Do you need a company philosophy?

I came across this article from Inc Magazine a few weeks ago and thought it was worth sharing.

The article asks the question – do you have a company philosophy? Now you might ask how is a philosophy different from vision, mission, values, promise, purpose… and really how many guiding statements can one company have?

And you would be right – the sheer number of defining statements that a company is asked to complete can and often does get in the way of finding genuine answers about those things.

Before I jump into that particular fray, this is a brand blog, so first back to my often-used definition of brand – what you believe and what your actions show. The fact is that those two things are impossible to know and even more impossible to do with any consistency if you don’t have at least a few of the above list sorted out.

The Inc Magazine article defines company philosophy as: “A company’s philosophy is a distillation of its culture or ambience into a group of core values that inform all aspects of its business practices. Having a strong company philosophy is a good way to guide your employees at decision-making crossroads, but it can also be a strong branding tool, and generally make your workplace more congenial.”

A handy and pretty simple description to some of the other statements is: vision is the point we are headed towards; mission is the way we will get there; and promise is the reason we are taking the journey. Add to that core values, which are the framework for the decisions and actions we will make along the way.

So where might company philosophy fit in all that? It can help position what is important to the company in the minds of the people who work there by giving the values more context. For example at Google parts of their philosophy are: “fast is better than slow”, “democracy on the web works,” and “you can be serious without a suit”.

But back to my earlier point. Choosing which of these guiding statements to do can get in the way of finding genuine answers for the ones you do choose. I have lost count of the times people get all wrapped up in getting the statements “right” – aka wordsmithing them, and forget to truly examine the whys and meaning of them. Which of course makes getting them “right” even harder.

I know the business literature and schools will tout the absolute necessity of having all of these in place. But from my experience, there is no right and wrong. It’s what works for you that matters. I have seen companies with every statement known to man lose their way, and conversely companies with only the bare minimum thrive.

Got a bunch of corporate refugees who look at core values with well-earned cynicism? Maybe a company philosophy or code-of-ethics might work better for you. The idea of vision, mission and promise too much to bite off? Start with whichever one will give you the most direction and momentum (promise is a personal favourite of mine).

The fact of the matter is that it doesn’t really matter which combination of these kinds of guiding statements you have, it DOES really matter that you have at least some of them.

See you next week.

Michel Hogan is a Brand Advocate. Through her work with Brandology here in Australia and in the United States, she helps organisations recognise who they are and align that with what they do and say, to build more authentic and sustainable brands. She also publishes the Brand thought leadership blog – Brand Alignment.

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