Evolving Organizational Identity

Like Joe Gerstandt, I can't let the exquisite post by Maddie Grant about the paradox of identity go unremarked. Maddie was reflecting initially on the paradoxes of identity in the "digital age," where we create identity profiles in different social networking arenas that are quite different, yet are all easily found (resulting in a clearer single identity). We spend more effort crafting niche identities (as if we can control our personal brand), only to have the collective "other" mash them all up into a single, but much richer, view of us.

She then extrapolates those ideas to the world of organizations. As a consultant, Maddie works with associations on getting involved in the social web, so she's watching organizations going through a similar evolution of identity. They get involved in Facebook, twitter, and other social-media related ways, working hard to behave appropriately in different spaces, paradoxically losing control of their brand, because with Google, everyone sees everything. Here's the money quote:

The complexity of our organizational social identity will only continue to grow, but the more it grows the less control we will have.  And the less control we have, the more our brand will be (as it already is) shaped not by us as the organization but by the beholder.  So we really have no choice but to be authentic, because anything else will be impossible to maintain over the long term. But what does it mean to be authentic? Maybe it means facing the fact that you no longer have a value proposition in these social times. Maybe it means being more than just relevant (more than "not dead"). A very tough  decision? Of course. But just think how easy it is now to start something new and fresh…

This one isn't about social media, per se. Even if you think Twitter is stupid, I think Maddie is onto something big in organizations. I'm wondering if we're close to a tipping point in terms of our distributed ability to "organize" and the ubiquity of instant information. As that happens, traditional organizational identity and "brand" will dissolve in ways that Maddie is describing.  

I don't think waiting to see what will replace it will be the way to go here. Now is the time to start thinking about what you will do as a leader in your organization to position it for success when "identity" is transformed. What would all of you do differently if authenticity were REALLY required? What if nothing less than deep and complex value was demanded by multiple constituencies…immediately? What capacity would you need to develop:

within you?
within your networks?
within your systems?

If I were you, I'd start developing that capacity now.


  1. 21.05.2009 at 11:53 am

    Thanks so much for the compliment! I think this is definitely something that any organization needs to think about right now. Every organization needs to figure out exactly what they are “for”. Maybe revisit their mission statement and make sure it’s still true. Strip away the layers of “something for everyone”, in order to reveal their true value proposition (awful as that phrase is) and build their brand personality based on that. Simplify to enrich, as Hugh Macleod said.