THE WHAT AND HOW OF COMPANY SUCCESS
Several weeks ago I was attending a business convention and co staffing the SCORE display with Ken (a colleague) when a distinguished looking middle aged gentleman came to the booth and said to my colleague: ‘Ken, do you remember me? You were representing US Plywood when you visited my office. I still remember even after all these years that you impressed me right from the start that you were an honest man. Everything we did with your company was based on the strong belief shared with everyone in my office that we could trust you to be honest with us in all our dealings.’ Ken smiled and thanked the visitor who then went on his way.
I thought about this later in connection with the work SCORE does for the local business community. We have worked extensively with startups and existing businesses offering free advice on a wide variety of business issues including Marketing, Management, Finance, Innovation and more such as Business Plans, Funding Sources, and Profit Planning. But we don’t typically advise our clients on the importance of building a business culture grounded in Values, Honesty and Ethics. Yet, as the vignette cited above shows, these issues matter: Big time!
At each stage of the Business Life Cycle (BLC) there are managerial issues that need to be addressed. But there are also and quite possibly more important issues that are not typically addressed which are of a personal nature, such as employees who want to do good in the world while doing well in their jobs. These managerial and personal issues are inextricably linked and mutually vital to the success of the enterprise. And I want to use the BLC as a four stage framework against which we can bring the two concepts into alignment to build and maintain a successful business that also enables its employees to exercise the higher levels of human development in their personal and working lives. I believe this can be done through both company and employees committing to belief in a common value system, a culture of honesty and integrity, and an ongoing attention to carrying out their responsibilities in an environment where ethical behavior is the norm at all times and in all situations. Let’s apply this model to organizations at each stage of the BLC.
Stage 1: THE STARTUP – THE WHAT OF MANAGERIAL AND THE HOW OF PERSONAL ISSUES
At Startup, the Managerial (THE WHAT) is initially the assessment of the opportunities available for exploitation by the firm through applied innovation and the use of collaboration with resource providers. It is all about how the early stage business can become sustainable by developing great products and services for its clientele, and continually improve its position in the market through ongoing innovation and even better products through time. At the same time the Personal (THE HOW) of business activities must be addressed. We bring to this table a value system backed by strongly held beliefs. These values and beliefs form the basis of the culture within which the firm will operate. They are built upon the value of doing good in the world and the belief that there is a high moral purpose to be carried out through your work. We value ethics, honesty and integrity, among other virtues. This value and belief system has to be the HOW of everyday work for everyone affiliated with the firm in any capacity and from top to bottom… It can be summed up as identifying what we stand for, as well as what we won’t stand for.
Stage 2: THE GROWTH PHASE – THE WHAT OF MANAGERIAL AND THE HOW OF PERSONAL ISSUES
At Stage 2 the key Managerial (THE WHAT) issue is the drive for growth in terms of revenue and market position. This is typically built as a result of expert marketing and of course, growth in process management to keep costs under control in order to yield a profit. Infrastructure must grow as well such as manufacturing, administrative work and productivity. The key Personal issues (THE HOW) and honesty and integrity, and they will be put to the test as the firm grows and expands. There are more opportunities for errors and delays, and sometimes being driven by honesty and integrity will not be the easiest and least costly way of doing business. These could very well be ‘The times that try men’s souls’. Growth in Personal issues is not necessarily linear and simple. It is often very convoluted and difficult. While the firm needs to complete vigorously it needs also to be honest. We are trying to simultaneously grow a business and its employees. We need at all times to have an honest approach to business backed by unshakeable integrity.
Stage 3: THE MATURITY PHASE – THE WHAT OF MANAGERIAL AND THE HOW OF PERSONAL ISSUES
At Stage 3 the key Managerial (THE WHAT) issues are continuous improvement to maintain market position, and a receptivity to change. As a company reaches the maturity phase, Stage 3, survival is no longer in doubt and we need to focus more on issues related to quality and process improvement internally and the environment external to the firm for both new opportunities and threats to our current position. Adaptability and openness to change are important issues. The key Personal (THE HOW) issues are now ethics and transformation. Ethics are important all through the life cycle but especially so when the firm reaches a position of influence in a given market. We may be tempted to ‘rest on our laurels’ after a job well done. But this is the time when ethics both personal and corporate are on display and need careful attention. As does transformation, which is the letting go of some long held ideas and beliefs while incorporating others, mostly along the lines of giving back or helping others succeed, mentoring, if you will. Opportunities for transformation abound at this stage when one can become what Abraham Maslow called ‘Self Actualized’, (another way of saying that you have reached your potential).
Stage 4: THE RENEWAL PHASE – THE WHAT OF MANAGERIAL AND THE HOW OF PERSONAL ISSUES
Stage 4 is the final phase of the BLC in which the owner/manager seeks to transition from active involvement in the business either to retire after selling the business, or perhaps go into another field, or pursues a non business activity. It is clearly the time when the key initial issue (THE WHAT) is a valuation of the business and simultaneously the options open to the owner or owners after leaving the firm. These are crucial issues demanding high level attention and consideration along with appropriate legal and financial support services. On the personal side (THE HOW) this is now the time for creativity and exploration. THE HOW is perhaps the most important time of all, because it involves a summing up of personal goals and past successes/failures and the big question is ‘What’s next?’ When you think creatively and explore imaginatively, there is no foretelling of what you might find. Perhaps not a big surprise, but surely many avenues of exploration to further develop your personal value and belief system, in an honest way, backed by a clear vision of acting with integrity on a firm ethical foundation.
There are indeed no limits to those whose lives have been driven by these forces.
People at one time or another are startups too, with a life of joy and service to others ahead of them. They need to know early on what this life has in store for them and what they need to know in order to grow in their commitments to acting ethically and honestly with everyone that they come in contact with. Their maturity phase comes when they have grown sufficiently to be able to not only practice ethical behavior on their own, but help others to do likewise. And finally, there is a need to transition to other challenges, other opportunities, which can be met by their treasured adherence to the principles espoused above. Then and only then can we be remembered as well at some future conference or chance meeting. How would you like to hear someone say to you, I remember you as ethical and honest? And to say: that is why we worked so long and so well with you. Because we trusted you.
What better testimony could there be for a life, business and personal, well lived?
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS
We began this exploration thinking in terms of the BLC and we tried to link the Managerial with the Personal issues at each phase. It is useful at the Startup phase to think of people as Startups at a time when they assess where they are in life and what they want to become. (No matter where they are starting from). In the second phase the concept of growth is many faceted. People grow not necessarily the way they might want to but there is still growth. The real issue here is to grow wisely and in a way that maximizes your potential. Someone said once that jobs which don’t let you learn and grow are essentially a career long waste of time. If you have thirty years of doing the same thing, that is not thirty years of experience, it is more like one year of experience repeated over twenty nine times. Not much in the way of growth in that situation is there? In the third phase maturity we should be reaching for self actualization which can only come from having had growth based business experiences matched with equally strong growth based personal experiences. Self actualization is made of these factors. Finally, in Phase Four, Renewal, it is time to explore options open to you creatively and with imagination. You have become what you set out to be. Now it is time for new directions. New ideas. New challenges.
‘May the sun shine brightly on your face and may the wind be always at your back’.