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