Getting under the skin of distinctiveness

Whatever it is that is distinctive about your institution, to get the most effect from it, everyone has not only to know about it but be part of it.

Added by Anna Myers, March 2011.

The identity of an organisation works like its DNA – a blueprint for how people work. That means it has to be more than skin deep, and represented by far more than the mission and values cards that some companies issued to all their employees in the 1990s, mirrored by the infamous pledge cards that Labour produced before the 1997 election. To make it real, every single person in the organisation has to understand not only what the organisation stands for, but what that means for them, in their role.

As the CEO of a hotel chain said: “We recruit staff based on whether they ‘get’ the ethos of the company. We provide an induction that tells them about the nine principles of the organisation, but we don’t try to micromanage them. We encourage them to manifest those principles naturally, in their own ways. Then we provide recognition and reward for those who do it well, so that others can see what it means. “

Similarly, a Director of a global charity told us: “We recruit people based on their attitude. We can teach people skills, but we can’t teach them attitude. We want people who are passionate about what we do who will communicate that passion to everyone they meet.”

What does that mean for a university? Well, first of all you need to know exactly what you stand for, what your core purpose is and what makes you special. Then you need to communicate that to every single member of staff – and not just in words. It needs to be in the ways in which the leaders of the institution interact with each other and with their staff; in the things that are implicitly and explicitly valued, celebrated and rewarded.

Topics: Guiding your internal decisions.