical" side of your company -- the sense of it as an enduring tradition.
Ponder identity. It's an easy question to evade, but the costs of doing so could be high. No need for conventional methods. Camillo Olivetti, the founder of the typewriter company, employed artists at the turn of the century to paint their impressions of Olivetti's identity.
Use trappings that have worked. Manufacture symbols, flags, corporate rituals.
Make sure the esprit is about the right corps. Beware groups you don't want, like the team that feels alienated from the front office or the regional office playing by its own rules. The deeply rooted habit of grouping together in a band seems to be a small-scale phenomenon. A large corporation is an abstract and rational entity, hard to muster emotion for.
Settle for what you can get. The company needn't come first for it to be important to people. Modern identity is a pack of cards. An employee who is also a mother, a Democrat, a softball coach and a Trekkie can still get into the spirit of the company picnic.
MAKING AN IDENTITY
"The first thing we decided," recalls Hayes Roth of Landor Associates, the San Francisco-based corporate identity firm, "was nothing with Tel or Com or Sys. That has been done to death."
His team's mission, as brand consultants, was to come up with a new name and a new identity for the soon-to-be-spun-off entity that had long been Bell Laboratories.
The procedure for such identity surgery, Mr. Roth says, is to go in "and interview senior management and customers and ask, what do we want to keep from the old days? What do we want to jettison? And what do we want to add?"
Many people spout clichés, but never mind. The interviews generate a profile of history and hopes, which then goes to a staff of people charged with naming the new entity. The report also goes to the client company, and is the basis for further discussion. "We're inventing a new culture," Mr. Roth says.
For the name of the successor to Bell Labs, "we came to Lucent, in part because light is our theme, light is what carries the information in fiber optics," he explains. "Lucent is a real word connoting lucidity, luminousness, intellectual clarity. That's good. And, it's short."
Identity tinkering is not always a matter of change for change's sake, he adds. "When we handled the switch from General Electric to GE, we thought we'd get rid of 'the meatball' -- the G.E. logo. But it became clear that people all over the world recognized it."
That was probably a break for the Landor team, because almost universally, executives' reaction to the prospect of a change in identity is usually: Let's not and say we did.
"We presented a strategy today to a company that you would know, and we showed them a couple of names," Mr. Roth says. "They said things ranging from 'Yech!' to 'maybe.' And that was a good response."
"Evolutionary Dynamics of Organizations," Joel A.C. Baum and Jitendra V. Singh, editors (Oxford University Press, $35, 1994). A collection of papers premised on the idea that the study of evolution and of ecology can shed light on how corporations handle the tension between the need to change and the need to stay the same.
"Tribes: How Race, Religion and Identity Determine Success in the New Global Economy," by Joel Kotkin (Random House, $13, 1994). An argument that racial and ethnic "tribes" will come to dominate business.
"Reputation: Realizing Value From the Corporate Image," by Charles J. Fombrun (Harvard Business School Press, $29.95, 1996). Ponders the question of corporate identity from the outside -- by considering how a company's reputation is made and burnished or unmade and trashed.
"Corporate Identity: Making Business Strategy Visible Through Design," by Wally Olins (Harvard Business School Press, $38, 1992). Reflections on the nature of corporate identity by the chairman of Wolff Olins, the London-based corporate identity firm. "In order to create loyalties, the organization has to manufacture the symbols of loyalty: the flags, the rituals, the names," he writes. "The organization must celebrate what it is and what it stands for through rituals and ceremonies. Affirmation of faith must be followed by constant re-affirmation."
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