June 28, 2018 • Paul Woolf
Most organizations will at some point face a need for change. This may include change in how they do things, such as their workflow processes or customer experience journey management; upsizing or downsizing, restructuring, or leadership changes; a brand refresh or internal marketing initiatives; change in what they do, such as a business or line extension; or a fundamental change via merger or acquisition.
So what role does the corporate anniversary play in some of these changes? Milestone anniversaries provide organizations with an opportunity to accelerate change and establish the foundation for the future. Armed with clarity for where the organization is going, milestone programs that effectively pull relevant insights from the past can show that a company has navigated prior change and still maintained its core character. Examples of change and transformation that have benefited from anniversary programs include:
Anniversaries offer a unique opportunity for positioning and branding. The anniversary can act as a segue to relaunch or revamp a brand, either during the anniversary year or soon after. The anniversary program reminds customers and employees of where the company or brand has been, both as an entity and a brand. The brand refresh, repositioning or relaunch then shows how the brand is evolving into new directions, building on the past. Anniversaries often involve company-wide communications and gatherings, a useful means to either share where the brand is going or reveal future plans.
While an anniversary occurs separate from M&A activity, it provides a useful tool to encourage unification of previously separate entities. Clearly, it depends on whether the company celebrating the anniversary is the acquirer or dominant merger partner; whether the intention is to maintain the company as a distinct entity or subsume it; and the perspectives of the other company toward the company celebrating the anniversary. However, the need to accelerate cultural integration is real. The anniversary provides a unification point, and enables the newly merged entity to move forward as a collective whole.
Milestone anniversaries invariably involve looking back at the actions of the organization’s founders. Research into the past reveals words and decisions that clarify their original vision, mission and purpose for the organization. Sometimes, these have become diluted, compromised, or even ignored or forgotten. An anniversary gives leaders the chance to:
Refresh people’s memories regarding how the organization started, rekindle interest in improving its connection to its roots, and refocus where it is going.
Share a new vision, mission and purpose that focuses on what is needed for the next 25, 50 or 100 years.
Virtually any anniversary program highlights a company’s values and purpose. It can demonstrate past ability to overcome challenges and how that ability translates to its goals for the future. These values and purpose, triumphs and setbacks form the narrative of the anniversary. That narrative is then translated into a variety of initiatives, including employee events on a central and/or regional level. Together, these initiatives can remind people of what the company stands for and provide moments for celebrating the shared experience of working for the company. As a cultural initiative, anniversaries are powerful and transformative.
Leadership transitions occur for a variety of reasons and independently of anniversaries. However, an impending anniversary does offer a useful opportunity to honor the past and set out a new leader’s agenda for the future. It paves the way for a message of unity and celebration. Leaders can reframe their dialogue with employees and/or customers, kicking off new communication initiatives or programs that facilitate positive change across the enterprise.
Change is a part of virtually every organization’s experience. Anniversaries can provide a platform for a wide variety of initiatives that can help the organization face the future while acknowledging and celebrating its past. They signal an important opportunity that companies undergoing transformation shouldn’t miss.