A lot can be learned from listening to sports coaches when they talk about not getting too high over a victory or too low over a loss. Everything has to be kept in perspective. In business, mistakes happen, all kinds of disasters occur, and sometimes they result in doors closing. On the other hand, there can be a surprise win- landing a big account, vaulting ahead of the competition. But being number one can be short lived. Neither troubled times nor great times are going to be permanent. What can we learn from both conditions?
Fighter pilots file after action reports. Football players review game films to go over what went well and what did not. Business leaders can use similar practices to use the past to help build the future.
The practice followed by many successful leaders is “review, reflect and revise”. This involves more than just evaluating the end game. It means applying the process to every plan, every play, every role and player from inception through to conclusion. This simple process leads to catching mistakes before they happen and become disasters, snatching success from the possibility of failure.
Rather than being the leader that celebrates every success and bemoans every failure, are you willing to join the league of leaders that uses an ongoing approach to continually learn lessons from what has come before and use them to advise their future?
Those that join the military learn quickly about unit discipline. All of the toughness and craziness of basic training is designed to get soldiers to respond to certain situations that the drill instructors know they will face, and to respond in a disciplined, planned manner. In business, employees do not get that sort of training. So when the wheels start coming off the wagon, how will they respond?
Tough questions. How would your organization answer them? Any thoughts you might have?
Every company wants to put its best foot forward, be it in the public eye, or in individual sales situations. Talk is around the strengths, the unique features, all of the things that make the company great. As we know, there is a fine line between extolling existing virtues and puffery. Puffery sometimes isn’t bad. But extreme puffery moves toward bluster and that evolves into hubris. Often times, this change is so subtle that there is very little awareness of the damage.
Hubris is dangerous. Selling on hubris is detrimental in many ways. Picture a small business that lands a big sale or big account based on the CEO overselling both product and service capabilities. The great news is they got the contract- the bad news is they got the contract and have no way to deliver on it. Suppose the company drops all other work in process to service this one piece of business that can move the company into the big leagues. What does that do to existing customer relationships? What does it do to the culture of the company when everyone is forced to drop what they are doing and focus- in a very rushed, maybe frantic manner- on something they haven’t done before. They may not have the necessary experience or expertise, which means creating a solution that is not proven, or spending a huge amount of time on research to build a solution. Or it may mean that the company has to bring on more people quickly to service the account, without properly vetting them and integrating them into the culture.
Be careful of bluster. It is only a step away from the cliff. As you slip over the cliff, you may be reconsidering whether it was worth it, but by then it is too late.
Founders and leaders of companies may find it easy to work for the love of it. Their time spent creating an idea that becomes a company is full of passion and love. They have a strong sense of pride and investment in the organization. It is like they have given birth to something that they want to nurture, cherish and grow to become something great. What if they could pass on that same sense ownership to their employees?
Consider Bobby Jones who was the most successful amateur golfer ever to compete at a national and international level. When asked why he never went pro, he answered, ”for the love of the game.” How powerful would it be to have a full staff complement of employees want to sign up for something that gives them meaning and purpose? We can look at the individuals that join the Peace Corps or VISTA and want to capture their passion. We can stand in awe of the doctors that go to the front lines of war with Doctors Without Borders; and the lawyers fighting the death penalty for convicted felons. They have passion for what they do. They are joining established organizations because in their gut, the organization represents who they want to be.
Company leaders ideally want to hire people who can be that passionate about their work. It is not an easy task. It is easier if the leader exhibits the passion, paints the vision, sets the example and shares the values that will enable a prospective employee to get it intellectually and then feel it. As the organization grows, every person doing the hiring needs to be able to do the same thing. And it can’t be phony- it is not just for the purpose of an interview. Every company needs to live it, breathe it and reinforce it continuously. It can be done. It takes work, it takes awareness, it takes mindfulness.
People want believe in something. They want their time spent at work to be meaningful. Help them make it so. Is your passion shared by your employees? If not, are you willing to do what it takes to get them there? Are you willing to build a culture of employees who work for the love of It?
Integrity starts at the top. And “do as I say, not as I do” does not cut it. Employees watch the boss and the behavior she exhibits. If she does something that is not in line with the organizational definition of integrity, guess what will happen. Some will say, “if she can do that, then why can’t I?” and then they will exhibit behaviors like that, slowly eroding the culture. Others may decide they do not want to work for a company where a leader exhibits such behavior and they will leave, or worse, they will stay and be disenchanted and become less and less engaged. They will turn a blind eye when others act inappropriately, and again, things will fall apart.
Integrity counts. And not just when someone is watching. Integrity is doing the right thing when nobody is watching and nobody will find out. It’s speaking up when everyone else is silent. Not every company claims integrity as a core value, because in many cases it just goes without saying. But, it is a necessity for every corporate culture to maintain unity, employee engagement, collaboration and a sense of organizational pride. Integrity is critical to every brand. Nobody wants to do business with a company known to fudge their results or to take shortcuts in building or developing their products and delivering their services.
Unfortunately, integrity is far from universal in our world. We read about bribes, kickbacks, food product and drug recalls, autos being sold knowingly with defective parts. Who wants to be in a headline for one of those reasons? Who wants to live with themselves having done that? Integrity starts at the top and should be part of every employee. Yes, folks will still have to go to confession for things they do in their personal lives, but there should be no reason to confess for breaches of integrity at work. Integrity does matter to a company. Does it matter to yours?