Verbal identity: a leadership team’s unifying force

Verbal identity: a leadership team’s unifying force

Leadership teams tend to hire consultants because they want an objective point of view. My work is to provide that external, evidence-based perspective on the core identity of a business, organization, or brand. 

The Essential Story Process (ESP) centres on introducing a leadership team to the identity of their organization, often through a lens they have not used before. In this article, I discuss how my work at Phrase Strategy unites leaders around the crystallization of their organizations’ verbal identities.

Step 1: Breaking through the echo chamber

Vision and Mission statements often fail at a practical level. In my early experience as an internal marketing communications manager, I witnessed how poor process contributed to the problem. A group of people in leadership positions together in a room, sharing their knowledge, experiences, and opinions with a third party translating what they heard into words that sound about right is not a rigorous or complete approach. Eventually, those “key messages” – even the Vision and Mission – will prove insufficient because the process to arrive at them was weak, created within the echo chamber of leadership.

Through participating in the Essential Story Process (ESP), a team experiences foundational transformation in how they understand their brand, business, or organization. And that transformation is possible only because the ESP helps them experience and deeply understand the brand as a unique and separate entity from themselves. In my opinion, this is the most powerful role that I can play as an “objective third party”.

It is not a stretch to think of a corporation as a separate, living thing. It has a birth date and a unique name; it’s a legal entity. As caretakers of that being, leaders sometimes need help to see it for what it is. When probed individually about their corporation’s or brand’s essence, leaders are often not in sync. Or, they may agree in a room together – and believe they are in agreement – yet in practice may each slightly alter the language or interpret elements of Vision and Mission differently. 

These misalignments – even subtle ones – accumulate and infiltrate an organization, its communication, and its execution both internally and externally. Focus can scatter over time. The ESP brings things into alignment through a comprehensive and evidence-based process.

Importantly, the ESP incorporates the critical perspectives of stakeholders (for example, key partners); target audiences (such as clients, members, or customers); and an overall market perspective. This breaks open the echo chamber effect of leaders isolated in their discussions and thinking about identity.

Step 2: Radiating the change through the work of the organization

Once the ESP has established an Essential Story (which includes but is not limited to Vision, Mission, Differentiation, and Values), there is a new lens through which the corporation can be seen and experienced. Through that lens, all parts of an organization can take into stock the work they are doing and how they are doing it. There is almost no end to how teams who are empowered with an Essential Story can find ways to examine their work and realign it.

Operationalizing and implementing the new verbal identity can look like altering the language being used (such as the way policies and procedures are written, and the way products and services are described, packaged, and offered to name a few). It may manifest in changes in where organizations or teams place their focus. It can clarify and solidify overall business strategy.

The Essential Story Process is an exercise in language but it’s not a language exercise. Getting the language “right” is the goal, but the journey there is about deeply exploring and understanding the heart of identity. It is about allowing that identity to fully express itself on equal footing to the voices of its leaders.

Our previous article on positioning provides some real-world examples of how leadership teams who met the true identity of their organizations pivoted their focus and resources to great success.