✪ Enterprising Branding Professional ✪ Author of Branding NL & Startup Branding

Recently I read a very interesting article on Medium from Michel Bachmann, with the title ‘Start with Who’. It is off course a reaction to one of the most popular TED Talks of Simon Sinek in which he encourages people to ‘Start with Why’. That is, leaders should focus on articulating their organization’s purpose to move people into action.

An alternative way of thinking is presented by Bachmann in which the WHY still matters, but at the starting point of the dynamic Golden Spiral (instead of the – static – Golden Circle) model, the WHO is placed at the core:

1. WHO are we and what do we stand for, I call this: PASSION.

2. WHY do we exist and what is our ambition, I call this: PURPOSE.

3. HOW do we work together to realize our ambition, I call this: PROCESS

4. WHAT’s our concrete offering to the world, I call this PRODUCT.

I like this model better, because, as Michel Bachmann states: ‘It’s all about people’! Because, people identify with people: ‘You attract who you are’, and: ‘The WHY is a good story, the WHO is the lived experience’!

The WHO is about the WAY a corporation or community of people comes to being, lives and behaves. And especially this is very fundamental. Because, as Bananarama once sang it: ‘It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it’. The Passion and/or I could also say the Personality, Principles and Pride of the people who are the corporation, community or brand make all the difference.

No surprise the world’s most popular song at funerals is ‘I did it my way’. Everyone aspires to be a truly unique personality, a one of a kind character who lives life purposefully to its full potential. And inspires others to do the same. In their own unique way. Why? Because we are creative by nature, and because – as Steve Jobs once told a class of MBA students – ‘Life is simply too short to live that of somebody else’.

So, finding your flow and doing it your way is essential. For people, but also for brands and corporations of all kinds. To lead the way. Their way. To be a one and only. A rebel with a cause. A legendary that makes things happen. Not a laggard that watches things happen. Or worse, a loser that wonders what happened.

I’d like to call the WAY of a company, its ‘Corporate Spirit’. Which can be sensed immediately and is a a very sustainable force to provide genuine meaning, direction and community for corporations and brands. Or as Howard Schultz, ceo of Starbucks, puts it:

‘In this ever-changing society, the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. They are real and sustainable. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign. The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic’.

Some companies are more spirited than others and the spirit of one company can feel much better than that of another. Spirited means: ‘full of energy, enthusiasm, and determination, lively, vivacious, vibrant, full of life, vital, animated, high-spirited, sparkling, sprightly, energetic, active, vigorous, dynamic, dashing, enthusiastic, passionate, fiery; having a specified character, attitude, or mood and warm-hearted.

Corporate Spirit has a link to the concept of ‘Esprit de Corps’. If you’ve ever been on a sports team that had great morale and team spirit, you’ve experienced ‘esprit de corps’. The term is French, and it literally means “the spirit of the body,” with body in this case meaning ‘group’. Originally, esprit de corps was used to describe the morale of military troops. More general esprit de corps means: ‘the common spirit existing in the members of a group and inspiring enthusiasm, devotion, and strong regard for the honor of the group’.

Esprit de corps is also one of Henri Fayol’s 14 Principles of Management, a framework that he already published in 1916! He pointed out that managers should create and foster among their employees the morale, common spirit, sense of identification, feeling of pride, loyalty, devotion, honor, solidarity, unity and cohesiveness with respect to their organization or organizational department. So, esprit the corps here means team spirit and team work. This 14th principle emphasizes on team work. ‘Unity is strength’ is the essence of this principle. Fayol suggested that there should be a team spirit in the organization and all the employees must consider themselves as member of the organization. The organization should be considered as a team and all the employees as its member. When the employees are considered as member, it develops a feeling of belongingness among them and thus each of them contributes to the achievement of the organizational goal. This sense of togetherness helps the employees to perform with greater efficiency and positive attitude towards the work.

From this perspective, it is interesting to have a look a company that recently has been very visible as the top-level sponsor of the FIFA World Cup Soccer 2018 in Russia. I’m talking about (the for me so far unknown, but huge) Wanda Group. Wanda Group was founded in 1988, has a team of over 110.000 employees and is engaged in three key business activities – commercial properties, culture, and finance. Wanda Commercial Properties is the world’s largest real estate enterprise and the biggest five-star hotel owner in the world. Wanda Cultural Industry Group, meanwhile, is the largest cultural enterprise in China, and the world’s largest cinema operator.

The conglomerate is led by Wang Jianlin, who has served as Chairman of the Wanda Group since 1988. I don’t know the man, but purely the fact that he (alone) is glorified by a several pages long biography on the corporate website that mentions not less than 30 great awards, prizes and achievements, gives thought. Especially when he is quoted to believe (Principles) that: ‘The highest pursuit in life is that of the spiritual nature, and the pinnacle of business management is the management of culture’. And the mission of the company reads: ‘Charitable wealth, common prosperity’ and with ‘social value’ as the most important value.

So let’s keep an eye on (a fish called 😉 Wanda. Because, when it all starts with WHO, ‘to be or not to be’ is definitely the question!

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