Discover your company's identity
Find your identity and everything else will follow
"First who, then what.” Those words, written by Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great,” have always stuck with me. Until recently, I always took them at face value, focusing on hiring the right people and getting them in the right seats before addressing anything else. However, after reflecting on some profound transformations in my life and those of businesses I’ve had the privilege to work with, I’ve found an even larger application. This is an application that creates sustained positive change toward whatever it is that we ultimately desire in our personal lives and our businesses. This is my story, and I hope that by sharing it, you too will discover the amazing power behind identity: the “who” of our lives and our businesses.
I had tried losing weight a few times before. I got the gym membership, went a few times, and before you know it was just getting charged the monthly fee, but not taking the action to receive the benefits. Then there were the diets: the lemonade cleanse, the Subway diet, the low-fat food products — all of which I ended up hating and abandoning within a few weeks. A few pounds would come off, and then they would be back on again before I knew it. This is how I lived, for about five years, carrying around 50 pounds of fat that I didn’t need or want. Then something changed…and in eight months I shed the 50 pounds and gained a few muscles that made me a little prouder when I looked in the mirror.
How did I do it? When people asked me this question in the past, I would always give a checklist-style response that was about what I did—eating a certain number of calories a day, doing cardio so many times a week, adjusting my macro nutrients—basically the all-too-well-known answer of diet and exercise. However, in retrospect, I realize that it wasn’t just the actions, because I had tried the same things before and just didn’t sustain them. It was something beyond the what that made all the difference this time, it was who I saw myself as that had shifted.
Up until that point my identity had become my work, creating and growing a business at the expense of all else. I truly lived to work, and thought that just “working to live” was a foolish concept for the faint of heart. I allowed myself to be trapped in that identity, never questioning it, never asking if it was who I really wanted to be, until it had almost robbed me of my health, my energy, and my happiness. Then the most wonderful thing happened. I was presented with the opportunity to make a career change.
I decided to take a couple of months off and really reflect on who I wanted to be. It was during this time that I began speaking with Nexstar and eventually joined the team as a coach and trainer. It was on my first day of work with Nexstar, observing Julian Scadden (now vice president of operations at the company) training one of our Service System classes, that I found clarity in my identity. I realized that I wanted to be someone who was balanced in all aspects of his life, who truly cared, and who could be an inspiration to others. It was with this newfound clarity of identity that everything else started falling in place. I began to realize that authenticity was a key part of my identity and I would need to embrace it in all parts of my life, including in what I would soon be teaching and coaching.
Part of what we teach at Nexstar is that in order to create an extraordinary experience for our customers, we have to start by creating the best version of ourselves. If I was going to passionately champion that belief, in order to be an inspiration to others, I needed to live it myself. And so, I began to do just that, practicing what I was soon to be teaching: following a consistent morning routine, starting my day off with gratitude, doing something physical every day, eating healthy, and creating intention through “I will” statements that I would write down in my journal. Now here I am over two years later, and I’ve made a huge transformation. The pounds have stayed off, I’m healthy, I love what I do, and I’m balanced in taking care of my family, myself, and my career. I now realize it’s all because I took the time to get clear on the who first.
This important concept of Collins’s “first who” was solidified for me recently when I came across something called the “Neurological Levels Model,” by Robert Dilts. Dilts explains that there are five levels of change that influence and shape our relationship and interaction with the world. The levels in order of influence are: identity, values and beliefs, capabilities, behaviors, and environment, which are best illustrated in the image below.
At each level, there is a core question that when answered provides clarity at that level:
- Identity – Who am I?
- Values/Beliefs – Why is it important to me?
- Capabilities/Skills – How will I achieve it?
- Behavior – What actions will I take?
- Environment – When and where will I start?
The interesting thing about this model, which explains the sustainability of change I experienced, is in the fact that the higher up we begin to seek clarity, the easier it will be to answer the questions below, and the more sustainable the change at each level will become.
In my example, when I became clear on who it was I wanted to be, this led to me discovering what I truly valued and why achieving my change was important. Clarity in my values provided the motivation that sustained me in executing my plan for weight loss, even when I hit resistance (honestly, some days I just don’t want to go to the gym or eat healthy). I now realize that it was the clarity of identity and values, which had been missing in my previous efforts, which ultimately led to achieving my goal.
So how can we take this concept from our personal lives and apply it to business? In order to have lasting change in our business, much like in our lives, we have to start at the top of the pyramid, with who, or the organization’s identity. This means creating a clear vision of where the company is going and developing a solid purpose or reason for existence. Once these two elements of organizational identity have been clarified, then it’s time to move down the pyramid to the next level of Values. The core values of an organization, once discovered, become the guiding principles that provide the motivation and framework for executing your vision and living up to your purpose. These core values will become a key component to identifying who belongs on your team and who needs to be released to the competition.
For businesses, we can change the name of the third level from “capabilities” to “strategy.” This is the level at which a plan of how the business will achieve its vision and purpose is created. Having clarity in core values and identity will not only guide the development of a strong strategy, but will also ultimately provide the fuel of motivation which will sustain the execution of the plan. There are several books and resources available, including Nexstar, which can help with the facilitation of a strategic planning process.
Level 4, behavior, is the processes and procedures in a business. These are the unique actions that when consistently followed, allow for the full execution of the business plan. When properly documented, these processes and procedures create a scalable approach to growing the business that is not dependent on any one individual.
Lastly is Level 5: environment. In an organization, the environment not only refers to the external factors of time and place, but to the observable culture through which the actions are executed. So often I hear of leaders talk about improving their culture, but the reality is that you can’t improve culture at this level. Culture is a product of the four levels above. So if you have a culture problem, look up the pyramid and ask yourself...which level needs more clarity?
I invite you to take a moment and reflect on your business and perhaps even your personal life too. Are you achieving consistent results? Are your plans being executed fully? When you look at your financial statements or in the mirror, does a smile come across your face? If not, then remember Jim Collins’s words, “First who, then what,” for if you find your identity, then everything else you want will follow.