As a strategic marketing consultant to mission-driven organizations, I find I have to think outside the box, especially when it comes to insight tools to help me unpack unique challenges and exciting opportunities for my clients.
Insight tools are so crucial because the powerful ones lead to the most up-to-date “inside truth” of the organization: the authentic truth that—when uncovered—highlights the connection between the organization and its audience. Just as all craftsmen rely on the best tools to create superior products, I know that the communication is only as good as the company’s understanding of where they stand.
If we really want to help communicate a message to the world in a dynamic, honest way, we have to first determine the core truth and the mission of what the organization actually does.
When I first found the process enneagram at a workshop I took at Harvard, I thought is was a really interesting concept. The original diagram was presented as an ancient secret released for the first time, the truth behind the famous philosopher’s stone. There was clearly something mystical about it.
The idea that this process, this diagram, could bring about subconscious connections peaked my interest. Could it really do that?
In the workshop I took at Harvard, I was introduced to the process enneagram through the work of Richard N. Knowles, who wrote the book, The Leadership Dance. But the process enneagram has a deep history. It was first introduced by George Gurdjieff to his study groups in St Petersburg and Moscow in 1916. Gurdjieff was focused on self-awareness in people’s daily lives and humanity’s place in the universe: a concept that relates closely to mission-driven organizations.
At Harvard that weekend, we were told to think of process enneagram as a thinking/seeing tool. The idea was that the tool could help reveal connections in new and different ways. After the class I ordered Knowles’s book and began to gain a deeper understanding of how he was using the process enneagram to find “pathways to extraordinary organizational effectiveness.” I saw the tool as something I could use in the first step of a process in gaining a deep understanding and insights about the most pressing marketing communication challenge organization’s face.
So, I put it to work. I began to use the process enneagram in the first step in the “explore” phase of our work with clients. What became clear very quickly was that it did allow for new connections. Additionally, I’ve found that it is best used on complex communication problems: the kind mission-driven organizations struggle with most often.
This was the tool I’d been searching for. Each group I’ve worked with has discovered connections that, without this process, they likely never would have seen.
What is the process enneagram?
The process enneagram is a series of questions that are ordered in a map of engagement. The map of engagement is nine different perspectives, listed bellow. Using these different perspectives the group can gain crucial new insight into information, relationships, meaning, and identity within their organization by answering one burning question.
The map of engagement involves:
- Principles and standards
- Structure and context
At Orange Square, we facilitate the workshop over one full day or two half-day sessions. Broadly, it looks something like this:
- Prior to the workshop, the group decides on that initial, compelling question. The nature and scope of the opening question sets the stage for the rest of the work.
A few examples that we’ve used effectively in the past are: What impact do we want to have? How will we achieve that impact? What makes us different from the other organizations in our space?
- Once the initial question has been established, we move through each of the nine perspectives—one by one.
- As we work through each angle, the authentic answer starts to unfold organically.
- We eventually move on to breaking down the information and choosing the most important parts—creating hierarchy of priorities and information from the nine perspectives.
- These answers can help solve different types of marketing communication challenges. The answers lay the groundwork for producing clear, true brand stories; or establishing a critical baseline for creating a new identity; or even developing a more current and clear mission and vision.
Group dynamics and the process
Individual interviews are crucial to understanding where an organization stands at any given time. but many people overlook how critical group dynamics are to uncovering answers. When I first discovered the process enneagram, I was interested in how we could use it to go beyond the traditional individual interview and instead explore the group’s effect on an organization’s mission. I was focused on uncovering the current, true meaning of what mattered most to the organization, and the group always holds the answer.
Each person within an organization has an important role in defining the brand’s meaning and achieving the mission. Creating an identity and the messaging around it creates connections, sets expectations, tells stories, and develops memories and experiences for your target audience about your organization. There’s nothing more important than that the group, as it defines and internalizes the authentic, inside truth of the organization.
My initial hunch back on that day at Harvard was correct: understanding culture, beliefs, and barriers within the group is core to capturing the state of the organization and drilling down to the inside truth, which ultimately allows us to answer some big questions: Where does the organization fall on the spectrum of conservative to progressive? Compared to others in the space, how do they stand out or blend in? How much risk are they willing to take and what does that look like? What is causing the changes they are experiencing? How big are these changes for them, and what does that look like in their landscape?
The good news is that the group holds the answers; this process just extracts what those answers are. The ability to balance outside perspective with a client’s authentic truth is the key to real change and to mission-driven marketing.
Finding meaning in your organization
Organizations change because people do. You already know the answer to whatever the challenge is; sometimes the hardest part is learning how to see.