Mediocrity or Greatness? That is the Question.
A clear vision and devotion to the people a business affects are the hallmarks of the best companies.
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Recently, I interviewed Randy Gage for an episode of Business Matters on C-Suite Radio. One of our topics was: What makes great companies? At the heart of great companies are great people. So, is it that simple? Just hire the best people and have the best company? Nope. I wish it was, but it isn't.
Before I talk about three basic qualities of great companies, let's look at the current business landscape. We are in a time of the greatest mediocrity in business – ever. In our zeal to increase productivity and efficiency, we have employed refined processes and technology to power every aspect of business. From the phone trees most companies have that infuriate EVERY CUSTOMER, to a highly structured but ineffective development process, to objectifying our customers and prospects as numbers rather than humans. Every place we touch people, we have accepted the belief that people are like machines. We can predict their behavior and use an automated process to have great relationships with them.
This is simply not true. No great company adheres to this belief. Acceptance of this belief has been intertwined with a common assumption that business success comes from squeezing "unnecessary cost" from all levels of the organization, including those that are customer facing. The result may be increased short-term profits, but in the long run, this falls apart because we can't cost cut our way to success.
Related: How to Make a Personal Connection with Customers
Don't despair. This trend bodes well for someone who is ready to build a great company.
In whatever industry you choose, if you can create amazing experiences with your whole network of people your business connects with, you will build a great company that delivers exceptional financial returns.
Now to the three basic principles of great companies.
The first is to have, at the core of the business, an absolutely clear picture of why the business exists. This has to reflect who you are! If you fudge this to make it sound right for others, or you morph it because you're afraid, it sounds too big. You're in trouble.
Your vision and mission have to be understood by everyone in your universe without elaborate explanation. Employees, suppliers, customers and investors all have to read it and instantly say, "I get it." If what you say and write produces anything less than that, you are not going to have a great company.
A few examples of this type of clarity start with Google. Google's mission is short and sweet: to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. Patagonia's reason for being is to "Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis."
Related: How to Sell Your Startup's Long-Term Vision
Now that you have everyone inspired and on the same page, translate this clear vision into an uncompromised customer experience. You must hold the standard for excellence. Having run many technology companies over the years, I know how difficult it is to not compromise when people smarter than you say something isn't possible. In your gut, you know that this compromise will take the company, proverbially, into the weeds.
You look back later and smack your head with disbelief that you accepted this compromise and regret the consequence it has on your business. I think we are afraid that if we don't compromise, we will be viewed as a dictatorial leader. No compromises means you never move away from why you're in business. Sure, you may compromise on how you do something, but never, ever compromise on your purpose.
Related: Attention Entrepreneurs: Compromise, But Never Compromise Your Standards
Finally, the third key to greatness is continuous learning. One of the consequences of a world that changes rapidly is that the expectations of everyone who is a part of our business world change often -- sometimes daily. How could you possibly dance with this type of situation?
You must first commit yourself to a daily practice of learning. This means that you engage everything with the intention of finding what you can learn from every interaction. This behavior will inspire those around you to follow suit.
Next, look at the places where change begins. If it's in hard science, it's in university labs. If it's in the social sciences, it's in the movies. For the economy, there are those who have predicted every down swing in 30 years. The future is all around us. We just have to know where to look.
With these insights, we determine what changes are required in how we work, what we offer and the skills we need. Then, we aggressively implement these changes, even in the best of times. For what better time to change than when you can best afford it?
Now it's up to you. Do you want to be the leader of a great or mediocre company? That is the question!
Related: How Making Employees Lifelong Learners Can Help Your Company Succeed