It’s been a while since I have played the dating game. But as anyone who has played that game knows, the dating game is played to assess fit and shared values, test compatibility, and to explore the potential of a longer term relationship.

I remember often (too often) how my parents would inquire about my dating life. My wise Mom would always say, “… but does she have a good personality? That’s the most important thing you know.”

In our work here at Results Canada we often ask business leaders to reflect on the “personality” of their firms. All companies, like people, have personalities. Sometimes it’s called company identity or culture, and it defines the uniqueness of the firm.

But does your company’s personality attract people to it? Would potential customers, employees and investors want to “date” your firm to assess the potential of a longer term relationship?

As business leaders we want the answer to be yes. But your firm will only be a good prospect in the dating game if it has a clear and authentic personality that allows potential suitors to assess fit. In the dating game, authenticity is critical and long-term relationships only develop when people (or companies) are clear about who they are and what is important to them. No one likes (or trusts) a phony.

Much has been written about organizational personality and culture. In our work with clients, we help firms make their personalities more explicit though a simple three question model. I like to call this the Why-What-How framework:

Why does the company exist? – Sometimes called Core Purpose or Mission, 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.

What are we trying to achieve? – Called the Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) by Jim Collins, is the guiding light or the desired future state for the organization. It is a painted picture of what the firm will look like in 10 years plus.

How do we operate? – Typically called the company Core Values or Guiding Principles, these tenants of behavior define the guidelines 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, but not truly Core Values that aspirational and unique in defining the organization.

When companies are small, the business owner or leader can directly control the personality of their firm. When he or she is working “in” the business, the personality is present through the behaviors and interactions that leader has with every employee, prospect, customer or vendor.

As a company grows, the founder or leader can no longer touch each part of the business every day. At that point it becomes necessary to put in place processes and tactics that keep the personality of a business healthy and alive as it grows. Leaders should …:

  • 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. Documenting 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 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.

So if your business is feeling a bit lonely, not enough suitors knocking on the door, it might be time to think about how you are approaching the dating game and making sure your firm’s “personality” is as authentic and visible as possible.