Here is one of my favourite allegories, often quoted in corporate storytelling, and for a good reason. It’s powerful!
A man came upon a construction site where three people were working. He asked the first, “What are you doing?” and the man replied: “I am laying bricks.” He asked the second, “What are you doing?” and the man replied: “I am building a wall.” As he approached the third, he heard him humming a tune as he worked, and asked, “What are you doing?” The man stood, looked up at the sky, and smiled, “I am building a cathedral!”
JFK asked the same question of a janitor at NASA and got this answer: “I am helping to put a man on the moon!” As Chief Inspirator of InnoFuture I have been privileged to work closely with and interview leaders in some of the most successful global companies, including IDEO, Whirlpool and Fonterra. These businesses may be worlds-apart in terms of geography, cultures, and industries they are in. Yet their leaders have one thing in common. They pay attention to “the process”.
The ‘process’ I am referring to is a Blueprint for Competitive Strategy that is responsible for their ‘overnight’, repeat business success. OK, so there is no such thing as a free lunch or an ‘overnight success’ in business, although there is plenty of evidence of ‘overnight’ failure. And, the key reason why 75% of business strategies and change management projects fail is that they lack clear, inspiring goals for a rewarding, long-term business journey.
Do you like to travel? So, you know that any great journey begins with a clear Destination! Setting a business destination is the sole responsibility of a Leader. It is not a committee decision. Peter Drucker, one of the greatest management gurus of all times wrote: “It is the definition of a manager that in what he does he takes responsibility for the whole – that, in cutting stone, he ‘builds the cathedral’”.
The biggest challenge for Leaders, even if they have great, visionary goals is to “sell” the destination tickets to others – those above and below – and ensure that people come willingly, with commitment and enthusiasm to help reach the goal rather than having to be carried along. This is particularly important for SME Leaders and Managers responsible for specific outcomes, i.e. lean, change or innovation.
Now, imagine the nearly impossible task of motivating people to achieve productivity, profitability and growth when they don’t actually know where they are going or why they need to do things certain way! Your budgetary goals may be the stick but what is your carrot? The sharper and better communicated is the Leader’s picture of the common future to the entire organisation – the faster and more effective the ‘overnight’ success will be.
So, what is a Blueprint for ‘overnight’ business success?
Today, in the increasingly complex world which is seemingly running on steroids, competitive strategy is no longer about a laborious document and countless rules. It is about a broad direction and a simple decision-making system that gives people ownership and freedom within Framework to want to make the organisation succeed and be part of a Culture that builds cathedrals.
Based on years of research and the insights from successful leaders, like those mentioned above, a Blueprint for ‘overnight’ business success is about FIVE Conditions.
- Direction. Destination: Success! I’ll have a ticket too, thanks. To provide a clear, inspiring direction Leaders need to personally invest time in understanding the big picture, the destination, they want to achieve and the unique processes that make the business successful and will allow it to reach the destination. This investment will enable the Leader to communicate with more clarity and demand the same of others.
- Design. Successful, long lasting businesses are guided by a Competitive Activity System designed with beautiful simplicity which underpins all great design. This system provides every employee with flexible but strategic guidelines they can apply in daily decisions to get important things done not only better and faster but also with clear focus on continuous improvement and market-driven innovation. We call it Non-Negotiable Principles.
- Leadership Communication! Communication is everything! It’s what makes or breaks business and ideas. For me, it’s about the continuous “3i” pattern: Inform, Inspire, Involve. The test of true Leadership is in being able to create ‘evangelists’ of your message. Driving the message personally and being seen in the centre of a ‘learning organisation’, enables the Leader to imbed a desired business CULTURE, that compels shared aspirational behaviours, with a compass always pointing to ‘true north’ [Leader’s Vision].
- Patience! Getting a few new customers in the first month is fantastic. But keep the eyes on the big prize.
- Passion! When you know you are creating something great, and aiming for excellence in what you do, it’s easier to get others to aim for it too and to attract loyal customers. Passion is contagious.
Remember! The implementation of your Blueprint starts as soon as you FEEL that you can authentically ‘inform’ your team about the exciting destination. You can work out your details with the help of a more committed team.
The Blueprint for ‘overnight’ business success is NOT about change management. It is about building visionary leadership that fosters a team spirit and a culture of a productive, learning and value-creating organisation.
Margaret Manson is the Founder and Chief Inspirator of InnoFuture. She helps Managers overcome the most pressing strategic challenges as they grow, so that they can reach their growth goals and become industry leaders.
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