One sad comment I hear over and over again from disappointed employees is “The company I work for is just bobbing along going nowhere”.
What a waste. That man or woman was once a child with stars in his eyes and dreams of all the wonderful things he would be a part of achieving. It’s also a crying shame for the company. The most common question I receive from CEOs is: “Why am I not seeing people’s potential? They are not thinking for themselves and turn to me to solve even simple problems.”
I had a fascinating conversation with two businessmen today. They were quite cheeky- though maybe that was me too! One was a salesman. He was passionate about the construction products he sold- an impressive range from bicycle stands to car park bollards, yet he admitted sales were tough at the moment. He believed that was just what to expect in this tough economy.
Yesterday I met a Managing Director whose company grew at 1% last year. Like most companies today, she thinks that that is all she can expect “in this economy.” Yet she asked “Some companies are growing far faster than that- how do they do it?”
I call them the “one percent”. There are businesses out there growing between 15% and 800% pa! We have studied them for the last 20 years. There are good reasons why they are so successful. They behave VERY differently from most companies
Which businesses are growing that fast?
Bybox, distributors of stock to sales staff and engineers, is one of the fastest growing companies in the UK and Europe.
PhotonStar, suppliers of little LED lights to supermarkets and hotels, is winning business off the major lighting suppliers.
Slingshot is in the incredibly competitive SEO market, yet grew by over 3000% in the past 3 years!
I could give you many more examples….. in addition to the big names you already know, such as Apple, Google and Facebook.
So what transforms failure into superb success?
These incredible businesses are ALL doing certain things in the same way.
A dream that unites
I have worked for some of the largest companies in the world. At leadership level, if one Director is pulling in the direction the company says it wants to be going, you are doing well. The others usually pull in different directions. No one seems to think it is a problem. It is ridiculous. Would you try to paddle down a river with people pulling in different directions? Of course not.
One thing one percent companies do differently is that, from the leadership team downwards, their people are all headed in the same direction
Slingshot started out with very little money, and a dream. The power of that dream was so strong that they always talked about “when” not “if”. What is more, it drove them to focus, to unite, moving from being a “jack of all trades” to a company that literally makes its clients successful. Like a lighthouse amongst the fog of SEO suppliers.
Think of fast growth companies you know. Under Steve Jobs Apple’s dream was “to make a dent in the universe”. They united to become an unstoppable army.
Are your people pulling in the same direction? When will your business become unstoppable?
I have been lucky enough to work for some of the world’s largest companies. It always amazes me how senior management bemoan how their teams work separately, in silos, yet do not realise this problem comes directly from them.
It also concerns me that they do not do whatever it takes to stop the problem dead. They are literally giving away business.
Don’t throw away all your efforts
Here is an analogy I help with explain my thinking. I race sailing dinghies on Sundays. In a race, every mistake you make, however complex or basic, allows the competition to beat you. For instance, if the boat is heeling or if you do one bad tack (change of direction), other boats will very likely overtake you. All that effort for nothing….
It is the same in business. Your people are by far the biggest power you have. They must be aligned- like an army. Otherwise:
- They will pull in different directions. If any army does not pull as one force it will be beaten. It is the same in business.
- Different team do not work together – or even talk to each other much
- They feel disillusioned because a lot of their effort is wasted. Energy and productivity drop.
- You, the business leaders, find you have to spend a lot more time and effort to get anything done
- You need to employ more staff to get the same amount done. Your costs go up. The business is not nimble enough to take up so many opportunities. Customers see slower responses. Business gets harder
It is like trying to push water up hill.
Ensuring superb alignment across your people is essential to your business’ success. Silo thinking stops growth dead.
The mis alignment comes from the very top. I am always shocked to find on any leadership team that, while 1 person is headed in the direction the company says it wants to go, the rest of the team is usually pointed in different directions and often 2 people are pulling in exactly the opposite direction.
There are 3 reasons for this:
- Leadership teams try to agree where they are headed in terms of financial targets alone. Not only is money divisive, financial targets on their own are just not enough.
- Companies do not have a vision that really inspires every single person on the leadership team. If they have a Vision at all it sits in a document somewhere, is written in Management speak that no one is totally clear about and is pretty much forgotten before it has been finished. The one thing that aligns businesses powerfully is a joint dream about creating something incredibly exciting and impressively worthwhile. (See our article on How to smash staff performance levels).
- Senior Management teams do not take time to become truly aligned by discussing the elephants in the room. They assume they agree on important topics e.g. which markets, what makes the company really different/ better than its competition in the eyes of the customer, the core strategies to achieve the vision etc.
When will your business decide that silos must go?
What will you do to ensure this happens?
In most companies I get to know, their people pull in different directions. Its starts from the leadership team downwards. As a result MD’s ask me “Why are my staff not more committed? Why is productivity not higher?”
Businesses do not realize that THE no. 1 thing is to get everyone pulling in the same direction. An army that pulled in different directions would be massacred. It is exactly the same in business.
The answer is for the leadership team to create a Vision. Not the sort of Vision that many companies created- one that is a laser clear picture of where the company is headed and is THE most exciting thing they can imagine creating.
We are told that business should not be about emotion. That is rubbish. Until you engage peoples’ emotions to the point where they come to work because it is so worthwhile, your business is missing out.
A Better Tomorrow
The CEO of TOMS www.tomsshoes.co.uk, Blake Mycoaskie, decided to “start a shoe company that makes a new kind of alpargata (type of shoe.) For every pair I sell I’m going to give a pair of new shoes to a child in need.” He said “It’s about a promise- a better tomorrow….. TOMS was more than just a shoe. It was a story.” Alpargatas had been around for years. Yet shoe buyers, celebrities like Kiera Knightley and leading magazines, such as Vogue, were all inspired to promote and use them. In the company’s very first summer, they sold 10,000 pairs!
Achieving the Impossible
It is the same for larger companies. In 1995 Apple www.apple.com/ was finding it hard to compete against Microsoft. Do you remember? People thought they would always be a flea on the side of the immense Microsoft. Steve Jobs had a vision though: “I have a plan that could rescue Apple.” His vision was incredible- to transform the complex IT world into the “garden of easy”. As a result, for the first time ever, people can now enjoy all the information, films, music etc. easily, using their choice of beautiful equipment. They almost luxuriate in the experience.
The vision was so inspirational that everyone in Apple is proud to be part of something so good. They are helping to create a better tomorrow. Growing revenue by 38% over the last year- increasing from $5.41bn to $7.46bn, Apple is the highest valued company in the world. They left Microsoft far behind!
Is it time to engage your people?
 Phrase used by Bryan Glick, Editor in Chief of Computer Weekly