Take care, it’s a jungle out there.

Systems thinking, as I understand it, is the process of exploring how things influence one another within a whole. Ecosystems in which various elements such as air, water, movement, plants, and animals work together to survive or perish are examples of systems in operation in nature. In organizations, systems consist of people, structures, behaviours, patterns and processes that work together to make an organization healthy or unhealthy. Understand the patterns and there’s a chance you can minimise the problems and make the most of the positives.

In the face of this primal wisdom which is reflected in everything around us every day, it’s a little puzzling to see linear or siloed thinking and behaviour as well as the resulting blame culture when it comes to managing reputation and brand. In his last blog, for example, my fellow columnist at People Management, Graham White, berates organisations for handing employee engagement to HR as a task or “scheme”. He quite rightly emphasises the pivotal role of the line manager  and this clearly accords with our past and ongoing client experience as well as the research to date.

On a related tack it is interesting but again disappointing to see the news of the pending customer and employee brand refresh activity at BA, referred to as communication campaigns in Marketing Week. Interestingly, the criticism this has evoked is largely of the “finger-pointing” variety, lambasting one function, one department, suppliers, leaders and the employees themselves for failing to fulfil the “campaigns” of the past.

There’s plenty of valid criticism contained in both articles. The common issue, however, is that without systems thinking, the critics fail to see the organisation and the brand as a whole. Without appreciating how the living, breathing, evolving stakeholders either support or cancel each other out, the engagement system never functions as well as it should. And it is a system, not a “silver bullet” or nice to have initiative, as so often portrayed.

Brands survive and thrive on the back of the culture of the organisation.  Culture is driven by behaviours which stem from values and experience. Processes play a part but the system is key and within the system the leaders, especially the heads of marketing; hr and comms have a hugely influential role to play.

As you embark on the daily brand management adventure within your particular corporate jungle, reflect on the fact that any expedition is only as good as the sum of the parts and that a problem with the system requires a systemic solution. It can’t be fixed by a single initiative or any unit working alone, despite what the sponsors may claim.


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