The Farmyard: Decision-making in Large Organizations

I was recently asked by an acquaintance to look at her organization’s website on the assumption that my doing so would help me understand what her organization was all about.

Looking at the website, I was reminded of how difficult it is to articulate your value as an institution without getting lost in the details and the many demands of all those within an organization who want to get their message out.

Decision making in Large Organizations

The farmyard

I’m reminded of a parable I heard from a friend:

A painter is hired to do a painting of the farmyard. He sketches all the animals and paints the scene. He shows all the animals his work and everyone is pleased. But they have some small suggestions—the pigs call him over and say, “This is great, but can you make the pig pen just a little bigger?” And the goats call him over and say, “This is great, but can you make the sun shining on us a little brighter?” This goes on with each of the animal factions, and the artist takes these notes and incorporates them into the painting. He again shows the painting to all the animals, but now it’s a jumbled mess and nobody likes it.

Decision making in Large Organizations
When I looked at this institution’s website I could see this very process at work. All the pressures from all the different factions within the institution each asking that the sun be shown a little brighter on them were visible in the jumbled mess of a website.

The net result for me was utter confusion.

If you are like most institutions, the pressure to capitulate to the requests of powerful factions within your organization is likely very real.

If you are like most institutions, the pressure to capitulate to the requests of powerful factions within your organization is likely very real.

What can you say when the president says, “Put this here”? If she has not already agreed on a set of principles that would make this a conversation about those principles instead of a showdown between marketing and the president’s office then you really have no choice but to comply.

Multiply this by every faction that has something to gain by their message getting more attention and you have … a typical organizational website.

The process that yields this outcome is all too common, and it undercuts the opportunity to find and hold on to the simplicity that is demanded of a brand.

Decision-making in large organizations

I realize that you are an organization rich in stories and that you deliver value out into the world in many ways. It is essential, however, that you choose. You must choose which story you are going to tell. The others can be there, visible upon close inspection, but the overall story must be clear.

You must choose which story you are going to tell.

We call this preeminent story your “Brand Idea.”

What are you saying on your website that I can absorb and understand in the first 15 seconds I am there? What are you saying visually? Why is that thing that you are saying the most important thing you can say about yourself? With whom is that message intended to resonate? What action to your benefit is it meant to evoke? And finally and most importantly, how does this all facilitate your organizational goals?

Like most brands, the decisions about how you talk about yourself are likely driven not by a shared understanding of an essential set of principles, principles that exist over and above any individual no matter how senior or important, nor are they based on a thorough understanding of audience need. Instead, these critical decisions are made based on the needs and tastes of those people sitting in the room at the time the decisions are made. All of these individuals may be kind and smart and good, but they are often too close to the institution and its products, and they do not have the tools (not mental tools, but tools of research and marketing insight) to assess the messaging properly.

Many organizations become like the farmyard. Has yours?

So if the people in that room know what they like and like what they know and if they are actively lobbying from their vantage point, and especially if who is asking is more important than how that particular action will facilitate your organizational goals, then you may be due for a Strategy Workshop.

Many organizations unwittingly become like the farmyard. Has yours?


Does your organization need an affordable way to improve its brand today?

Because we know that not everyone needs or can afford our full process, we created a guided tutorial package for our foundational brand strategy tool: the Brand Pyramid. Watch the video for a preview.

brand strategy tutorial

For more information on this brand strategy tutorial, visit here where you will find a fuller explanation and link to a free download of the first video.
Image credit: Föreställande några byggnader i Ursviken nära Skellefteå by Fritz von Dardel; Barnyard by unknown

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