“It’s not you, it’s me.”

This break up line is often true when it comes to business relationships.

It’s human nature to blame the other party. But the truth is, many companies aren’t doing a good job of looking in the mirror and evaluating what they see.

Business personality, or often a lack thereof, is a common issue. It can quickly spell the end to prospects and undermine the potential for highly-valued long-term relationships. If you’re hearing crickets when you give your elevator speech, that’s a good sign there’s an issue.

We may be good at understanding our strengths and appeal, but are we making those elements clear to our customers? Do we have the unique flavor to stand out and succeed? Is there an issue where the elements we think are attractive actually are not?

In our work at Results Canada, we often ask business leaders to reflect on the “personality” of their firms.

When assessing your firm, consider these questions: 

  • What is your business personality? All companies, like people, have personalities. Sometimes it’s called company identity or culture, and it defines the uniqueness of the firm. Have you done a good job of defining and supporting the personality you want to project?
  • Does your company’s personality attract people to it? Really think hard about this. Is your company one that customers, employees and investors want to be involved with, or at least test-drive a longer-term relationship with? How can it be improved?
  • Do your customers describe this personality the same way? Often when there is an issue with company personality the problem is not in defining the desired personality but in “living” it so that it is clear to others.

Getting it right – “Why-What-How” Framework

Does your business need a personality makeover? The good news is that personality is an area that not only can be improved but that can be transformed into a driving force for enhancing the success of the firm.

In our work with clients, we help firms make their personalities more clear and attractive through a simple three-question model – we call it the “Why-What-How Framework.” We recommend evaluating these questions formally at least once per year to determine if a makeover is necessary.

Start with purpose: Why does the company exist? Sometimes called Core Purpose or Mission, the answer defines why a company exists beyond just making money. Simon Sinek, in his book “Start with Why” makes a strong case for how a compelling Core Purpose can attract and persuade people to the cause. A strong purpose is the foundation of a company’s identity – it provides direction to customers, employees and investors on what the firm does and the associated value and benefits. Authenticity is critical – just like people, company need to be clear about who they are and what is important to them. No one likes, or trusts, a phony.

Set the course: What are we trying to achieve? Where are we headed? Remember, proactive trumps reactive. Companies are far better off when they take charge and define the future. Don’t be afraid to be ambitious. For, example, in the book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Jim Collins advised firms to identify a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). He noted the process of identifying a bold objective can provide firms with the guiding light necessary to make it a reality.

Live the personality: How do we operate? Typically called the company Core Values or Guiding Principles, these tenants of behavior provide direction for how a firm’s people will behave. Pat Lencioni makes strong differentiation between generic values like integrity or hard work by calling these “permission to play” values. Defining these is particularly important as a company grows and the founder or leader can longer touch each part of the business every day. As the personality of the company becomes less dependent on the leader and more inherent in the brand, it can grow and strengthen to eventually permeate the actions and interactions of everyone involved.

Checklist for success

Here are examples of the processes and tactics we recommend leaders implement to keep the personality of a business healthy, alive and relevant as it grows:

  • Clearly define in writing the Core Purpose (the Why), Vision (the What), and Core Values (the How), and have a willingness to test or audit these at least once per year.
  • Take Purpose, Vision and Values beyond just words on a plaque. Document the behaviors that support them and building a collection of stories about how these elements have been demonstrated in the organization.
  • Share Why-What-How in all market and customers facing communications.
  • Include Why-What-How testing in all market and customer facing communications.
  • Include Why-What-How testing in every recruiting and performance management meeting.
  • Recognize employees for demonstrating the personality of the firm and using Why-What-How as a guide for decision making.

Following these practices will help make sure your firm’s “personality” is as authentic and visible as possible.  Want to learn more? The Results Canada team is here to help.