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Subtle Barriers to Identity Change

I was wearing a Hawaiian-style US Coast Guard shirt.  He was a Rear Admiral in charge of Cyber.  What he noticed had escaped me.  The shirt showed the proud history of the Coast Guard, including many of the current and historical ships used to support their maritime protection and enforcement duties.  There was not a single aspect on the shirt that portrayed the role that the Coast Guard plays in protecting the country digitally.

The Admiral had just revealed one of the hidden barriers to changing perceptions and identity.  The long history of the Coast Guard created a lore about their historical mission that didn’t include the Cyber mission.  He hadn’t pointed it out to be cruel; in fact, quite the opposite: it was an effective attempt at being inclusive.

What We See

In our organizations, we’ve developed our posters, mission statements, and ethos about the way that things were.  If we fail to change these to reflect the new identity, we’ll consistently reinforce old ideas and old ways of working.  It seems like a little thing to not include aspects of the new identity, but it matters.

I’ve always felt like logo redesign efforts were a waste of time and money.  When the US Postal Service updated its logo, I was astounded at the cost of the effort and wondered how it could possibly improve the delivery of mail.  But I was wrong.  I was looking at activity instead of the intent and the results.  Changing a logo – even a subtle change – conveys a sense that things are different now.  The lore has changed – and people have little choice but to see the change as they confront the new logo everywhere.

What We Believe

What we see is easy to change in comparison to what we believe about our identity.  It’s one thing to say that your organization protects shipping vessels and quite another to create a belief system that defines the mission in terms of protecting ports of commerce both physical and virtual.  As you adapt your identity to be inclusive of the new beliefs, it’s common to make the core beliefs so broad that no one can really connect with them.  It’s easy to think about ships and ports – harder to consider what it means when Cyber is included.

As we’re changing the identities of our organizations, we must find the solution that is not too abstract and therefore meaningless but also is inclusive of the way that we need to see the organization to be relevant in the future – and that isn’t easy.

What to Do

There are, however, techniques that lead towards a better understanding of beliefs and can help you understand both what the current belief systems are as well as the ways that they need to change to be more inclusive.  For instance, SWOT and PESTLE are evaluation approaches that allow you to understand both current and future states of the organization in its environment.  Done thoroughly, you’ll discover the belief systems of the organization of today – and the way that those beliefs must change in the future.

At a macro level, you can look to the tools shared in Immunity to Change, but these tools don’t help you to see what’s missing in your images and lore that may be hampering the transition to your new future.

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