We have written before about the importance of culture in building and sustaining an effective business or organization- something which cannot easily be defined by a Mission Statement or even “Values”. The proof lies not in the words, but in actions and behaviours and their impact.
However, there is another, related concept that is also worth considering, to establish whether a consistent approach can be identified and replicated across an entity- namely “quiddity”, which does sound as if it comes from a Harry Potter novel!
However, as Gerald Schorin and Mike Wilberding recently pointed out in the HBR (“The X Factor of Great Corporate Cultures”), a “quiddity” is “the inherent nature or essence of someone or something”. One may argue as to whether an entity comprised of many individuals can have an “essence”; but the concept is potentially valuable for requiring those individuals to reflect on what the distillation of its history, principles and outcomes amounts to; and how that can be used to protect and further an entity’s goals.
How then is such “quiddity” captured and expressed?
It amounts to a coherent internal narrative. Entities whose value is based primarily on reputation create this as something to which its internal constituencies can subscribe, because they identify closely with it and are, themselves, fundamental to the entity’s success.
Equally important is that the narrative is explicable to and accepted by an entity’s external constituencies- clients, suppliers, business partners and the wider public. This is not some “stealth” version of what is now usually termed “stakeholder capitalism”, but rather integral to what gives particular entities a sustainable competitive edge.
One paradigm for the concept comprises the “14 Principles” created by the founder of Lockheed’s legendary Skunkworks, Clarence “Kelly” Johnson (https://www.lockheedmartin.com/en-us/who-we-are/business-areas/aeronautics/skunkworks/kelly-14-rules.html). While many of these are more relevant to the work of a sophisticated design and engineering business, and government contractor, some would repay broader adoption:
From #3: “Use a small number of good people (10% to 25% compared to so-called normal systems)”
From #5” “There must be a minimum number of reports required, but important work must be recorded thoroughly”
From #8: “Don’t duplicate so much inspection”
From #12: There must be mutual trust…[and] very close cooperation and liaison on a daily basis”
And from #13:”Access by outsiders to the project and its personnel must be strictly controlled by appropriate security measures.”
The essence of the Skunkworks was to employ the best engineers and give them significant autonomy in thinking and creating, while ensuring that they had adequate resources, delivered on a timely basis, and that they were accountable and rewarded for their outcomes.
None of the above is exactly “rocket science”, yet the narrative that was created as a result of adhering to and identifying with their content created a sustained competitive edge.
In (re)insurance, senior managers and executives tend to be well-versed in expressing the rote platitudes about how their organization is “above average” in terms of its performance and potential (when in too many cases it manifestly is not). It seems that they fail to reflect upon and understand what makes a member of that industry a true positive outlier in terms of performance over time, and so fail to distil a “quiddity”, in which all their constituencies will recognize something “special”. Adhering to the standard narrative is pointless and adds no value.
At Awbury, we are constantly re-examining and honing our own “quiddity”. We would be happy to discuss it with existing and potential clients and partners.
The Awbury Team