An interview with #EuroComm17 speaker John Burger

John Burger

John Burger, founder of John Burger Consulting, will be speaking at EuroComm 2017 on his chosen topic of Corporate Self Awareness. Kasha Dougall, IABC EMENA board member, met up with John to find out more.

What is your definition of corporate self awareness?

When you place a chimpanzee with a red dot on its forehead in front of a mirror, it will rub its forehead. The chimpanzee knows the mirror shows a reflection of itself, and not another ape.

Companies, usually fail this test. When confronted with a blemish, they will rub the mirror, always finding fault outside of the organisation, failing to understand that the issues may lie within their very own companies.

Can you give us an example of a company that has a high level of self awareness and one that does not?

Those companies that ask themselves what their role in society is. After all, companies are there for people, rather than the other way around. Unfortunately the negative stereotypes by far outweigh the positive. On the negative side, an extreme example is Über, or from the old economy Exxon Mobile. Über is a taxi company that refuses to acknowledge their reason of being, pretending to be something else, totally unaware of who they are and seemingly oblivious to their increasingly appalling reputation.

On the positive sides, Unilever has shown elements of (social) self awareness with an emphasis on long term and sustainability.

What are the characteristics of a company with a good self awareness? (how do we know if an entity is self aware or not?)

A company that is self-aware understands that stakeholders are equals. You recognise this when a company uses processes that help employees and customers. In a traditional environment, companies would actually compete with their customers. It’s really only been over the last 2 years that we have seen truly customer centric companies start to emerge that are not detrimental to their employees. After all, employees are not stakeholders, they ARE the company. Organisations such as Amazon are currently making their workers pay the price for their customer centricity and such models are unsustainable long term.

Why is self awareness important? (particularly in relation to empathy, relationships and reputation)

Self-awareness is a social skill.  That means that without (social) self-awareness, companies cannot see other people’s needs. They are unable to feel empathy and cannot build sustainable nurturing relationships.

Companies without empathy merely respond to aggressive drivers such as self-preservation, fear, threat and individual competition.

What can a company do easily and immediately as first & quick steps to becoming more self aware?

Start listening! Every company needs a listening strategy. One of the most important roles of the corporate communicator is the skill to look at the company itself with society’s eyes.

Leaders need to learn to collaborate, instead of pushing and pulling. I would encourage organizations to cancel the divide between top management and the rest of the employees. Top management believe that they run the organization, that they are different and not in the same boat. This is why change is hard. Acclimatizing top management to the idea of empathy will help create more human environments.

Is self awareness the equivalent for a company of an individual going through therapy or personal development?

To a certain extent, yes. Many companies are poorly socialised and have a tendency towards selfishness or even delinquency. Even many enlightened companies struggle with a broad stakeholder relations approach

What can companies do to make people feel less insecure despite the need for flexibility in a context of constant change?

Constant change is only painful when you are a victim of it. People need to be in charge of their own emotional journeys,  which means they need to be allowed to drive the change instead of being driven by it. As long as there is a perceived difference between managers and employees this will remain difficult.

The recipe is transparency and empowerment.

  • Want to know more about self awareness and meet John Burger? Join us in London at #EuroComm17 on 27th & 28th March. Register here.

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