Book Review - The Soul of the Corporation by Hamid Bouchikhi and John R. Kimberly
The Soul of the Corporation: How to manage the identity of your company by Hamid Bouchikhi and John R. Kimberly is one of those books that seems like it will be dealing with a lot of ethereal concepts and not much in the way of hard facts. Surprisingly, the book was far more reality-based than I expected, and business leaders would do well to consider their business in terms of its identity.
Leadership Challenges in the Age of Identity; The I*Dimension; The Bright Side of the I*Dimension; The Dark Side of the I*Dimension; Casualties of the I*Dimension; To Blend or Not to Blend - Identity Integration in Mergers and Acquisitions; When Should the Cord Be Cut? Managing Identity in Spin-Offs; Identity in Strategic Alliances and Joint Ventures; Managing the I*Dimension at Organizational and Brand Levels; Masters of the I*Dimension; Diagnosing Your Firm's Identity; Leading in the Age of Identity; Epilogue; Index
For better or worse, your business has an identity in the eyes of the employees and the public. It's quite possible that those two identities are complete mismatches when it comes to reality. Bouchikhi and Kimberly examine how an organization's identity comes into play in the global marketplace, as well as how that can be a strength or weakness. For instance, Phillip Morris had an identity tied to tobacco sales and products. Not a good thing with today's view of smoking. The Board felt that a name change to Altria could help remove that association in the mind of the public. But in reality, they still continued to market heavily in tobacco. As a result, their identity change failed. On the flip side, the change of BSN to Danone marked the shift from manufacturing to food production. This identity shift was highly successful, as it marked the end of an old mindset (and product focus) to what the company had become. Obviously, there's a lot more to identity than just the name of a company, but the authors do a very good job in exploring all the facets of corporate identity. They use a wide number of examples, so very little of the book came across as "theory" rather than fact-based practice. In addition, the examples are global in nature, so the concepts span cultures and geography (which is good given the global and cross-culture nature of so many businesses these days).
It's tempting to look at a book like this (or any other book that focuses on a narrow element of business) and declare this the missing link in the success or failure of an organization. The authors acknowledge that other factors can be in play, but argue that the identity factor is more important than many think. In hindsight, it's easy to pick out the winners and losers in the identity battle, while it is far harder to tell how those decisions will play out over time when they are made. Still, taking the time to consider identity issues can't help but increase the chances that your organizational moves will be successful. You may still make some bone-headed mistakes, but at least you'll be able to recognize them... :)
Definitely a worthwhile read for anyone in the executive suite of a company...