3 Ways That Your Actions Today Will Shape Your Company's Legacy
Legacy isn't some far-off goal to achieve; you can cultivate your company's legacy starting right now.
When Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, spoke about the legacy he wanted to leave, he certainly didn’t follow the example of Steve Jobs.
In the authorized biography he penned, Walter Isaacson explained how Jobs, led by ego and ambition, set out to build a legacy that would leave people in awe. In contrast, Cook recently told the Bloomberg Global Forum in New York that what really mattered to him was that people remember him as "a good and decent man.”
Whether intentional or not, each of us is creating a legacy through the things we do and say each day. Legacy may seem like something that’s evaluated at the end of your life, but it’s actually created by our everyday behaviors and choices.
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In today’s incredibly fast-paced world, planning horizons that used to be three to five years have been condensed to months. Focusing on a legacy may feel like a luxury that leaders don’t have time for when they're so caught up in meeting shareholder demands. However,legacy isn’t about time so much as it is about action -- provided you don’t leave your values behind when you swipe the keycard at the office.
For the past two decades, I’ve played a fascinating “game” with leaders from around the world, in experiential leadership workshops. The instructions are simple: Win as much as possible.
In the heat of the game, participants freely reveal their motivations and values, justifying behaviors that go against most people’s sense of fair play. It’s just a game after all, and the goal is to win, right?
But during the debriefing that follows, we often challenge leaders about their definition of “winning,” and ultimately reveal the type of legacy they are creating for themselves and their organizations. I believe that most entrepreneurs genuinely want to create a legacy where everyone around them also wins -- employees, shareholders, customers -- everyone. And, fortunately, you can create a legacy where success is defined and measured by both performance and adherence to values.
At one of our clients, Knight Transportation, a core value is high expectations coupled with hard work. Because that value has been imprinted in the company's DNA through a number of systems, it is extremely pervasive, defining the characteristics of everyone in leadership. Consequently, teams have weekly meetings where instant coaching and performance feedback raise the bar high.
That kind of approach reveals the ultimate truth about legacy: Creating and sustaining a legacy means turning an organization's values into an operating system that guides the daily interactions of its entire workforce. Here are three ways to do that.
1. Create a filter for your values.
Ironically, the first two values of Enron -- a company vilified for fraud and crime -- were “respect and integrity.” What happened there happens to many entrepreneurs: Values become just words, not a way of operating. If you truly believe in your values, they should be a guiding light for daily conversations, assumptions about people and all decisions.
Several years ago, a client of mine hosted a weeklong leadership event. Some visiting executives arrived early, and an employee in sanitation paused while emptying a trash can in the lobby to warmly greet them, asking whether they were there for the workshop. When they said yes, she told them, “You’re going to have a wonderful time!” Later, those executives said that that single interaction profoundly shaped their impression of the client because it caused them to experience the client’s values.
Want your company to follow a similar path? Focus your thoughts and actions through the filter of your values. This concept alone has the potential to transform not only individuals, but also entire organizations and communities. Determine your values, and then ask yourself, “How might I, as a leader, model or hinder them?”
If you value trust, what do your team members need to feel trusted? Communication? Figure out what information would make people feel more involved. If you value engagement, create parameters to help employees maintain focus, then get out of their way and turn over the responsibility for a product or project to them. Explore each value from all sides and let it permeate everything.
2. Focus on outcomes.
This is a common “miss” for entrepreneurs. What made you successful initially (innovation, risk-taking, deep technical knowledge) may not translate into the skills you need to build an infrastructure to support your company.
A focus on tasks builds your reputation as a taskmaster and micromanager. In contrast, a habit of consistently and forcefully stating desired and actual outcomes can be extremely motivating for employees and is one of the most powerful, fundamental characteristics of great leaders.
In fact, a recent study by Larocque LLC and #HRWINS found that more than half of the employees surveyed believed that the biggest factors impacting feelings of engagement is meaningful, purposeful work -- outranking benefits, competitive pay and a clear career path.
To illustrate, here’s a classic fable: A man approaches three laborers breaking and shaping rocks. He asks the first laborer what he’s doing. “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m breaking rocks!” the laborer replies. The man asks the second laborer. He says he’s building a wall. The third laborer, asked the same question, however, responds, “I’m building a cathedral.”
Three men. Different perceptions of their relative worth: A job. A task. But, in the third man's case, a worthy calling, recognizing the big picture and how his individual role connects and adds value.
The lesson is that if you and your entire team can remain focused on the outcome, you’ll come closer to creating a legacy of success.
3. Know "WIIFM": What’s in it for me?
Awareness of what really matters is a powerful motivator that enables people to do the right thing while valuing others and considering long-term rewards. Establishing WIIFM helps people understand why they’re doing something. As a leader, do you consistently recognize what’s in it for your employees, or do you just communicate what needs to be done? If you clarify the WIIFMs -- not just the tasks -- everyone will work toward them.
Take another client of ours, Didion Milling. This 45-year-old family-owned agricultural processing business experienced a tragic mill explosion which claimed the lives of five team members and injured 11 others. Dealing with this loss and its long-term effects, including symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, brought uncertainty for the business.
Thankfully, the legacy Didion had already established shone through from the start: Employees, knowing exactly where their team members would be after the explosion, risked their lives to save them from the burning building. Because Didion’s values included caring for both its work family and the families of employees, the company continues to pay staff and provide benefits, despite significant disruptions in its production. Leaders are taking care of their employees until a new mill is built.
This is a worthwhile legacy, and one that values people as well as the long-term success of the company.
So, consider Didion's example: One day, you’ll leave a legacy of your own, whether you’re focusing on it today or not. Why not craft one where everybody wins?