People have always known instinctively that a human enterprise is a living, breathing entity that grows and ages, sickens and heals, flourishes and fails. It is organic in nature, has a personality and the ability to learn and to reproduce.
The enterprise has "personhood," something that is much greater than the sum of its functions, much different than the sum of its people.
This quality is most easily recognized at both ends of the spectrum of corporate success. World-class companies exhibit a character of focus, power, and oneness that is palpable even to a casual visitor.
Those in deep distress show a personality that is equally vivid but fragmented, fearful, and impotent.
Whether it is strong or weak, potent or ineffective, motivating or destructive, all companies have personhood. And these corporate personas have inner lives at least as complex and as richly tapestried as those of people. These inner lives not only coexist with the external results of corporate success and failure but also precede and cause them. In our work we have found some 150 attributes of corporate personality that can cause, affect, or predict bottom-line performance.
Entrepreneurial and charismatic leaders know this quite intuitively and use it to lead, motivate, and transform their companies. They use their organizations' living energies to magnify their leadership and their drives. They alter elements of their companies' inner lives to force changes in the externals.
Over the last 80 years or so, and especially since the coming of "scientific management," the company-as-machine paradigm has become the model most used, especially when trying to grow or change or improve organizations.
Unquestionably such a model has its uses. Certainly it is easy to teach and understand. Undoubtedly it lends itself to ready analysis. But it has profound limitations, as limited as the model of a human body without its life, without its spirit.
Changing the inert, spiritless human body can only be done mechanically. And the results can be no more than was done to it. The body without its life can offer no response, no help, no ability to further what has been done to it. Decay is the only possible outcome.
Trying to change a company-as-machine in any significant way is like that. Take the example of business process reengineering. It is successful only about 30% of the time, a percentage disturbingly close to that of the placebo effect. Trying to change by coaching one person at a time is even less successful.
So pervasive has the company-as-machine model become that many managers and consultants act as if it is the only one available. When asked, they may speak about the company as a living entity, but even then they are thinking of it in terms of its culture or the sum of its people.
This mechanistic approach to corporate change is most often seen in the more established and bureaucratic companies. In entrepreneurial organizations it appears much less, and when it does, they cease to be entrepreneurial.
But the alternative exists. The company can be dealt with as a person, with life and body and soul.
But it takes a leader, as opposed to an administrator, to evoke this living response. While it would be nice for all companies to have leaders who have this instinct and charisma, it is not needed. A body of knowledge and practice exists that allows any chief executive officer to address the organization as an entity and mobilize it, causing it to change.
As with all fundamental techniques of leadership, the process is profoundly simple, like walking or riding a bicycle. Similar to those activities, it is also almost impossible to analyze. It is difficult to explain in words but easy to learn, with the knowledge that it can be done with a little help and practice.
For a CEO, there are three major steps, constantly repeated, that need to be taken. Perfection is not needed, and they become more effective with practice.
The first step makes the others easy and natural: Visualize the company as a person. See it, hear it, feel it as an entity. Personify it, give it form and shape and color within your mind. Identify its personality, as it is and as it should be. The better you do this the more effective the other steps will be.
The second step is to "evoke" the company. The most successful way to do this is to call the management team together. Whenever the management team is making decisions for the business, the company is there too.
As you talk with them, remain aware that you talk with it, too. As you decide with them for the company's sake, you decide with it too. Saying to the group (and the company), "in this matter, we are the company" is a powerful, empowering evocation. Also, whenever you talk to your workers about the company -- and it should be often -- speak to the company through them, and listen to the company through them.
The third step is to increase its power, its potency, its authority; enough for it to make known its needs and its potential, if necessary, over the prejudices and preferences of individuals on the management team.
Simplifying the politics of the company is the way to do this. The simpler the politics and the clearer the focus, the more powerful becomes the spirit of the company. As the company grows in potency and in clarity, workers at all levels begin to respond to it as a separate entity. Creativity grows. Morale improves.
The steps may seem a little mystical. But they are as real as riding a bicycle. With practice they will become innate and the results will come faster.