Our work shapes our identity, not just to ourselves, but to everyone else as well. As British writer Quentin Crisp once said:
“It's no good running a pig farm for 30 years while saying, 'Really, I was meant to be a ballet dancer.'
By then, pigs will be your style.”
In a business, your ‘work identity’ is largely shaped by the kind of work that customers are hiring your organisation to do.
Take a look around right now at the projects, contracts and assignments your people are working on.
What do they really think about the work they are doing?
- How much of it is engaging work that they love, and want more of? This is the kind of work that builds careers and reputations, and that people switch employers to get access to.
- How much of it is routine work they have done many times before? Most people don’t mind doing some level of routine work, provided that it keeps them gainfully employed. Too much, however, and they will feel they are being held back in their career.
- How much of it is marginal and painful work that is dull or uninteresting, feels pointless, or is difficult to deliver? What kind of work are your people actively complaining about, refusing to do, or at worst, resigning from your organisation to avoid?
If you find that your organisation has a work identity crisis, here is a three-point plan to fix it.
1. Stop relying so much on opportunities that are defined by other people, like responding to competitive tenders. You’ll end up getting more of what you don’t want, and less of what you do.
2. Start defining the kind of work you really want to attract. What does your business want to be known for? What kind of projects do your team most want to do? What type of customers do you most love to work with? Where do these three things intersect?
3. Position yourself to win this work by building an offer that explains the commercial value you deliver to your customers – not just what you do. Some organisations I’ve worked with on their commercial value proposition have doubled their revenue within a matter of months, simply through the confidence it gave them to go out and pitch themselves to their ideal customers.