I know of organisations which regularly get a bad rap in the marketplace for being poor at collaboration. In fact I can name a few who actually know they have that standing but are not sure about how to change and improve their track record in collaboration.
Being good at one’s business now also comes with the expectation that you will also be a premier collaborating partner; and the absence of this focus can come with major opportunity costs. However with a clear understanding of the collaboration driver, your company can really become smarter in increasing the value of your brand. This applies equally to small businesses, large corporations, government agencies and a variety of not-for-profits, whether they are classical charities or social enterprises.
You see, the integral part of any enterprise is its brand. That much is clear to anyone. A smaller group of people understand ‘brand’ at a deeper level; and that much is clear to most. But if we are honest, it is the proper balance between brand and sustainable enterprise that most of us are rarely sure about. Brand, whilst somewhat an illusionary static, is in reality a highly dynamic beast. If you take a look at, say, Volkswagen (VW), it seems to have a lasting brand. The most contemporary consumers think about its past and how it changed over many decades and yet all get the idea that VW is rich in tradition. It has appealed to different generations and different tastes by being able to change its story to a level that has retained key features of what VW has represented through history.
Good brands serve the end goals of a business. It is in this context that brands are only as useful as their ability to incorporate new dimensions of market sentiments and drivers. Clever brands operate as subtle strategies which can detect business drivers that others ignore or are hesitant to acknowledge until change management becomes a much more expensive process: as someone once noted; ‘make the change or the change will make you’.
So we arrive at collaboration as an increasingly visible brand factor. Ask your staff, colleagues, stakeholders and/or customers if they recognise collaboration as part of your enterprise’s brand; that will give you plenty of insight and can be a starting point for making your brand work for you. This point of departure should be an open and honest exercise which should take into account that, no matter how good the brand, there is no reason to assume it will be resilient in a disruptive market. One of the most revealing weaknesses many business decision makers are slow to recognise is that today the operating term for any brand is relevancy. Good brands regularly suffer poor performance and also reach a point where their relevancy is only of historical value. I note Kodak as prime example: a legendary company that gave us the ‘Kodak moment’. Kodak went bankrupt a few years ago; which some business analysts called, somewhat sarcastically, the ‘second Kodak moment’. The company has since emerged from bankruptcy, but is no longer operating in the field where it was once a leader.
The lesson here is that the company failed to recognise market drivers that were more powerful that the company’s existing brand. A common problem with an organisation’s brand is that most business managers tend to be overly biased and often lack the brutal honesty needed to recognise that the ‘brand’ may not always incorporate contemporary sentiments.
My main contention is that brand is not a slogan, colour scheme nor social media campaign. Brand is what manifests in the process of producing value. Image and brand are two different things, and knowing ‘which does what’ for your enterprise can mean the difference between growth and basic survival. Brand is something we ‘sense’ and something we have a deep appreciation for – the ‘authentic’ that a particular enterprise projects. Therefore, being good at collaboration is something that can be easily tested by other partners. Ignoring the building of collaborative capacity cannot be compensated with a few slogans. It is the actual practice, language, attitude, methods and outcomes that will best show the ‘real’ from the ‘synthetic’. Companies have started to recognise that investing in a Chief Collaboration Officer is no less important than employing a Chief Financial Officer, or Chief Technology Officer. But these are still early days for some who hope the standard adaptive strategies will suffice. For those who want to clearly position their business and carve a competitive advantage, collaboration is an essential part of the business brand.