Profit and Revenue are Lousy Core Values

Profit and Revenue are Lousy Core Values

As I mentioned last week, I am down with COVID and tired, so spending more time reading rather than working. I read Bill Browder’s Freezing Order this weekend, and I highly recommend it. However, at the end of the book, Browder says that oligarchs, autocrats, and leaders like Mohammed bin Salman are enabled by the professional service providers that help them. As I reflected on this and Browder’s allegations in his book against John Moscow et al., I had to think, why do these lawyers, bankers, accountants, etc., work for these characters? They know the abuses that their clients commit but are willing to overlook them because their clients pay enormous sums. We saw what Paul Manafort earned helping Russia in Ukraine and Jared Kushner’s recent investment from MBS, so money is the driver. However, money is a lousy core value.

Now don’t get me wrong, I would like to earn a lot of money, but I am not willing to sacrifice my core values. If money, or some proxy like revenue or profit, is your core value, you can have no other core values. Money as the core value overrides any additional core values you may claim and justifies any behavior because the behavior is driving money.

Issues with Money as a Value

So if money is the core value, then the firm attracts those who believe in money as a core value; however, that can cause other issues. For example:

  • Loyalty to the firm. If money is the core value, there is no loyalty to the firm as they will move for more money as that is their value. Also, they will do things that can hurt the firm if it brings in more revenue. Here are some examples: Arthur Andersen and Enron, Perdue Pharma and the opioid crises, Boeing 737 Max, and McKinsey’s recent scandals.
  • Loyalty to clients. Again there can be no objection to doing something that harms a client if it makes the firm more money as that is the driver. Bill Browder’s book gave a classic example of this with the behavior of John Moscow and Baker & Hostetler. If my research backs up Browder’s claims, I would never recommend Baker & Hostetler to anyone I know and any attorney there is a damaged product in my book.
  • Loyalty to colleagues. There is none because making money is all-important, so why sacrifice money to help a colleague?

Now, the scandals above made many a lot of money. If money is your driver, then great. But your legacy is what you did for others, and that is how you are remembered once you’re dead. I would not want people to say, “He was responsible for the death and damage of many.” If that is how you are remembered, many will revile you in time, and your family may start to distance themselves from you. I ran into a high school friend several years ago and mentioned I had met her father after his release from prison. She was so embarrassed she walked away and never spoke to me again. So sad.

As I reflect on all the people I have met in my career, I would say that lawyers are the most unhappy and wish to be doing something else. Now that is not all lawyers, just more lawyers than others. I think that is because many law firms have no culture and will act for any paying client. If your client is against your values, you have sacrificed them for money, which leads to unhappiness because, as we have all heard, “Money doesn’t buy happiness.”

Many of the people involved in the above are on the redemption trail, e.g., Andy Fastow from Enron. But, when you look at him speaking and think of how many people’s lives he knowingly damaged, I have to ask, does going on the speaking circuit redeem him? To me, No.

Culture is Critical.

As discussed earlier, Boeing sacrificed decades of industry safety leadership for profit. The Tory party, today, is sacrificing all its value for power. Once you go down that road, your reputation takes a very long time to return and often more than a lifetime. So it is critical to define your core values. I recommend that you determine your core values and define the expected corporate behaviors that your values prescribe. Then stick to them above all else. As Jim Collins said, “You would sacrifice profit rather than your core values.” Also, when hiring, look at where a candidate has come from, and that firm reflects your core values. It is easier to teach a skill than new values.

As you reflect on decisions, always think of your “elder” self looking back at the end of life and ask, is that how I want to be remembered?

(c) Copyright 2022, Marc A. Borrelli

 

 

 

 

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Core Values are Critical

I am currently sick with COVID, so, killing time yesterday, I watched Downfall: The Case Against Boeing about Boeing’s issues with the 737 Max and how the focus and financial results versus anything else led to the problems with the plane. The company focused on production, and so it scrificed safety to meet financial performance. One of the documents in the documentary was a little like Ford’s one with the Pinto. They knew there was an issue but calculated that the odds of people dying were so small that they could figure a solution in the meantime. So over 300 people lost their lives. When the Lion Air accident occurred, Boeing blamed the pilots for not being correctly trained on a system it had not disclosed. When the Ethiopian crash occurred, the pilots had done everything Boeing recommended, and it still blamed them and their training. As a result of the Max crashes, Boeing’s reputation for safety and engineering excellence has been tarnished and will take many years to reclaim.

Whether or not, as the documentary claimed, the move of company headquarters from Seattle to Chicago to separate the engineers from the executives is true, the company sacrificed its core values of safety and engineering for a higher share price. The memos reveal the company’s effort to hide the MCAS system from pilots and regulators, so more certification by pilots would not be required. The company seems to have come a long way from Tex Johnson’s barrel roll of the 707 prototype over Lake Washington in August 1955. during the Gold Cup hydro races, where a crowd of 250,000, including airline executives from around the world, were attending. That sold the aircraft!

The company’s focus on financial performance and share price enabled the price to rise into the $300-$400 range; however, the Max took it below $100, and its performance over the last five years is a loss of 4%. Over the same period, Boeing’s most significant competitor Airbus has seen its share prices increase by 34%. Sacrificing your core values for profit is never the solution, and profit results from your core values, not the driver!

Furthermore, in speaking with an FAA-certified engineer, he said the Max had damaged the FAA’s reputation worldwide. Where once, if the FAA said something was good enough, other countries would follow along, no more.

Finally, one more sad indictment of current U.S. public corporations was when Dennis Muilenburg resigned as the CEO and board director after the two crashes of 737 MAX aircraft and the loss of 300+ people; he received $62.2m in stock and pension awards. But as we repeatedly see, if you are the CEO of a public corporation, accountability is different. You may be fired, but you will get paid very well, unlike anyone else.

(c) Copyright 2022, Marc A. Borrelli

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Five Ways to Attract Prospective Employees

Like many of my clients, if you are experiencing significant increases in business, you’re noticed that there is a War for Talent! That is not surprising. There are approximately 9.3MM job openings and 9.5MM unemployed, so demand is about equal to supply. So how do you find employees? Without getting into political arguments about the lack of employees, here are five ways to attract prospective employees better.

If we take the business model that I have outlined before, which I believe can be applied to many situations, e.g., Recruiting employees and the collapse of the Superleague. So, I will examine attracting employees through the lens of:

  • Value Creation
  • Core Customer
  • Brand Promise
  • Value Delivery

and the fifth item is “Spread the Word.” You don’t want to be the unknown greatest secret among employers!

Value Creation

Value Creation in hiring refers to Why Should I Work for You? 

The first part of this is the company’s mission, or as Patrick Lencioni puts it, “Why do you exist?” Articulating a reason for existing that will resonate with the prospect is critical. There is much research by McKinsey and others that shows that if the employee can identify with the organization’s mission, they are more likely to stay and be more productive. Thus, know your mission! It needs to be succinct and easy to understand. But the entire organization needs to know it and express it the same way so that the prospect believes that you believe in it.

Second, you need to explain why the prospect should work for you. Having asked many CEOs, the following hypothetical.

You are interviewing a candidate, and they are “It.” They are an “A” player, exactly what you need and want, and you about to offer them the opportunity. Still, before you do, you ask if they have any more questions. The candidate looks are you and asks, “Why should I work for you?”

To date, not a single CEO or business owner answers this question in a way that would attract the candidate. The most common answers I get are, “We are a great company,” “We offer employees great opportunities,” and “This is an exciting place to work.” If these are your answers as well, consider the following. Do you think when the candidate asks your competitors the same questions, the responses are:

  • “We are an awful company.”
  • “This is a dead-end job where employees’ careers go to die.”
  • “This company and position are boring beyond belief, and nothing ever changes. There is no excitement or challenge.”

Of course not! They provide the same answers as you.

What to do? Consider the question and have a response ready that is supported with details and stories.

  • If you are a great company, explain how in a way that resonates with the candidate.
  • If you offer opportunities, tell stories of how employees have had great opportunities at all levels and how they have progressed.
  • If you are an exciting place to work, show how and make sure the energy is reflected in your tone and attitude.

Being able to articulate this is more critical than many CEOs, and C-Level people realize. Prospective employees have many options. If you want “A” players to take your organization to the next level, you have to stand out from the rest and show them why you are the best choice. Being the “Tallest Pigmy” is not going to cut it.

Core Customer

As with Customers, we determine our Core Customers, so we know how to market and sell to them. With employees, we need to determine who is our “core employee.” As Jim Collins has often said, culture is more important than skills as the job will change, but having people with the same values is critical! Also, you can teach skills much easier than you can teach culture. Hire for core values! Ensure that all the people involved in the hiring decision can determine that the prospect has the correct values. Finally, if you hire them, ensure that your onboarding process makes those values a habit!

Because Core Values are critical, companies that permanently rely on temp agencies are making a mistake. Temp agencies provide you with someone who can fog a mirror and do the job, but there is no test for culture. So, they don’t last, and if you have to get a new temp in who needs training. The cost is high, and productivity is low. Finally, the temp agency is competing against you. If they have another client who will pay the employee more, your temp employee is gone. While temp agencies may solve a short-term problem, they are not the solution many think they are.

Brand Promise

As with customers, you have a brand promise to convert prospects into customers; what is your promise to your employees. What are you offering them other than a salary? A CEO once told me that he couldn’t keep employees, but when we discussed it, the only thing he could say that he offered was a salary, which was in line with the market. No wonder none of his employees stayed. What you offer is not just a salary, but you need to consider things like:

  • Benefits;
  • Career advancement and development;
  • Further education and training;
  • Other opportunities; and
  • Feeling part of something bigger.

It reminds me of Cameron Herold, who, on the first-day offer that an employee joined the firm, used to celebrate to welcome them to the company. At this party, the new employee had to prepare their bucket list. The company used to commit to helping them realize an item on it during their first year. Helping didn’t mean paying for it but instead finding a way to work with the employee to realize it. Doing this gained a tremendous amount of company loyalty.

More recently, a client was telling that her daughter had just joined a new company during COVID. A few days after accepting the offer, her daughter received a laptop and a large computer monitor to help her work. The daughter was so excited about the monitor. She felt that the company cared about her and her performance, increasing her loyalty to the new employer.

Value Delivery.

How do you measure value delivery with customers? NPS scores. Well, do you get NPS scores from your employees or get them to complete Gallup’s Q12 Employee Engagement Survey? I do these for my clients. Doing these things will enable you to understand if you deliver on your promise and show that your employees are engaged. You can use this as recruiting materials. (If you are interested in having an NPS and Gallup Employee Surveys done, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.)

Get employee testimonials from employees at all levels. The strongest recommendation you can have is from your employees in their own words. Get them on video so that prospects can see how strongly your employees feel about the company and how you deliver your brand promise to them.

Spread the Word

Finally, most companies have no information on their website about any of these things. At best, a few websites ask you to submit a resume without even listing any jobs. Why would an “A” player do that? If this is the best you offer, you are not attracting them. Your website needs a section in the top menu for employment opportunities. It needs to tell prospects:

So, attract them.

While the above is not a guarantee to fill your empty positions, it will help great employees find you and be interested in working for you. If someone applies and appears to be a great candidate, but you have no role for them, find a place for them or keep them in a talent file for when a need arises. As with selling, if you don’t get the message out that you have a great product, meet your brand promise and have the data to prove it, you need to do this with hiring. Failure to do so will limit your success. Just because you are a company, realize you are now fighting for employees, and you need to work harder!

 

Copyright (c) 2021, Marc A. Borrelli

 

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For those of you who are not aware of EOS, it is the Entrepreneurial Operating System. It seeks to improve businesses by getting six components aligned to enhance business operations. The six are:

  • the vision
  • the people
  • the issues
  • traction – meetings and goals (“Rocks”)
  • the processes; and
  • the data

I am a supporter of EOS in that I believe all companies should have some system to improve their performance. However, as I have worked with clients who have implemented EOS, I found that it is just that, an Operating System and not a business model that enables the organization to grow!

As defined by Wikipedia, an Operating System is “the software that supports a computer’s basic functions, such as scheduling tasks, executing applications, and controlling peripherals.” So for a business, I defined it as “a model that supports the company’s primary functions, such as identifying a vision, getting the right people in the organization, improving meetings, defining goals (rocks), etc.” At the risk of upsetting EOS Implementers®, I think EOS satisfies these metrics to a varying degree, but in most cases, doesn’t enable the company to build a growth engine.

Here is what I believe is missing to develop a growth model.

The Hedgehog Concept

In Good to Great, Jim Collins talked about the Hedgehog Concept named after Isaiah Berlin’s essay, “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” which divided the world into hedgehogs and foxes. The theme is based upon an ancient Greek parable where “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Collins found that those companies who became great followed the Hedgehog Concept. Those companies which didn’t tend to be foxes never gaining the clarifying advantage of a Hedgehog Concept, being instead scattered, diffused, and inconsistent. 

The Hedgehog Concept is based on the questions prompted by the three confluence of questions. 

  • What can you be the best in the world at?
  • What are you deeply passionate about?
  • What drives your economic engine?

The EOS Model® doesn’t focus on the hedgehog concept, and so many companies using EOS have goals and strategies based on bravado than from understanding.

Knowing your hedgehog concept will keep the organization focused on something that aligns its passion with what it can be the best at. Being good at something means you are only good and indistinguishable from many others. If you are the best at something, then you stand above the crowd. Finally, the economic engine keeps the company focused on a metric that drives profit.

Vision

While the EOS Method® works to develop a ten-year goal, I find that is not as compelling as Jim Collins’ BHAG. A BHAG, Big Hairy Audacious Goal, is a clear and persuasive statement and serves as a unifying focal point of effort with a defined finish line. It engages people, is tangible, energizing, highly focused, and often creates immense team effort. People “get it” right away; it takes little or no explanation. 

A visionary BHAG is a 10-25 year compelling goal that stretches your company to achieve greatness. It should be a huge, daunting task, like climbing going to the moon, which at first glance, no one in the company knows how on earth you will achieve.

As Collins’s noted, the best BHAGs require both “building for the long term and exuding a relentless sense of urgency: What do we need to do today, with monomaniacal focus, and tomorrow, and the next day, to defy the probabilities and ultimately achieve our BHAG?”

Profit/X = Economic Engine

The BHAG’s economic engine is the concept of Profit/X. In Good to Great, Jim Collins defines this strategic metric as “One and only one ratio to systematically increase over time, what x would have the greatest and most sustainable impact on your economic engine?” Unfortunately, too many companies don’t have an economic engine, so they fail to deliver hoped-for profits. This metric is not easily identified; however, Collins noticed that the companies that took the time to discuss, debate, and agree on one key driver for their economic engine are the ones that went from good to great.

Profit/X how you choose to make money; it is a strategic metric, not an operational one. This ratio is a key driver in your financial engine and when you make decisions about how to spend money. When developing your Profit/X, you need to have that is unique and not the industry average because if you choose the latter, then everyone will be pricing and driving costs the same way to maximize it. Like the BHAG, a correctly defined Profit/X will promote teamwork as everyone can focus on their role to drive the metric, from how many people to hire, where to open new operations, etc.

Here are some examples of Profit/X.

  • Profit/customer experience or customer visit
  • Profit/customer
  • Profit/employee
  • Profit/location
  • Profit/geographic region
  • Profit/part manufactured
  • Profit/division
  • Profit/sale
  • Profit/brand
  • Profit/local population
  • Profit/invoice
  • Profit/market segment
  • Profit/store
  • Profit/plant
  • Profit/purchase
  • Profit/square foot
  • Profit/fixed cost
  • Profit/recurring revenue client
  • Profit/seat
  • Profit/plane
  • Profit/product line
  • Profit/life of the customer

To frame this in a real-life context.

Southwest Airlines: Profit per plane

Walgreens: Profit/Customer Visit

New System Laundry: Profit/Delivery Truck Load

I think the EOS Method® ignores the following areas, but to me, they are part of the Hedgehog Concept. If you are doing something with clarity and focus, you need to have clarity and focus on these areas.

Value Creation

It is said, “A Business That Doesn’t Create Value for Others is a Hobby,” so what value does your organization create? Value creation is part of what you can be the best at. However, organizations need to know, “What is the problem they are seeking to solve for their customers.” Christian Claytonson defined this as “What is the job your customer is hiring you or your products to do?” Too many organizations define the job to be done as what they do, e.g., “We integrate your systems.” While that is what they do, that is not the job they are hired to do. The job they are hired to do may depend on the client but could be, “Provide information from across the organization to make better-informed decisions.” Knowing the job to be done enables your marketing and sales efforts to focus on the customers’ needs rather than on what you do. No one cares about what you do; they care if you can solve their problem. I don’t see the EOS Model®’s focus on this crucial question, but it is central to a company’s growth.

Core Customer

Who is the company’s core customer? I have discussed this before, and many companies can identify their core customer. However, most haven’t analyzed their customers from the point of view of Profit/X. If Profit/X is the driving metric of the organization’s profitability, then failing to know which customers meet and exceed it is crucial in defining your Core Customer. There is little point focusing on a Core Customer that doesn’t meet your economic engine’s critical financial metric, hoping that somehow you will magically capture the lost profit elsewhere. Furthermore, if you don’t know your Core Customer, your marketing and sales activities will be directed towards the wrong groups, further weakening your performance. 

Brand Promise

What is your Brand Promise, and how is it measured? This question is one that the EOS Model® doesn’t address. However, it is crucial.

  • It is what convinces your targets to buy from you. 
  • It is what you stand for and promise to deliver. 
  • It is the metric against which you will be measured.

Some organizations do have a brand promise, but it is not measurable. In that case, it is “valueless” because if it is not measurable, no one knows if you are delivering it, and in that case, it has no value to prospects or clients.

Value Delivery

Value delivery is vital for knowing how customers value the performance of the organization. While the EOS Model® discusses many metrics, this one does not get enough focus. Companies need to understand if their customers are satisfied with their performance. Recently, I spoke with a CEO who said that 80%+ of their customers were “Very Satisfied.” However, on further investigation, I discovered:

  • It was just a guess as they didn’t measure it.
  • 7 – 10% of their customers had complained in writing about their product and delivery in the last year.
  • None of their clients had recommended them.

Here is wishing over reality. I would expect that the company had a “Very Satisfied” score of less than 25%, and they should be working hard to improve their delivery and start collecting customer satisfaction data.

Critical Number and Counter Critical Number

The EOS Model® deals with goals (Rocks) and meetings, and that is one area that I think it does very well. However, I notice that the Rocks are not aligned to improving a critical number for the quarter. The Rocks should seek to improve some Critical Number each quarter. Without a Critical Number, you are once more a Fox, not focused. Those that use Scrums know the importance of the Critical Number. 

Rocks are great, but they need to improve a single business area to have the most significant benefit. As the saying goes, “You cannot defeat ten soldiers by sending in one soldier every day for 100 days.” For example, if our Critical Number is Customer Service in a Call Center, then the Rocks could relate to:

  • Hold time
  • Time on the call
  • Customer satisfaction at the end of the call
  • Percentage of calls resolved in one call
  • Employee satisfaction.

The Counter Critical Number is essential to preventing the critical number from overwhelming the company and leading to adverse effects. For example, if our Critical Number is project completion, then a Counter Critical Number would be customer satisfaction. This metric would counter the attempt to deliver incomplete or defective products or projects.

Focusing on a Critical Number and Counter Critical Number for the 13-Week Sprint is essential to developing focus and alignment within the organization.

Team Alignment

The EOS Model® does a great job of looking at the “Right People” in the “Right Seats.” However, what it doesn’t look at are alignment among the leadership team and employees’ satisfaction. Is your leadership aligned around the company’s direction or not? Culture will bring them to agree on values, but not necessarily alignment.

Your employees may all have the correct values, which is crucial, but if they are not engaged or dissatisfied with the leadership, cultural values will not prevent them from leaving or, worse, showing up but not there. Companies need to survey their leadership teams for alignment and their employees for satisfaction to ensure everyone is working in the same direction and committed to its success.

Conclusion

Thus while I like the EOS Model®, I think it doesn’t deal with many of the key things involved in the Hedgehog Concept. This failure enables companies to perform but not grow at an optimum rate. I am not ignoring many of his other areas of focus in Good to Great; however, this refinement of the Hedgehog brings an additional guide that the EOS Model® doesn’t. 

The above model is most of Gravitas 7 Attributes of Agile Growth® model, and if you add in the rest, you have a model that will propel you to growth while keeping your operations running smoothly. The 7 Attributes of Agile Growth® focuses on:

  • Leadership
  • Strategy
  • Execution
  • Customer
  • Profit
  • Systems
  • Talent

making it a more encompassing system. If you want to start your transition to an agile growth company as a certified Gravitas Agile Growth coach, please contact me.

 

 

Copyright (c) 2021, Marc A. Borrelli

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What has COVID done to Company Culture?

The effect of COVID on company culture is an issue for all business leaders to consider seriously. I see the following areas for examination:

  • Have you lived your culture during COVID?
  • How are you maintaining your culture and connections in a WFH world?
  • How are you instilling your culture into new hires in a WFH environment?

Have you lived your culture during COVID?

COVID has forced many companies to pivot, cut costs, and adjust strategy. However, did the leader and management team live up to the company’s culture while executing these changes? As everyone’s cultural values are different behaviors to consider.

  • Did you check in with your employees regularly to see how they were coping?
  • Did you communicate effectively and often with your employees, so they knew what was happening?
  • When making changes, did you explain why and where the company’s new direction was aimed?
  • When terminating people, did you do it in person or by email?

The above is just a sample of behaviors that maybe didn’t live up to the company’s values. If you didn’t, then you need to work hard to fix it. As with any crisis like this, there are a few key steps:

  1. Get in front of it. It has happened, so it is hard to get in front of it. However, do an audit of behaviors and values during COVID. Identify the lapses and then plan accordingly. Don’t wait for the Zoom cooler talk to destroy any belief in the companies values.
  2. Admit It. Let your employees know you recognize that you didn’t live up to your values in the identified situations.
  3. Own It. Say it was the leadership’s fault. The buck stops with you, and that is why you get paid the big bucks! Deflecting the blame will only weaken a fragile state and create further disbelief in any values you may have.
  4. Correct it. Layout a plan to correct the behaviors from happening again and what steps the organization will take to reinforce its values in the future. This plan needs to have SMART metrics tied to it so that employees can see the progress being made and it not just more “CEO Bingo.”

Maintaining your culture and connections in a WFH world?

For many, the move to WFH has gone well overall. Productivity is generally up, and work is getting done. Many CEOs and business leaders are considering to what degree they can allow WFH going forward, permanently, one to five days a week, etc. However, one of the reasons that WFH has gone so well is that before COVID, we had strong relationships with our coworkers. We knew them, had worked with them, and most importantly, had built some degree of trust. But the longer we don’t connect with them, the weaker these bonds grow. While we are connecting with them over Zoom, Teams, Slack, or email, that is not the same as in person. If we lose the culture or connections, it weakens the ability of the company to respond to other threats, and people will leave for companies where they see better relationships.

The more time we are remote, the bonds between us grow weaker. Long distant relationships have a 58% chance of success, basically a coin toss. There are stronger connections in a romantic relationship than a work one, so the chances of a “long-distance” work relationship working are less than 50%. So leaders need to figure out how to maintain the connections and culture among employees as they go forward with a WFH policy. If employees are only going to be in the office rarely, the company needs to increase how it builds connections between employees and promotes its culture.

Regular gatherings of employees at events where they can strengthen their relationships will be essential. Getting them to share personal information to build stronger bonds will also be a crucial part of the effort. Doing this will differ among companies, but figure it out and ensure that the events have a clear purpose that everyone understands and get feedback on to know if you are achieving your goals.

Instilling your culture into new hires

New hires are posing the most difficult challenges for companies. Historically we know that 70+% of people regret making the job change on the first day. Now we are in a WFH environment where there are fewer personal connections. If we cannot build those connections and get them to buy into the culture, they will shortly leave, which is expensive for the organization and poses new problems when people are hard to find.

The leader and leadership team need to work with their HR departments to figure out how to effectively onboard new hires and simultaneously install the firm’s culture and develop personal connections among the teams. Achieving this won’t be easy, but the effort will pay huge dividends.

Why Does This Matter?

It doesn’t take much to destroy the employees’ belief in the company’s values and attribute them to just words on a wall. If this is where you are, the road back to get alignment around values will be hard. Without core values, nothing connects the employees to a common bond and purpose, so they are more likely to leave.

If your employees are not connected, they are less likely to have a good friend at work. Without a good friend in an environment where they spend a third of their time, there is less keeping them attached. With demand for employees increasing, and thus wages, they will be tempted to move if there is no downside to leaving the tribe.

Those organizations that live their culture and whose employees have strong bonds of trust will outperform those that don’t. The work to achieve this is not always easy but very beneficial.

 

Copyright (c) 2021, Marc Borrell

 

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I am a strong believer that company culture is critical in its success. It defines who you are, who you attract, and how you behave. As Jim Collins says, the most important thing is “Who is on the Bus.” However, when talking to many clients and business owners, I often hear that they have a “Family” culture within their organization. I am always perplexed by this answer, but it has become a red flag in my book about the possibility of the organization’s performance.

What Does Family Culture Mean?

Drilling down, it would appear that it means that the organization is nurturing like a family. Mentally they envision a Norman Rockwell painting of everyone happy and getting along. However, most family gatherings are not like that. Rather it starts that way and then someone says something that leads to the usual conflicts arising. I know families where they always invite guests to ensure everyone remains on good behavior.

When I hear family, the first thing I think of is “dysfunctional.” Now everyone is pointing out that only my family is dysfunctional; however, we all have thought our spouses/partners’ families were dysfunctional when we met them because they didn’t behave like ours. But it is not just behavior; there is true dysfunction. As a friend reminded me of at my wedding, at every wedding, there is the equivalent of the “Drunk Uncle.” Let’s consider some of the cast of characters that can appear.

  • The matriach/patriach. They rule. All allegiance is to them. They were paramount in the family’s success, so their “rules” are lived to even when no one can remember how or why the rule came into being. I have seen families lose fortunes following such directives because the world had changed, but all that remained was the rule and not the intent.
  • Favored child. There is always one. They often perform way below par and everyone else, but the parents continue to make excuses for them and support them. They are the ones who believe they are owed everything under their “favored” child status.
  • Second Class Child. The one that was ignored as all the attention got lavished on the favored child. They often work harder, produce more, and die for the family’s success; only they are never taken seriously. Often they become bitter and seek the destruction of all.
  • Drunk Uncle. We all know him/her. Embarrasses everyone, totally inappropriate, starts fights, resented by all, yet tolerated because they are family. However, everyone hopes they will not make the next event.
  • Bitter Sibling. Was overlooked in the succession plan, so bitter forever. Points out how the others received everything on a plate, but they received nothing. They ignore the fact that they have lived off the families’ wealth for the entire lives.
  • The Outcast. Unable to fit in went on their own. Has done well, but resented because they had the strength to walk away and is enjoying life.

If we have a “Family” Culture, then we probably have some of these in the organization.

What is the Problem?

Employees leave organizations because they lose respect for their supervisors.  Why? Their supervisor tolerates “B and C” performers. “A” players want to be surrounded by other “A” players. In a high-performing company, if you don’t meet expectations, you are fired. There is no job security other than through performance.

However, we never fire relatives; we can’t. You are always my father, mother, son, daughter, etc. Thus, claiming a family culture, by definition, requires that you will tolerate poor performance. Knowing that there are “B” players on the team who are never going to leave because of the “family” culture will just driveway more “A” players. This is a negative reinforcement cycle that leads you into a future of mediocre performance as an organization.

My father gave shares in his company to his parents and siblings. When my aunt married someone who didn’t reflect my father’s values, she demanded that my father give him a job in the company as she was a shareholder and it was a “family” business. My father fired all his family members and reminded them that he had them sign undated sale agreements back to him when he gave them their shares. He dated them all and became the sole owner. From then on, he would only hire those that could perform.

So What to Do?

If one looks at successful family businesses, I see that they don’t claim a family culture. They emphasize those family values that they care about. They can say that their values are “nurturing and developing” e.g. they are a “pool” company. Or they can say that they train and develop their people to go on to better things, e.g. a “stream” company. In my father’s case, one of his values was caring. When one of his accounting staff’s husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer he sent her home on full pay until the husband had died. He made sure that the bonuses and gifts he gave made it to the employees’ families. When my father died, over three hundred Africans came from the townships in South Africa to pay their respects at his funeral.

Further, I have noticed that high performing family businesses often have rules, like those below, when a family member wants to join the family business they must:

  • Have worked elsewhere before joining.
  • Apply for an open position
  • Have the requisite experience and qualifications,
  • Be interviewed and selected by non-family members.
  • Report to non-family members and stepping over the chain of command to family members higher up can be a termination event.
  • Realize they will be fired for nonperformance. If they are, they are still in the “family,” just not in the company.

So if you want a culture of performance, don’t say you have a family culture. Focus on what part of the “family” culture you want to emphasize and say that.

Copyright (c) 2021, Marc A Borrelli

 

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