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Identity Crisis

Our potential customers or clients are viewing our enterprise through a very different set of eyes, with a level of scrutiny well beyond what we’re capable of grasping.

Place: Winding country road.

Date: February 21st.

Item: Sign outside of small church, “Join us for our Christmas Eve service at 7:00 pm.”

You’ve no doubt encountered something similar in your travels—a clear indication that someone hasn’t been paying attention in the way that they needed to. The unfortunate byproduct of this kind of oversight is that it immediately paints the picture of an organization that is somehow unaware, one that’s not being detail-oriented enough to ensure that it’s always relaying current information. The tragedy is that something this slight can cast the entire entity into a less than favorable light, even if the other 99.9% of what’s being done is excellent and relevant.

Somewhere in the seemingly endless avalanche of things to figure out, small businesses and nonprofits can face a similar scenario. It’s the classic case of reading something you wrote 25 times, and 25 times failing to see the typographical errors. Because you are the one who made the errors in the first place, you’re less apt to detect them no matter how many times they pass your eyes. Similarly, we have a tendency to grow accustomed to certain aspects of our business entities that may, in fact, not be quite what we think they are. They become second-nature to us, mindless routines that we cycle through every day while we’re busy trying to acquire new customers or run payroll.

What we sometimes fail to recognize is that our potential customers or clients are viewing our enterprise through a very different set of eyes, with a level of scrutiny well beyond what we’re capable of grasping while we’re in the thick of things. Rightly or wrongly, those who we’re trying to present our services to will draw conclusions about the validity, integrity, and aptitude of our organization based on initial impressions. If they do opt to engage our services, moving through the subsequent interactions as we do business with them will introduce even more items by which they’ll assess us as an organization. Whether grounded in reality or not, uncertainties they experienced at the outset will only be intensified if they encounter more items that plant seeds of doubt.

Organizations with a small staff may feel that they have legitimate reason for not having to keep on top of things, but the exact opposite is the case. If a client or customer is feeling uncertainty due to things they’ve observed about such a business, the fact that there a so few staff members might cause the question to be raised as to whether or not the entity should even be trying to do business in the first place. Grand, sweeping opinions can be crafted in a second, and the client or customer may end up drawing the conclusion that the business isn’t any larger than it is because it doesn’t know what it’s doing. Small organizations that don’t at least entertain the possibility of this thought rolling around in an outsider’s head may unwittingly be on the road toward making the statement come true.

In the throes of carrying out daily operations, it’s easy to become burned out or simply glassy-eyed as to what’s happening on the fringe.

The owner of a small business or nonprofit needs to exercise intentional diligence to ensure that things within the organization are always fresh, and that the mission and vision that served as catalysts for its creation are the ever-present guiding stars as things move forward. Failure to maintain that perspective will create a double-minded organization – one that has specific ideas of what it’s all about, and yet is under the misconception that it’s accomplishing things it isn’t. Delusions of actually being focused will continue to blind the eyes of the enterprise while it drifts further and further from its true purpose.

Just as with the example of the church sign, small businesses and nonprofits need to pay close attention to every public-facing aspect of their organization. An outdated website which has had nothing added or revised for two years does little to convey the sense of a company that’s on the move. Likewise, operating policies that were put into place and left on autopilot may no longer be serving the client as they were originally intended to. A real investment in organizational analysis needs to occur on some sort of structured basis, with multiple set of eyes reviewing as much as is practical. A significant aspect of this is ensuring that, whether in digital or printed form, outdated documents are removed or earmarked for revision as a priority project.

Implementing even a modest effort at garnering feedback from the people you serve can be one of the most economical investments you make into gauging how your organization is being perceived. A simple, multiple-choice survey with ten questions can provide amazing insight into what the people on the receiving end of your business efforts are experiencing, and how they perceive your organization as a result of it. Without at least that kind of rudimentary intel-gathering, there’s scarce hope of being able to view your enterprise through the eyes of an outsider, and great danger of forgetting what you actually look like in your community.

Staying committed to the ideals and goals that helped to formulate your business strategy in the first place may seem enough, but take the extra precaution of delving into self-analysis. And always be sure to do so with a thick skin, because shying away from negative feedback will never do your organization any favors. Only by disciplining yourself to be watchful and willing to make changes will you ever be able to maintain your true identity. When the members of your team collectively look into that hypothetical mirror, the reflection should always be one of a company that’s clearly focused on its purpose, and determined to let nothing blur that perspective.


Do you want to get a deeper perspective on the overall health of your small business or nonprofit? If so, visit and enter your email address to download your free copy of the PDF, “Taking Your Organization’s Temperature.” Also, be sure to visit us on our YouTube Channel for tips, insights, and guidance on how you can truly do smart work in your organization.

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