There are a number of ways to detect the “soul” of an organization. Although it can be a lot of fun to get inside a company or group and understand the relationships, the culture, and the tone and tenor of the organization, I like to look at the obvious external signs. It is easier to see things that way to be sure, but you also know that, if it shows outside the organization, it certainly must be there on the inside — usually in spades.
That’s why, to see a company’s culture, I look so often to the things that are readily available to the general public. In looking throughout this site and in my upcoming book (Out of Control?!) you’ll see that I frequently refer to press releases, advertising, and signage as a ways to read an organization’s culture.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve begun to notice another trend, and it speaks volumes as well. It’s only suitable for this internet era that the sign is the organization’s URL (uniform resource locator — web address). I’ve found that you can read a lot of what the organization is about by the URL they have chosen.
A week or two ago my family and I visited the new “hot” restaurant in Seattle: Crush. It has been getting a lot of press, and the young chef is even getting a stint on Martha Stewart’s show (is that an honor??). It’s an interesting little place, set in an old house in the Madison Park area of Seattle. The place is everything it’s supposed to be: it has no parking to speak of, and inside is a hip, trendy, minimalist decor with white plastic furniture that looks like leftovers from the Austin Powers set. The folks are all in black and the food is trying very hard to be great. It was good, but clearly not at or near the top of the excellent Seattle restaurant scene.
But, I digress. When I went to try to find the restaurant to make reservations I did the natural thing: I googled it (“crush restaurant seattle”). And much to my surprise, the URL wasn’t “crushrestaurant.com” (that’s in Calgary, Alberta) or even crushrestaurantseattle.com, or anything similar. No, it’s chefjasonwilson.com. Wow, that’s an interesting choice, I thought, and let it pass.
That was, I let it pass until last night. I couldn’t get to sleep so I turned on late night TV, and after midnight on Sunday is just a wasteland. But in between the infomercials was a show I’ve seen advertised quite a bit here, a religious broadcast from one of the local multi-branch mega-churches that have become so popular (why is a question for another blog). The church is called the Christian Faith Center, and the show is Living on Course. It is lead by an energetic and passionate young pastor Casey Treat and his wife, Wendy, who are both prominently featured in all the promotional material. And the URL is? No, not christianfaithcenter.org or christianfaithinternational.com (the apparent larger organization). Nope, it’s caseytreat.com. You’ll notice two things about that URL: 1) it’s a .com (commercial), not a .org (non-profit), and 2) it’s all about Casey.
So now you see the theme. Both of these organizations (Crush and the Christian Faith Center) are lead by charismatic young up-and-comers. They are trying to “make a name for themselves” and by gosh they have done it, especially with their web addresses. Instead of focusing on their organization, and putting the emphasis on that, they’ve chosen, quite explicitly to put the spotlight on them. In fact, from a web perspective, it’s all about them. That speaks volumes.
Now, before you go crying “hypocrite!” and telling me what a putz I am, complaining about focusing on the individual from a web site with my name (clwill.com), my picture on the front page, let me differentiate. This web site IS all about me. I am a one-man-band. Consultant, speaker, author, it’s all just me. There is no one else. By contrast, these folks (and I’m sure there are others) have chosen to make their public face of their organizations be all about them. I have problems with that.
Aside from the difficulties it raises in simply searching for these organizations on the internet, my first and foremost issue is the ego problem. It takes a pretty healthy ego to think the whole organization revolves around you. There’s something about this that reminds me of George Foreman and his five boys named George Foreman II, George Foreman III, etc. Beside the fact that George clearly doesn’t get the whole multi-generational thing, it’s just silly. And stunningly self-centered.
Second, and perhaps more important, is the effect this has on the psyche of the organization. What must the many other members of this organization feel like? They don’t work for the betterment of the organization. The organization doesn’t really have higher goals and aspirations. This isn’t about the best restaurant, or the finest food, or saving the most souls… nope, it’s all about Jason or Casey. How demeaning.
Also, notice that both of these guys have prominent photos on their site of them with their wives. They seem to want to make it seem like a team thing. Nicole Wilson is the first person listed in the “people” section of the Crush web site. But it sure is Jason’s URL. And Wendy Treat is all over their site: “Join Casey and Wendy Treat at…”. The Treat’s try to make it sound like it’s their ministry, but it clearly is Casey’s web address.
And finally, what does this say about the lifespan of the organization? Does the organization have any life without them? If they die or move on (or get caught in some rancid sex scandal), does the organization die? Restaurants come and go, so perhaps that’s just OK with Crush — without Jason, there is no Crush. I bet his sous chef would like it to be different, but that may be OK with Jason. However, I’m quite sure the many members of the Christian Faith Center don’t think their whole involvement with the organization is with Casey. I’m sure most of them would still like to have a place of worship when Casey Treat is caught with a gay prostitute snorting meth…
So you can tell a lot about an organization from the outside, even from Google. Best of all, you can tell who it’s all about. Is that why the stars of huge business are Exxon Mobil, General Electric, CitiGroup, Bank of America, Chevron, IBM, etc., etc. and companies like Ford, Dell, Gillette, and Sears have lost their luster? Hmmm… interesting…