This working group is chaired by Professor Anne Gregory, UK, Chair elect, Global Alliance and James Wright, Managing Director, Red Agency, Australia.

Defining organisational character

If reputation is an absolute measure of how others judge an organization, an authentic and aspirational effort to define its DNA or core character and ways of doing things might be the organization’s way of influencing the factors that build that reputation.

The first question for us to discuss in this section is this:

How can communicators contribute to defining, maintaining, assessing and sustaining an organization’s DNA or core character?

11 Responses to Character

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  2. Andreja says:

    ‘The fundamental issue for me is though that both management consultants and PR people are obsessed with doing, whereas people are also involved in being’. Indeed, most of them are, but few of them who draw on theory and practice of OD and Gestalt, such as Edgar Schein from MIT Sloan School of Tecnology or Marion Gillie, UK based OD consultant, norture different approach. They adress reality as it is (being) and are in active search of areas of ignorance, and dealing with reality and ignorance is never easy. They are way beyond a mechanistic approach applied by many consultants, as if organization and its stakeholders are a thing which can be manipulated ‘by efforts of disemination of distinct characteristics in order to achive objectives’. So given my daily professional practice, communicators can contribute to organization’s DNA by dismissing clinical approach to communication.

  3. Frank Ovaitt says:

    Thank you for the thoughtful work in bringing the organisational character paper this far. I have three observations that I’d offer for your consideration.

    1. Should this statement address the research base – what exists, what needs to be developed – to support the centrality of corporate character and the importance of aligning expectations and reality? Much as we want to believe in these concepts and their positive impact on any organization, how will we prove it to doubters?
    2. This work has much in common with the Arthur W. Page Society “New Model,” yet other than Toni’s brief comment, I see no evidence that there has been an effort to connect this effort to Page. Is that a missing piece, or have you done that?
    3. Finally, should this statement also speak to how few of today’s practitioners are truly ready to perform the roles defined on the second page? It’s all too easy to blame backward organizations when they won’t bow to our “natural authority” in these areas. It’s all too hard to acknowledge that the most serious shortcoming may be our own lack of readiness. Should this statement also try to articulate what senior practitioners must do to be ready for such responsibilities?

    • toni muzi falconi says:

      I can’t tell if this is voluntary or not (and I hope it is, although a direct reference might have been useful and due..) but Joao Duarte brought to my attention the other day (he is currently traveling and possibly not online.. his and in the sake of time constraints I try here to summarise his thoughts.. ) that there are at least two overlapping areas with the Page document:
      a) the first is the concept of organizational authenticity is very similar to the ‘looks like, sounds like, thinks like, performs like’ described in Building Beliefs: they are both very rethoric and do not add much to existing corporate identity literature;
      b) the second is when the pr professional’s role in ‘shaping the corporate character and overseeing integrity’ is very simila to Page’s concept of “curator of corporate character”.
      Having said this, Joao concluded his brief remarks indicating that where the charcater document flies out of space is in the values, leadership and culture area. These are clearly areas that overlap with the HR function and require a very strong cooperation with many other management functions that the Page document covers extensively and convincingly but that in this one are missing.
      Frank’s other comments are also very punctual and challenging, I hope they are addressed before the final draft hits the turf….

      altri c-suite. Nei Melbourne accords questa parte, credo, non viene toccata.

    • Daniel Tisch says:

      Frank, thank you very much for these thoughtful and timely comments. We will have to consider how to address these ideas properly. One possible solution may lie in the fact that the paper to be reviewed in Melbourne will seek to link all three MM papers – i.e., defining character alongside listening culture and professional/corporate/societal responsibility. There will be some reference to research in the ‘listening’ section (albeit probably not robust enough), and, to your third point, to the professional’s responsibility for continuous education and learning. I think we can tip our caps to the Page document in the way we talk about the Melbourne Mandate; indeed, the presentation John Paluszek and I gave at the PRSA conference explicitly alluded to the Page model in the section on character. Cheers! — Dan

  4. Dear colleagues,

    sorry for jumping in late into the discussion. When reading the first question “How can communicators contribute to defining, maintaining, assessing and sustaining an organization’s DNA or core character?”, I immediately started to wonder, from which perspective we could possibly answer this question. Or to put it differently: I believe, ones perspective influences if not determinates the answer. Therefore I would like to propose the following question as a starting point to put forward my thoughts on this:

    “What – from the perspective of a communicator – is an organization´s DNA or core character?”

    To me, any organization is, what is been said about it. A story, or more elaborate, a narration or discourse. Not in the common sense of (trivial) storytelling, but a narration or discourse which evolves from a collaborative public process, and which – because of that – can not be determined by a single source (no one voice policy possible here). From a communicators perspective that´s a blessing and a curse. A curse because if all is commication, what can she or he contribute, that makes a difference. A blessing, because understanding organizations as entirely communicative, no one will risk to pass us by. However, I believe we are obliged to precisely define, which responsibilities we are willing to take. Of course we will not take neither the IT department nor Financials or even production. But what we can claim competence and experience for is, what I would call the “public layer” of an organization. In order to develop this public layer, we need to be in close contact to any of the other departments of an organization and take responsibilty for their public appearance.

    Public here not only means external public, but also internal publics, or to be more precise: from a communicators perspective I believe there is no difference between external and internal, as – in a systems theory sense – all people are “outside” the organizational system while at the same time constituting it through their communications.

    So here´s my take now on, “How can communicators contribute to defining, maintaining, assessing and sustaining an organization’s DNA or core character?”

    Communicators can:
    – develop a distinct “public perspective” on organizations and thus make the accessible for an communicative analysis in the first place
    – based on that help to initiate, guide and structure identification processes of an organization
    – align the strategic narrative of the organization with the demands and expectations of its stakeholders
    – develop strategies based on relevant content and translate them into meaningful media products, events, etc.
    – work as consultants, helping all departments to connect to relevant networks – be it internal or external
    – ….

    For anyone who made it to here, thans for reading, and I am looking forward to be reading your thoughts on this.

  5. toni muzi falconi says:

    Management consultants have for decades provided services to organizations to help them define mission, vision, value statements as well as strategic direction on how to move from mission to vision in a determined time framework.
    When one criticises those consultants because most of these definitions are similar and use the same buzzwords regardless of the actual personality of the organization, they will often answer: it’s the pr people who mixed up the process and pay lip service to conformism.
    The Page Society ‘building beliefs’ paper that tries to delineate a process to better and more distinctly define the unique characters of an organization’s personality does not frankly provide as much help in this direction as one might have expected.
    A few days ago a reputed british neurologist told me that we should not be so much looking for the dna of the organization that is now outdated (the organization is a person? your opinion?) but for its epigenetics (wow! now we have a new buzzword to work with…).
    In any case, what characterizes (accepting for a moment the person=organization metaphore) an individual and makes it recognizably distinct from another? And by whom?
    Clearly the organization needs to identify specific publics that either affect or are affected by its actions and make an effort to disseminate those (amongst its distinct) characteristics that are liable to support the help achieve the effectiveness of its actions.
    This however is everything but an easy task as we well know, and a generic process (the molecules, may I say?) to help public relators do this, well keeping in mind the situationality of each organization, each objective, each public… would be very helpful.
    I suggest we carefully look at the process proposed by the Page Society only a few months ago and upgrade it to a more comprehensive, sophisticated yet practical series of steps.

    • Anne Gregory says:

      Toni I agree. The fundamental issue for me is though that both management consultants and PR people are obsessed with doing, whereas people are also involved in being. Sorting out organisational purpose and linking that to values which could be described as purpose in action might be a way for us to go.

  6. jeanvalin1 says:

    A good way to start is to set aspirational targets or ‘ideals’ for the organisation. What does the perfect set of attributes describing the organisation look like?…according to the C suite… the employees.. the public…suppliers…stakeholders? Any apparent gaps between these audiences would and should for the basis of a public relations strategy.
    I suggest the starting point is this ‘ brand indentity’ exercise where ideal attributes are discussed and agreed upon, then measured with all relevant audiences and tracked over time.

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