A consultant I know told me recently about a business he was dealing with, whose CEO was losing the blame game big time.

This family business is headed by a family member who’s relatives had given up trying to deal with him. My friend soon realised why. 

Like many senior executives in family businesses this CEO had inherited a position for which he had no skills, background or enthusiasm. However, he didn’t want to be blamed for the demise of the business and was ultra-sensitive to any suggestion that he lacked competence.

This sensitivity manifested, as it often does in such circumstances, as aggression and that could only go one way. In a few years this CEO has created a dictatorship — the opposite of the brand communities we now recognise to be essential to the survival of a business in the new economy — and his chickens were coming home to roost!

Understanding brand communities

A brand is a community of six distinct special interest groups, all of whom share values, beliefs and a clear objective for their businesses. To compete today any business must be innovative, responsive, agile, fast. Diversity helps too, because that ignites innovation.

I’m sure you recognise that life and business are speeding up, but until you drill deeply into the driving forces behind today’s economy it’s unlikely you’ll realise just how fast, fast can be. 

Typically, organisations trip themselves up. Any organisation without a clearly define purpose quickly becomes a breeding ground for self-interest, or, even worse, disinterest. This manifests as obstructiveness that slows the business down, initiatives will be misguided and waste resources, including time and money. Businesses like this lose their all-important inter-connectivity and that makes them insensitive to customer needs. They will lack appreciation for emerging technologies and they will develop a blind-spot that means disrupters can sneak up and take them by surprise.

The brands and communities my clients build are the antidote to this. By unifying all their stakeholder groups behind a set of values and a single, clearly-defined objective, smart leaders can unlock innovation, become highly sensitive to market changes and move much faster to exploit opportunities. That’s how you not only survive in the digital economy, but become the bar by which others measure themselves.

Investors will have increasing confidence in the business and it’s management team, which makes investment in new initiatives an easy decision, speeding up go-to-market strategies.

Partners will understand what you are aiming to achieve and will appreciate that by working with you they’ll experience success themselves.

Suppliers will invest in technology that reduces their costs and therefore prices to you and they’ll bring you ideas of their own that they feel will contribute to your success, all because they too get what you are and what you want to do.

Distributors will realise you know what their customers want and will support and promote your products and services. They will bring you feedback too, if you manage your brand correctly and introduce the technology that makes intelligence-gathering simple and make it accessible to them.

People love a winner and you’ll become an employer of choice in no time, which means you’ll find it easy to recruit, you won’t have to pay over market rates for employees and once they join they’ll never want to leave.

Customers too will walk past your competitors to get to you. You’ll be able to create a bond with them by giving them “more-for-less” — the mantra of the digital age — the products and services they really need, made better, delivered quicker and at lower prices. Customers who are satisfied in this way will also be advocates, so your marketing communications will be simpler and less expensive.

So what does this mean for the CEO fighting the blame game?

It means he doesn’t have to know everything about the sector he finds himself in, nor even the products they make. He’ll be surrounded by his expert employees and customers who are keen to play their part. They’ll want to contribute ideas as well as hard work too. All he has to do to avoid the blame game is facilitate and keep an eye on the compass.

I know, that’s not always easy for a self-made command-and-control freak, but he doesn’t even have to be infallible, which is the premise that fuels command-and-control and inevitably the blame game our CEO is so afraid of. If your organisation has robust programmes to manage innovation and initiatives your successes will far outweigh your failures.

Show me a man who makes no mistakes and I’ll show you a man who doesn’t do things

Theodore Roosevelt

The people who know this stuff understand that failures are inevitable in any fast-moving business. In fact, they are to be welcomed. Theodore Roosevelt told us “Show me a man who makes no mistakes and I’ll show you a man who doesn’t do things”. The same applies to businesses.

There are no three year plans in the digital age, no play-book nor cut-and-paste solutions. Ronald Heifetz explained that today’s managers are “adaptive”. Their strength is they respond to change, rather than defend outdated processes because “that’s how we have always done it”. In the digital world, everything is new and, what’s more, it changes daily.

Today we are all busking it. Trying out ideas. Some will succeed, others will fail. The mark of a great leader these days is the ability to think on his or her feet, manage risk and minimise the negative impact of failure. But there is positivity in failures too, provided you learn from them and move on.

It’s how you manage them that matters and that’s about being aware and agile, both of which are direct benefits of a brand community that works as it should. Something any leader can introduce with the support, my clients receive.

The starting point, though, is important. That’s your brand model. This is the definition of your brand. I work with my Brand Discovery programme to identify twelve coordinates that combine to pin-point my clients’ brands.

It’s important not to be tempted to invent a brand that you believe will be attractive to customers. This is not a process of invention. A brand that is invented, can never be authentic and authenticity is paramount. If it were a matter of invention, I would call my programme “Brand Invention”. Defining your brand is a process of discovering what your brand really is, warts and all! Turning that into something more attractive is part of the brand development process that follows.

A brand is also always the sum of its parts. That means its people (stakeholders). They influence the brand, the brand influences them and they influence each other.  Consequently in order to define your brand you firstly have to know what makes them tick and that’s difficult to do if you have already created an environment where people don’t feel comfortable sharing.

However, it’s not impossible, even for the guy who we started this story with. It just takes know-how, experience and an understanding of how to tackle today’s challenges. That’s why we have consultants.

If you haven’t yet defined your brand, you need to get on to it pretty quickly. Forget the excuses and prevarication. Drop me a line and I’ll be happy to advise or help.

If you want to win the blame game, as Nike used to tell us, “Just Do It!”

Phil Darby
April 11, 2022

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