One of the questions I like to ask my clients, or ask myself about my client’s business, is: where are you?  Are you a movement, an organization or an institution?  It’s a question essentially about organizational energy levels and social dynamics.  And, the implications for branding are significant.

A movement is exciting.  A lot of businesses, but not all, get going by creating a social movement.  There’s an irresistible sense of purpose.  There’s a lot of passion and usually a charismatic leader.  There’s a big idea and, generally a lot of ideas that derive from that big idea.  It’s intense…like drinking from a fire hose.  People are talking fast and moving fast.  No one is talking about “work-life balance” because at the moment no cares about any kind of balance.  You are re-inventing the world (or at least your little corner of it).  You don’t have any share-of-market (yet) but you are gaining “share-of-mind.”  You don’t have “numbers” but you do have a future and that is what you are selling.

Organizations are about, well, getting organized.  The idea that started it all has grown beyond the grasp of a single leader…and that is a good thing.  Some type of organization structure begins to take shape, usually a hierarchy.  You are still moving quickly but things are beginning to stabilize.  Your business is becoming more routinized and more people are grabbing on and pulling their weight.  Your goals shift from cause oriented to production oriented.  Business rules are shifting from a phase in which they are being discovered to a phase in which they are being interpreted by a fledgling set of managers.

The next thing that happens, for some organizations, is to reach the status of “institution.”  It sounds good, and frankly it can be easy to brand (because it is no longer a fast-moving target) but there is also a downside.  Gradually, the organization becomes more concerned with profitability and preservation of what it has already attained as opposed to thinking about and implementing new ideas.  There is a lot at stake and it can be a little like steering a battleship.  The rules are entirely codified and along with them comes a new organizational animal: the bureaucrat.

Some questions for you: 1) where are you? 2) do you like where you are? 3) what are the implications for managing human capital, marketing, organizational growth and branding?  4) can part of the whole be peeled off and become more of a movement or an institution? 5) where are you at your best?

The Three Social States