Steward Leadership: Brand, Identity, and Agility

Posted by Matthew Thomas

matthew-thomas-2Over time, an organization's brand can become damaged. This can happen for a variety of reasons. In the mission-driven world (and especially in the Christian denomination and religious organization sphere) brand and identity are very closely intertwined.


In many of these groups, identity and brand have been used to identify a historical tradition, a longstanding relationship or association between entities, a particular theology or philosophy, and a particular set of services provided to others. The brand identifies in-group / out-group as well as history, tradition, and mode of doing business at the same time.


Add to this difficulty, then, when the damaged brand is part of a damaged brand class - not just our restaurant, and its other franchisees, but all of "fast food" altogether, for instance. This makes transformation all the more difficult. The same could be true of a church identified with a particular Christian denomination in its name and core identity, where not only that denomination, but denominationalism in general, has experienced some level of brand damage.


In these cases, identity is so intertwined with the brand that many organizations cannot break in to emerging demographics where the brand does not have any power. The fear is (and justified, to an extent, by historical experience) that a change of brand would cause a loss of identity, which would cause a shift away from core mission and purpose to something that the enterprise cannot or should not do or be. In many cases, the emerging demographics now outnumber the existing demographics, and the brand-loyal demographic is shrinking. Moreover, in many of these same cases, the capacity of the brand to deliver services is decreasing. What can be done?


The trick is in many of these cases for steward leaders to use identity differently to re-brand to reach emerging demographics without losing core essence. When identity has formed around history, tradition, (historical) relationship, core theology/philosophy, or business mode, loyalty outside of established relationships will be difficult, if not impossible. This is especially true when the existing demographic is shrinking. Instead, clearly defining the core identity from the perspective of vision, direction, and values, and defining the enterprise by what it will be and become rather than what it has been, or how it contrasts with others, will propel the enterprise forward and help it develop new branding and connect with new demographics. (Note that this may, or may not, require a name change, depending on the level of brand damage. However, just changing the name without doing the vision work probably won't do much.)


In essence, this shift is about shifting from using identity as boundary setting to using identity as a platform. When we use identity to set boundaries, we often identify ourselves in contrast to others, and spend much of our time ruling on who (or what) is in and who (or what) is out. When we use identity as a platform, we use who we are (and have clearly defined and developed deeply) to launch into new space (whether blue ocean or a competitive space). Once identity, based in vision and forward direction, becomes a platform from which to operate, the enterprise can become significantly more agile in responding to new challenges. In this case, this shift in the use of identity can help the enterprise gain both organizational flexibility and strategic responsiveness - in this case, often gaining responsiveness by gaining flexibility.


In the end, steward leadership of brand and identity doesn't require forgetting or losing history, tradition, (historical) relationship, core theology/philosophy, or business mode, but there will be a different emphasis with them, and they will be used differently. Every brand has a story - every brand IS a story. Shifting from a historical story to a visionary story, and using the story as a platform rather than as boundary-setting allows for the story to reach new people. And for any enterprise to exist long term, it must have a constant pipeline of new people connecting to the story. What story are you telling? What do you need to tell?


6 essential questions for strategic planning

Read More ›

Topics: vision statement, Identity-Vision-Core Values, Matthew Thomas, steward leadership, Mission and vision, Vision and mission, antifragility, agility

Steward Leaders: 6 Reasons changing your mission statement didn't work

Posted by Matthew Thomas

Subscribe to  Sustainable Vision

matthew-thomas-2When they get stuck, many organizations and their leaders try to get things moving again by refreshing, re-examining, or otherwise transforming their mission, vision, and values statements (or at least one or more of the three). While this often works, other times the organization ends up just as stuck as it was in the first place. Here are a few common reasons we see as to why:


  1. Recycling: it's really the same statement we had before, but in new or different words.Like what you're reading? Subscribe Now!
  2. Alignment: it was an alignment problem in the first place. That means it's probably still an alignment problem now.
  3. No filter: it pulled everyone's ideas together, but didn't do the (often conflicted) work of narrowing it down and honing it. So it's too broad, too detailed, too long, too unfocused, etc.
  4. SixReasonsMissionStatementDidntworkIvory tower: it's what a core group wants the organization to be, but it's rather disconnected from reality.
  5. Internal-external perception disconnect: it is unlikely that an environmental scan has taken place outside of the core group working on the mission/vision/values, so only the insider perspective is at the table. A good scan picks up on social, technological, economic, environmental, and political (STEEP) trends and applies them to any strategy that develops. This can alert steward leaders to how others perceive them, or how others are treated by them. It could also be as basic as a business model that doesn't fit well with the target audience.
  6. Blame-shifting: the blame for why things are stuck is always someone else, not our fault. This contrasts with the reality, which is that good steward leadership takes responsibility to invite others to care, rather than blame them for not seeing our own relevance. (For more on blame-shifting, see our previous article, Organizational Transformation: Survive or Thrive).

Steward leaders can deal with these six areas by identifying which ones are in play. Each area may require a different approach for resolution, so being clear on what is happening is essential.



Here's a free resource we would like to offer you and your organization in the area of strategic development. Click the button below for more information.

6 essential questions for strategic planning

Follow, Like and Connect!

Read More ›

Topics: vision statement, Identity-Vision-Core Values, steward leadership, Vision and mission