Brand Work

Brand Values: The New Humility

Set aside for a moment the debate as to whether a strong brand depends more on its internal values or external image. Regardless of your position on this (we certainly have one), it’s clear that, for employment brands and other internally focused brand efforts at least, articulating one’s values is important.

The first question to ask, of course, is, “Which values?” Not surprisingly, many of the same values keep popping up across companies and cultures. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: Authorities as diverse as Jack Welch in Winning and Dov Seidman in How make the case that healthy company cultures exhibit a lot more similarities than differences.

That said, one decidedly different value has been cropping up in conversations of late: humility. Until very recently, we haven’t seen it articulated in any company’s short list of key values to live by. That humility could even be on a list didn’t cross our minds until maybe 18 months ago, when the Canadian futurist Richard Worzel made an offhand remark at the end of a special project we were working on for a luxury automobile brand. Richard had just completed a day-long session geared to making the brand’s US dealers aware of some of the macrotrends that were likely to affect everything from where they located their dealerships to how they provided service to the kinds of cars their customers would want. “Do you expect to see any changes come from what you shared?” I asked. “Not really,” Richard said. “They lack the humility to take these kinds of things seriously.”

Since then, we’ve had occasion to ask a handful of entrepreneurs and corporate leaders whether they see a role for humility in the corporate values mix—theirs or anyone’s. Those who say “no” point out that the intensely competitive nature of business fosters “alpha dog cultures” that basically can’t be bothered with it. Those who say yes, like our friend Bill Nussey at SilverPop, observe that a dose of humility is a good thing to have if your success depends on building a community with your customers in which frank conversations take place—especially if you adopt a nimble attitude towards business that allows for mistake-making in the process of risk-taking.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when we were reviewing some research into a new set of values a different automaker was looking to embrace and cultivate. There it was: humility. At some level (a pretty high one), this vast organization had recognized that the overweening pride it had allowed to take hold over the course of previous decades had contributed in signal ways to its downfall. Now it  is seriously asking itself how to prune back the pride to allow a new value to grow. Eric La Brecque

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