The desire for “success” is an integral part of the American Dream. College graduates everywhere bask in the glory of their newfound knowledge, in hopes that their education will lead them to be successful in their field, in their lives, and in their homes. We tend to measure success by how much we have, yet that same surface-level measure for success is also at the root of the recent economic crisis. We Americans have a lot, don’t we? And it never seems to be enough. Nice homes, decent salaries, unlimited forms of entertainment at our finger tips. Yet at the end of the day, we can’t even keep the clothes on our backs because we gave every asset we had to get the end result… “stuff”. We sold ourselves short trying to live the Great American Dream. I don’t think this is what the first Americans had in mind when they started dreaming.
We do the same thing to our businesses. We have this picture in our head of what our job or business looks like. We do our best to educate ourselves and acquire the experience necessary to reach success. However, we are selling ourselves short. We want success and we want it now! We don’t have time to properly plan and prioritize… we have a business to run. We don’t value the feedback and abilities of our people… after all “It’s our business. If an employee wants to have an opinion, they can start their own. We didn’t hire them to be talented. We hired them to do a job.”
Does some of this sound familiar? Maybe you’ve heard similar sentiments from your managers. Perhaps this comes across in unspoken communication throughout your organization. Perhaps YOU even think this way but have a hard time admitting it because it sounds so ruthless… so insensitive… so careless. In the quiet corridors of our minds, most of us see the flaws in this way of thinking. Yet, we go throughout our daily routine, getting sucked into this vision of success that has been pounded into our corporate cultures… this idea that “business is business”… that the quickest way there is the best way. As a result of this “do or die” attitude, we never take the time to see the symptoms of our own condition. We recognize that there are some issues that need addressing – the same issues that our competitors deal with – and figure that it’s just a natural part of doing business. After all, high turnover, low morale, shoddy production, employee backbiting and disrespect are normal issues for a growing company, right?
Just like our desire to live the American Dream, we sit in our comfy cubicles and glass offices and find ourselves in a situation that we did not expect. We meant well, but we eventually come to terms with the reality that true success is still as far away as it ever was.
Hopefully, this doesn’t describe you. Perhaps you are more astute than the common professional, or maybe you’ve worked in the trenches and see the reality I’m describing. You may recognize that change is needed, but what?
A common theme among business analysts and authors is that many companies fail due to internal problems, not market changes or supply and demand, etc… They simply implode due to various factors that get out of control over time and lead to lost productivity, poor morale and inferior products and services. These kinds of problems are often highlighted when referring to the differences between two relatively similar companies where one is wildly successful and the other simply fades into the distance or crashes abruptly. After months of taking shortcuts, many companies find that all the capital, marketing and restructuring cannot save them. There is no shortcut to success.
What is needed is a core shift in the mentality behind what makes a company TRULY successful. This requires a drastic change toward more traditional values with the ability to integrate the necessary modern methodologies and tactics that are crucial to survive in a modern world and economy. A shift of this magnitude takes away the “business is business” excuse. It requires much higher levels of mutual respect among coworkers and associates. It allows producers to take pride in their work once again. When the final checklist of accomplishments is being reviewed at the quarterly board meeting, and the items in question are: Did we meet our clients expectations? Did we have positive growth? Did we focus on the right things? Are the employees satisfied and feeling a sense of contribution? Is our turnover lower?… the answer can become be a resounding “YES!”
Whether you are someone’s subordinate or in charge of the whole enchilada, the difference can be made starting today. The crux of the larger problem comes down to how you, and perhaps all the people in your organization, perceive your business… your paradigm. But what about this paradigm is so ineffective? I would imagine that your organization, like most others, puts the majority of its resources into things like: improving the bottom line, meeting deadlines. While these facets of business definitely have a place in reaching and sustaining success, they too often become the only facets that receive any attention. This is due in part to their instant measurability. You always know what your profit looks like. You can quickly determine if you are behind a deadline. We tend to think that what we can easily measure is all there is. And so our progress, success and even failure is measured by these important, but misplaced objectives. Meanwhile, other worthwhile objectives such as longevity, employee growth and client satisfaction get completely ignored. After all, if it can’t be measured and translated into instant profit for the shareholders, then it doesn’t serve a purpose.
This “I want it now!” perspective is common with many other things as well. Various industries and the general population ignore pressing issues of pollution and natural resources, enjoying what the earth has to offer today, without much concern for the future. Essentially, short term demand almost always dominates long term progress and sustainability. It’s a very selfish, impatient and shortsighted perspective.
Other more important factors such as people, culture, future and sustainability are overlooked because they aren’t tangible. They can’t be calculated. They don’t fit nicely on a graph or quarterly report. How do you quantify the quality or satisfaction of your people? How do you measure the nuance of a company culture? How do you determine what your future looks like or whether or not you are moving in a sustainable direction? You can’t really… which is why there will always be organizations whose focus is on nothing but the numbers. Bottom line? Numbers. Products? Numbers. Employees? Numbers. Layoffs? Numbers. Of course, you can do a slew of surveys, create review committees and hire analysts dedicated to the purpose of quantifying the intangible. However, this just feeds back into the bureaucratic measurability of what can be measured and understood. You’ll never have the full picture.
What is needed are people that can, or can be taught to, appreciate the human factors of an organization. People that are willing to take a chance on other people… by letting Bob off a bit early to go take care of his sick kids… by allowing the team to set their own goals, deadlines and expectations (I know. It sounds absolutely ludicrous to have a professional actually know what they are doing.)… in hopes that those people will enjoy their jobs more, feel respected, gain more personal balance and reward the whole of the company with their continued hard work, best efforts and hidden talents. Those with authority can exercise a bit less of it and focus on leadership. They can loosen the reigns a little and allow people to express their talents and interests. They can be willing to encourage an environment of trust, integrity, interpersonal influence and personal growth. People that can pioneer in this direction will be your indicators. They will have the pulse of the organization and will be your measurement. They will have the hunches from which effective decisions can be made.
The kind of choices necessary to successfully and effectively run a business require patience, contemplation and thought for the future impact those choices will have on the organization as a whole. How the business is run, how the projects are planned and how client expectations are set and managed come down to what the decision makers see as important. Long term, authentic, success in business comes down to a focus on priority.
What are your priorities and how do you think your focus affects your success?