From time-to-time it seems we do well to get back to some fundamentals when it comes to our businesses. Many in my network seem to be doing that these days, forced to do so by the economy. The question, popularized by many of the “management gurus” is, “If I were starting this business today, (a) would I? and if so (b) what would it look like?” This is not an easy question to answer, as so many of you know!
Starting a business is one thing. Trying to turn the ship of state around and head it in a new direction is something else. Here are some thoughts that you can pick apart to apply them, hopefully, to your situation.
Have a great idea for a “new” product or service, or maybe a really neat innovation on an already existing product or service? That’s fantastic! That’s what our country is built on – innovation, improvement, change, moving forward. First, you might want to take that idea and “flesh it out a bit” to make sure it’s practical. Can it be built or delivered in a manner that will make it profitable.
Next, do exhaustive market studies. You can get some help on this and it isn’t always that expensive. I work with several of the universities in my area providing mentoring for the MBA and Entrepreneurship students. Most of the universities have programs where for a nominal fee, a business can hire a group of students to put together a marketing plan or even a full up business plan. The hidden superb value in these efforts is the research that gets done to produce them.
This part of due diligence is where many entrepreneurs fail. They love their idea and they cannot conceive of why the whole world wouldn’t also love it. “Build it and they will come,” is their mantra. WRONG! And while we know that intellectually, our emotional side wants to continue on down the path, convinced that everyone will love our idea. Tell me again why so many start-ups fail in the first five years? Could it be that their product or service wasn’t really needed/wanted? Hummmm.
Next on the list after REAL DATA tell us that the product is viable, is to think about the way in which you will assemble the organization. If you are planning on being a sole-provider (consultant, professional service provider) then you can very likely get started. You may not want to skip this step, because in the dark hours when you are wondering why you aren’t still in that cushy W2 job, you will want to look back at what the Fundamental Organizing Principles (FOPs) for your venture were back when you were so enthusiastic.
This is hard work, especially if you intend to build a reasonably big organization, say more than 40 people eventually. The bigger you envision your organization, the more critical it is for you to do the hard work of deciding what the FOPs (core values, company values, etc.). The reason this is hard is because you are laying down the “talk” that you will have to “walk.” Suppose your thought process takes you down the road that you believe the only reason for a business to exist is to serve customers – to solve their problem/need/want in an elegant and cost effective way. Of course, you also want to earn a living and make sure that those who you employ also enjoy a decent living. Starting with the customer then, you would perhaps say that one of the FOPs is “Customers First.” Without customers you don’t have any business. To take care of those customers, you must have employees that understand the balance between putting customers first and also making sure that the company survives too. Having the customer’s best interest at heart doesn’t mean that you neglect your own best interest – it simply means you’re focused on the customer first. So a second FOP might be that “associates” will hold each other accountable for providing great customer experiences while treating each other with dignity and respect in a safe environment focused on continuous improvement.
You get the point. This FOP establishment must be done honestly, from the heart and from the intellect both. If you truly believe that the only reason to be in business is to make yourself rich, then you will definitely build that kind of organization regardless of the other nice (manipulative!) words you use. Further, you will hire people who will not act the way you want unless you are brutally honest that the whole purpose is to make yourself rich, and maybe them along the way. On the other hand, if you honestly believe in building a company that is based on providing a valuable product or service while at the same time making a decent living for everyone involved, then you will attract that kind of person. That is you will, IF you can authentically state what your company’s FOPs are and the prospective employee/associate believes that you are, in fact, being authentic.
Once you have established the FOPs for your organization, know how to authentically present them to the world, you will be amazed at how the values, beliefs, actions and results will follow. You will also be amazed at how those FOPs will help you through the inevitable hard times. All of this may sound pretty “soft” to you. Yet, I would offer the challenge of doing the research to see how companies “make it” these days. Edwards Life Sciences, Google, Facebook, IBM, Keurig, you name your favorite company. They undoubtedly have an intentional culture based on whatever they call FOPs. And then think about the company you like to “hate.” You have at least one, I’m sure. That company “doesn’t get it.” And the “it” they don’t get is what? Likely it is that they don’t understand (your view of) customer service. They are inwardly focused. It’s all about them and they only care about YOU if it’s in their best interest to care about you. Otherwise . . . .
In this economy, which I believe is going to be with us for quite a while, many business leaders are asking a fundamental question, “If I weren’t in this business now, would I start it? What would it look like?” And then they start the hard process of turning the company around. To me, that is very much like starting the company over in a lot of ways. Many of the same steps apply. That “turnaround” will likely include changing the culture and that is really going to be a challenge! Don’t miss any of the steps, make sure you go back to the basic FOPs that got you started in the first place.