TheQuestBySynnecta – What are we for?

People in organizations expect a credible answer to this question in order to be able to establish a context for their work that delivers a sense of both purpose and meaning. Reacting to such challenges, companies position themselves with a company purpose. Until now, this purpose has almost always been developed from an inside viewpoint. However, organizations always exist in the context of an ecosystem. A meaningful purpose can only be developed in dialogue with the stakeholders of the company‘s own ecosystem. At SYNNECTA, we endeavour to give a truly multi-perspective design to these dialogue processes and thereby foster a deeper understanding of the company’s identity.

People need to work in meaningful contexts

The mindsets of societies change and shift in ways that are especially tangible to the younger generations. There is a growing desire and need for meaningful work contexts and an intention to contribute something useful for a greater whole while working. In short: living meaningfulness.

At the same time, societies are asking companies what contribution they are making to people and society. It is a question that both citizens and employees want answered.

Reacting to such challenges, companies position themselves with a company purpose. However, this purpose is still often strongly driven by a marketing outlook. The company purpose is therefore worked out within the old structures: A selected group of managers formulates a purpose that is then communicated inwards and outwards with considerable effort.

A range of perspectives – those that have developed out of the highly diverse employee population, from the clients, sectors of society and the markets – are hardly represented. So far, there has been a lack of real and open dialogue between the interest groups. A shared understanding to provide a basis for a company purpose cannot be developed this way.

Understanding our own identity in the context of the ecosystem: »What are we for?«

Organizations evolve and exist in the context of various stakeholders: markets, clients, competition, partners, society, employees, etc. All of these systems are in continuous exchange and yield an influence on each other. Together, they make up an ecosystem. Since organizations are always part of an ecosystem, they can only arrive at an understanding of their own role within the context of that ecosystem. The identity of an organization is defined through a constant exchange with the ecosystem.

Developing an organization’s identity that can provide meaning and a sense of community must therefore focus on asking:

  • What are we for? What is our contribution to our ecosystem?

Any answer to this question that is found only from within the organization will establish a limited and frequently distorted perspective. It is based on hypotheses about the self and the world that were developed along many paths, but never in exchange with that very world, the stakeholders in the own ecosystem.

A true understanding of the own identity requires direct dialogue with the various stakeholders that make up the own ecosystem. It needs to come from a perspective that goes from the outside in:

  • What do you need?
  • What can we do for you?
  • What can we do together?
  • How should we be from your point of view, what makes us attractive partners to you?

Dialogue and joint examination of the own ecosystem

We create shared dialogue spaces with the stakeholders of the ecosystem and therefore make it possible to create a joint, multi-perspective debate to achieve a common and shared guiding theme. All relevant viewpoints will find a place where they can learn from and with each other: about themselves, about joint interests, about shared potential. This process then underlies a grasp of the own identity and the own purpose. This guided dialogue allows synergies to emerge. The multi-perspective process expands everyone’s thinking. The processes of creation and implementation come together and establish a high degree of commitment for the joint cause.

Our Approach:

  1. The organization chooses an overall guiding theme for the dialogue in the ecosystem.
  2. A suitably wide spectrum of various stakeholders is invited to join in and explore this guiding theme together.
  3. Shared, relevant questions that pertain to the guiding theme are developed together with the stakeholders.
  4. Further guiding questions will support the moderation of a substantial and demanding dialogue that is fundamentally set out to take in many perspectives.
  5. Promising impulses from the dialogue can be adopted and can kick off future initiatives and joint projects.
  6. The stakeholders can develop further individual conclusions and measures from the shared insights.

The choice of stakeholders is essential to the success of the process. A successful dialogue fosters new insights and therefore needs to start from a sufficient degree of difference. It requires constructive juxtaposition. Here lay the great challenges and the opportunities of multi-perspective dialogue processes: allow differences, let them have an effect and develop deeper, shared insights together with them.

WE, the Company – the Dynamics of Shaping Identities

It is a well-known challenge: how can an organization gain and maintain a recognizable identity that gives direction to the conduct of its entire team? The history of large companies is usually shaped by mergers. Surprisingly, we often find deep-rooted and dominant origins identities there. These may reveal themselves even decades after a merger in people’s attitudes, in their decision-taking, and in the stories that are told. A deep-rooted sense of belonging and emotional ties to the identity of the existing, evolved community, on the other hand, are lacking. Such dynamics are not limited to companies that are shaped by mergers. It is apparent that companies are more and more fragmented. The periphery has gained importance. Different markets that demand different strategies support different self-attributions. The range of working methods is also expanding at speed: agile approaches demand various degrees of self-organization, and these bring with them a range of structures and means of performance as well as different expectations of that performance. There are cracks running through the sense of community that encompasses a company.

A decade ago, the answers that were found for these cracks included finding common values and formulating as well as intensively communicating a brand for the company. To this day, accordingly, such influence is administered via the internal modes of communication in waves: themes include values, leadership behaviour, compliance, as well as individual claims that are meant to describe an overarching identity. Sanctions and their mechanisms evolved at the same time, as is usual within the bureaucratic structures that we cannot escape.

Rhetorical purpose and a more vocal public have fostered the addition of claims that define the company as »good«: helpful and useful for society. At first, there was an easy acceptance that such an identity and its guiding role for personnel conduct would come from within the hierarchical structures. Nowadays, employees and other relevant stakeholders lay claim to their own contribution: they step beyond the boundaries of the company.

Looking at societies and how political communities form, we see that they have each had to confront that very same problem. The educational canon and the teaching of a common language have been central to these processes. While companies have comparable structures in their education and training departments, they only make limited use of the great potential that lies within them. A joint administrative infrastructure is often felt to be a mode of centralization, centring on the »corporate« structure. However, that and the education of elites are further measures that are used to design a common identity. The great festivals in companies go by such names as leadership meetings and company days. Whether they take place in person or in the virtual world: they serve more than anything the celebration of an emotionally designed identity that is created and experienced there. They are celebrations of a community – of »us«. Once this sense of identity has been fostered, however, it is often difficult to translate it into concrete modes of conduct and performance. That is the burden of bureaucratic work.

The peripheries are gaining increasing influence in shaping the steady development of identifiactions. Among other factors, that is due to the greater mobility of those who work on the peripheries of a company: their mode of life relates to reaching rather than keeping.

In short, we are witnessing a constant dynamic in the achievement and strengthening of company identities, using the same means as those by which national identities are formed. Accordingly, there is even now a desire for charismatic leadership, CEOs who visibly represent something and who are able to communicate that something emotionally. Even though our individual projections may differ, we are all looking in the same direction: towards the CEO. That creates our sense of community.

At the same time, however, the classic top-down approaches no longer suffice. Contribution is gaining weight and going beyond a mere »form of communication«. Dialogue is the only key to shaping the kinds of identity that are currently in demand, effective, and able to guide performance. Once again, the process is more important than a »printable« result. Important stakeholders include the entire workforce as well as the shareholders, the management, relevant representatives of the market and nowadays also of societies. It is an extremely challenging enterprise to put such a process of dialogue into action within a large global company. With »theQuestbySynnecta«, #Synnecta has developed models that can shape even expansive and diverse dialogues effectively. They even have a welcome and pleasing side effect: the inside-outside mode of thinking and decision-taking that still has a wide foothold is turned around (or turns itself around), guiding the companies into a new form of outside-inside thinking that is a critical marker of success in these new times of networking.

Rüdiger Müngersdorff