Most organisations actually run two organisations in parallel.
The first is the internal version, with its sales targets, its internal politics, its chatter. The second is the external version - the marketing 'reality'.
The two versions are often quite different. And for certain, a lot of time and resource goes into people who bridge the two - mainly marketing people (and of course lawyers). Those who control the link between the two worlds - let's call it a bridge - often believe they have considerable power. This is usually misguided, because they mainly use their power to stop things happening - they repress or contain the internal organisation. Likewise they stop people from the outside being able to make real connections into the internal organisation.
For good reason
There were sensible historic reasons why this was necessary. Communications required the creation of material, usually printed, and because the cost of small scale runs was high, it was important to tightly control what was produced, on a mass scale, so that errors didn't get amplified. It's still an issue sometimes today - such as here, where Birmingham suffered an embarrassing identity crisis.
Similarly, handling inbound enquiries used to be hard to manage if it wasn't tightly structured. But now it is often possible for many different people in an organisation to have contact with those outside without needing to assign a relationship 'owner'. This is made possible by new IT tools that make it much easier to see who has said what, to whom, when.
As I've described elsewhere the rules here are changing fast - and especially how open, unlimited channels of communications, change many things. Digital content can vary on a daily, even minute-by-minute basis and with the right philosophy in place, can allow the creation of much simpler sets of content, which are constantly refined. This contrasts with the conventional wisdom that says that the goal should be to produce ever more content, that must where possible be new, in order to be 'fresh'.
This is, of course, daft. An instruction manual online, that is being constantly refined as feedback and experience come in, is going to contain better content than a 6-month old printed version. And usually the refinement of a well-conceived manual will be better than trying to keep rewriting poorly conceived ones from scratch.
There are two kinds of articulation. The focused message and the unwieldy truck.
As J.K.Galbraith pointed out in the Affluent Society back in the late '50s, though most organisations claim to be committed to creativity and innovation, almost their entire population and processes are designed to kill it.
Having to cope with these two parallel organisations, fighting for resource and influence, is like trying to drive a car around a city, while towing a caravan. It's why many organisations struggle to innovate. And it's why there is often a big gap between what the organisations seeks to be (or even thinks it is) versus what it actually is.
Worse, in my experience the larger the organisation gets, the bigger this gap gets. I recall some years ago being involved in a review of the European knowledge 'intranet' for a very big and famous IT company. An external team was redesigning the process and started telling me about the amazing new search tool they had created. "Can I see how it works?" I asked. "Sure," they said.
I then sat, for ten minutes, while the knowledge consultants clicked around their new intranet, trying to find the search tool. Eventually they admitted they couldn't find it.
I knew right then that one of the world's biggest companies was facing a long, slow decline. Despite what the marketing reality might imply, those who see inside many information technology companies know they are amongst the worst in their ability to actually manage information.
Do it once. Make it discoverable.
I'm starting to learn that the best organisations actually maintain just one reality - an internal and external persona that is essentially the same. This is hard to create if you're starting with two parallel personas. But it's much easier if you're creating a new organisation.
Don't underestimate what this involves. It involves a tenacious will to open up your mechanism to the outside world. You need to find ways to make as much of what you do discoverable as you possibly can. And you need to find ways to not interfere in publishing the raw process. Many people will claim that you will be exposing the organisation to risks - and of course this can be true. Certainly I don't want my bank opening up certain aspects of its processes to be discoverable by all. But I'd sure like to know, and follow, those working in my bank who specialise in my kind of business. Or when I'm ready to choose a bank, I want to be able to dive in and make my own judgement about how a team works, what its customers say, and whether what's said in the adverts reflects what goes on inside.
It also means that if you're working on that bridge between the two organisations, you need to rethink your role. Rather than being the guy or gal controlling the automatic barrier, you need to become the person that encourages everyone to try crossing the bridge. You need to create tools that make it easy for people to publish their work in the now, rather than expect everyone to spend their future reporting on their past. You need to avoid treating the work your organisation does as some kind of back catalogue, to be organised and contained. Don't believe me? Look at the mess the 20th century music industry has got itself in by doing exactly that - trying to contain and control an inevitable explosion.
You must be passionate about inciting what I call Discoverable Communications. It's the best kind of organisation. More to come.Mark Charmer is CEO of The Movement Design Bureau and co-founder of Akvo. He works inside and across teams to address some of the system-level problems of our time, drawing on new communication tools, new talents and new working methods.
Image: We have a print of this in our office toilet. Skrik, The Scream