How businesses can find their reason for being
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By Ian Fuhr
From Simon Sinek’s book “Golden Circle”, I learned that most entrepreneurs and business leaders know what they must do in their businesses. They also generally know how to do what they do. The problem is that they don’t always know why they do what they do. In fact, many business owners will tell you that they went into business to make money. This is fundamentally wrong on every level.
You should never go into business with the sole purpose of making money. Money is always the reward for good service. It can never be the purpose. Your purpose, or what I prefer to call your reason for being, must always and only be about the customer and how you are going to meet and exceed their expectations.
Imagine an elevator with two directional buttons. One is marked “up” and the other is marked “down”. For a business without a good reason for being, you could insert a third button that points sideways and is marked “going nowhere”.
At the root of every culture must lie a crystal clear reason for being that is a simple, yet powerful, message to the entire organisation as to why your business exists. It should be the beacon that guides the business and must form the basis of the alignment of all its people. Importantly, you should have your reason for being in place right from the very beginning.
Too many start-ups only discover the importance of a clear purpose a few years down the line, when they realise there is no alignment or common purpose in their businesses. They are so busy trying to establish their “proof of concept”, that when things start to happen, they frantically employ new people and ignore the vital fundamentals of culture.
While it’s never too late to communicate your reason for being, it becomes much harder to do so when you are already well into your journey. Businesses at this stage find themselves shifting deeply ingrained and diverse paradigms that have emerged from a directionless culture that has absolutely no sense of purpose.
The importance of core values
According to the Oxford Dictionary, values are “principles or standards of behaviour; or one’s judgement of what is important in life”.
You need to develop a set of core values, preferably with the support of your staff, that will be used to guide your business in its quest to achieve its reason for being. Thereafter, you and everyone else must live by these values and use them in everyday deliberations and decision making.
Living your core values is a lot more difficult than it may seem on the surface. It’s surprising how often we are faced with decisions in business that will challenge our values right to the core. Sometimes I think that’s why they are called core values, because we have to step back and ask ourselves what we really stand for.
The real challenge in living your core values lies in the battle between two key principles: short-term financial gain versus long-term sustainable success.
Sometimes we are faced with decisions that can be easily solved in the short term by defying our core values and chasing the money. But this kind of short-term thinking often has a negative effect on the long-term prosperity and sustainability of the business.
Let’s take the example of a factory that delivers a slightly flawed product, even though one of the business’s core values is “zero-defect manufacturing”. Here’s the dilemma: A flaw has been discovered, but if the product is remade, the customer’s deadline will be missed, and the company won’t be paid. So the potential loss of money in the short term causes the leadership team to ignore one of their core values and to hope that the flaw will go undetected.
But what are the long-term consequences of that decision? The core value is effectively useless. Leadership has told the world (and more importantly, its employees) that it’s okay to not live the company values if it’s going to cost the business money. At this point, pulling Our Values off the wall and throwing them into the toilet, would be of more value to the business, because at least then there would be no shame in delivering inferior products. In time, however, you will develop a reputation for below standard quality, you will start losing customers and the business will end up on a slippery slope.
The lesson here is to live your values and be willing to take the financial pain in the short term while delivering obsessive customer service and building a successful and sustainable business in the long run. This isn’t always easy. In fact, it can be very difficult. A strong “Cultureneering“ framework will carry you through these tough decisions, however, and your business will ultimately reap the rewards of holding steadfast to your core values.
The purpose of work
As is the case for many entrepreneurs and business leaders, most employees also believe that the purpose of work is to make money. For many, the sole purpose of getting a job is to earn a salary and we wonder why these people are not motivated to go out of their way to serve customers. Why would they be motivated? If someone can provide the absolute minimum amount of service and still get paid a salary at the end of the month, what in the world would move them to meet and exceed the expectations of their customers?
The true purpose of work is to serve the needs and wants of your customers and to support the company’s reason for being. Only when you have served, and served well, do you deserve to be paid for your service. Service should always come before reward. It should never be the other way around.
Ian Fuhr, is an author, a business man and the founder of Sorbet Group.
*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites.
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