What’s wrong with the National Capital Commission? It is a powerful bureaucratic organization. It does have a giant-sized footprint in Canada’s National Capital Region. It has a leader who is a political appointee.
But it doesn’t deserve to be a punching bag for the media. The NCC has, in fact, served the nation’s capital very well and has achieved many tangible signs of success: conserving areas of natural history such as Gatineau Park, the Western and Eastern River Parkways, and the Greenbelt; preserving the region’s built history, such as the Rideau Canal, significant buildings, and streetscapes; and hosting popular events, from Winterlude to the Tulip Festival, which bring people together.
Yet the NCC has actually been more successful at something citizens can’t see: nurturing the region’s brand identity. The Ottawa identity – a region of active, outdoor participants, not spectators – is widely heralded. This common experience bonds residents and makes the city and its surrounding area a remarkable place to live. This core brand value is, however, so widely accepted that we don’t realize the extent to which it has been purposefully revealed and encouraged to grow by a single organization.
Thus the NCC does have a problem, just not the ones attributed to it. Like many nonprofit organizations and government agencies, it struggles to effectively promote its own brand. And because Ottawans don’t know the NCC it will continue to be an easy media target. That is, until its employees learn how to promote their achievement – as creator of the National Capital Region’s modern identity – as tangibly as the other “products” they’ve created.
To remind people of who they are and what they do, the NCC must tell its stories. But it must learn to communicate inside the organization before it can effectively tell their stories to the outside.
It’s now cliché: knowledge – what an organization collectively knows and how efficiently it uses what it knows – provides a sustainable advantage. In his 1998 book, Intellectual Capital, author (and now Harvard Business Review editor) Thomas Stewart warned, “the organization that is not managing knowledge is not paying attention to business.” But who is paying attention? Most companies still don’t effectively manage their corporate brainpower.
NCC staff are apparently concerned that staff turnover is about to wipe out its corporate memory. To prepare for this, the NCC needs to work proactively to remind itself of what keeps it vibrant and vital, and to reveal the common experience, values, and knowledge employees share. Organizations that can identify, tangibilize, and promote their insights possess capabilities and tools to advance the broader aims of the organization.
Insight tells firms how to do things better. Being able to grasp its own core brand truths emotionally and intellectually will enable NCC employees to appreciate what their organization must do to succeed. When all levels of an organization grasp the core truth of a brand there is continuity of thought and, writes Scott Bedbury in New Brand World, “less delay between idea and action.”
Mission statements were supposed to take care of this, but corporate values get hidden, and altered, in everyday events. Without proper vigilance, however, as organizations grow and age, employees commonly lose sight of the organization’s basic views of itself and its values. Over time, the lack of a single, shared, and up-to-date vision of the organizational brand identity creates deep problems.
Mining history effectively captures, in its proper context, the record of the judgments made by the organization, as well as the drive and the knowledge of employees: information that can guide and inspire the organization for years to come. The emerging stories of organizational identity – from war stories to descriptions of milestone events – are restorative and do more than boiled-down vision and mission statements to create a common sense of membership and engagement. By constantly reminding people what “it” is all about, stories tie individual employees to the organizational identity, its basic beliefs and cultural nuances.
Organizations have to renew their story for a new age of listeners. Consider the automotive trend to nostalgia: after nearly two decades of intellectual drift, Volkswagen sought to rediscover its core brand values, rekindle its relationship with original consumers, and reestablish a new audience. The solution: it looked inside and emerged, not just with a redesigned Beetle but also with a renewed story for a new age of consumers. Being able to do that is a sign of proper grounding and stability, a sign that a company has valued assets, not fleeting experiences.
Discovering itself, developing its internal capacity for promoting itself, then renewing its story for a new age of constituents, is precisely the solution to the NCC’s problem.
(Originally posted in Knowledge Marketing Watch, 11 February 2004)