Quit monkeying around! Take a good look at your corporate self-awareness

John Burger, founder of John Burger Consulting, will be speaking at #EuroComm17 on his chosen topic of Corporate Self-Awareness. IABC EMENA board member Kasha Dougall met up with John to find out more.


This ape knows the mirror shows a reflection of itself, not another ape.

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 far outweigh the positive. On the negative side, an extreme example is Über or, from the old economy, Exxon Mobil. 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 two years that we have seen truly customer-centric companies begin 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 customer-centricity and such models are unsustainable in the long term.

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

Self-awareness is a social skill. Which 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 organisations to cancel the divide between top management and the rest of the employees. Top management believe that they run the organisation, that they are different and not in the same boat. This is why change is hard. Acclimatising 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.


John Burger

Want to know more about self-awareness and meet John Burger? Join us in London at #EuroComm17 on 2728 March. Register here.