July 17, 2019
Revisiting a company motto or philosophy is necessary in an ever-changing world, but it can disrupt people’s sense of “who we are” and should be carefully managed to ensure the firm continues to thrive in the future, according to new research from UCL School of Management. The study was based on the study of a large database of corporate mottos of long-established Japanese firms. It focused on 25 cases still in operation today, using a combination of archival and interview data to investigate when, why, and how they had revised their historical mottos in times of change. The findings are reported in an article forthcoming in the Strategic Management Journal.
Professor of Strategy & Entrepreneurship Davide Ravasi, and co-authors, Innan Sasaki from Lancaster University, Josip Kotlar from Politecnico di Milano, and Eero Vaara from Aalto University, investigated how long-lived Japanese firms deal with needing to adapt their company mottos and philosophies to support strategic change both now and in the future. While still maintaining a sense of continuity with values and guidelines laid out long before by ancestors, which are still revered and respected.
Reconciling change with historical values is a challenge for very old organisations since these values may have become ingrained in the company and are often emotionally charged
Ravasi explains, “Reconciling change with historical values is a challenge for very old organisations since these values may have become ingrained in the company and are often emotionally charged. This is particularly difficult for family firms, whose managers may be reluctant to abandon family traditions, feeling an imperative to pass them on to the next generation, while still remaining flexible to change.
“We identified three strategies that managers use in these circumstances to deal with the tension between promoting change and maintaining a company’s sense of continuity with values from past leaders. The first strategy, which we call ‘elaborating’, is based on the gradual revision of historical statements, selectively building on and extending parts that support current strategic developments. The second, ‘recovering’, involves creating entirely new statements that draw on founders’ writings and anecdotes to establish continuity between foundational values and current strategic developments.
“The last, ‘decoupling’, allows the co-existence of historical statements and new ones, enabling a firm to separately maintain continuity with historical values and show concern for new issues, such as social and environmental responsibility, that may not have existed at the time historical statements were written. These three strategies may help managers confront tensions rising from the need to support strategic change while at the same time respecting historical values and guidelines.”