Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Identity Circle: A Talk by Larry Ackerman

Executive Summary: Larry Ackerman gave an amazing talk on the Identity Circle recently in NYC. His insights and measured responses to queries led to an enlightening evening for the audience, and a fleshing out of the concept and implementation of The Identity Circle. A perspective would be to look at molding/ creating an organization's identity as a tool in a spectrum of initiatives toward organizational (re)alignment.

The Talk
Larry's talk was an interesting insight into the challenges of identifying and molding an organization's identity. The website below provides a great overview:

It was refreshing to see the presenter acknowledge sources that have provided a foundation for his work- Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs was one of four.

Apple was a case in point of an organization that has transitioned through various markets and technologies while maintaining a core identity. Maytag is another example where his work yielded results.

Larry's experience with a multiyear engagement at a large, complex, multi-market organization shed light on the effort that goes into moving toward an identity for an organization. The challenges are greater for acquisitive organizations.

Plan for Organizational (Re?)Alignment
Larry explicitly tied in the Identity Circle with organizational alignment initiatives. However, how would you rank order this (re?)alignment initiative when an organization picks its top 3 initiatives for a period?

A Perspective on Organization Realignment
The concept can be looked upon as a part of a spectrum of initiatives organizations may use to realign themselves, where Identity Circle occupies the "softer" range of the spectrum, which is usually occupied by the communication/ messaging tools. Specific cost cutting and process and revenue improvement initiatives occupy the "harder" range of the spectrum. This tool provides leadership the levers for a faster turnaround toward results from hard initiatives.

Note: Larry pointed out in his talk that Identity Circle is backed by hard, analytical tools- its categorized under "soft" tools here as it's "direct" results focus on perception and attitudes. Looking at the steps in the process, you might agree that they are nothing but "hard". :-)

Now, the key challenge remains- given the need for all organizations, public and private, to turn around quick financial results, what would trigger an organization to target a complex and potentially long term initiative in its top 3 items on the "to do" list?

Some More Questions
Larry's thoughts on some of the questions I discussed with him.

1. Identity Beyond The Organization:
* Given that quite often, a nation may be attributed with an identity. Does the Identity Circle applies only to organizations?
- Yes. However, an organization with an identity may span diverse and complex entities.
* Does an industry like the diamond industry -from DeBeers with "Diamonds are Forever" in the 1930s to players like Zales today with DeBeers still a large player- shares an identity?
- No, the players share an image- the identity circle is still tied to the organization.

2. Identity and the Market:
* Do hypercompetitive markets, like Christiansen's Disk storage industry case, "own" the identity (or a large percentage of the identity) of an organization?
- No. The market plays a role in the identity of the organization, but the organization firmly owns its identity, even in extremely hypercompetitive markets that see frequent churn in participating players. Apple was a case in point.

3. Google and China:
* How does Google reconcile the hacker attack problems with China, its core theme of "Don't be Evil", and its initial intent of being an active player in China, despite known challenges going in?
- Google's tactical decision-making may vary to reconcile various objectives; however, longer term, its moves will be in line with its identity.

What do you think?


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