While many workers are stressed and overtired, the real barrier to growing a small business is lack of direction and a sense that the company has a cause.
Every day, millions of Americans arrive at work filled with low-level dread and resignation. Since the recession hit (or perhaps before), they’ve been overloaded, overstressed and overwhelmed.
The typical workday is a marathon of rushing from one task after another, with few breaks between these bursts of effort, and even fewer words of thanks from equally frantic managers and coworkers. By the time they drag themselves to the finish line at 5 (or 6 or 7 or even later), they’re completely drained and wondering how they’ll ever do it all again tomorrow.
Yes, says Mohan Nair, too many employees these days are running on empty—and no matter how great their work ethic or their fear of unemployment, at some point the pace becomes unsustainable.
The problem is not that employees don’t want to work hard,” says Nair, author of Strategic Business Transformation: The 7 Deadly Sins to Overcome. “It’s that they have nothing to believe in. When people are motivated by a cause, they’ll work without stopping and without loss of energy. Their dedication to the cause will fuel them. The problem is too many companies aren’t animated by a cause at all—and their employees just live for the end of the day and for Friday.”
Nair is a “cause evangelist.” He is a fervent believer in the power of believing in something. He insists that “if a company isn’t giving employees a cause—if the organization exists solely to create revenue, in other words—they won’t be partners. They’ll be foot soldiers. And when company management fails to meet employees’ needs, they’ll fail to meet its goals.”
Giving employees a “power source”—which Nair defines as servant leadership, cause-focused strategies and authenticity—is a crucial part of building success. That cause, which bears little resemblance to the corporate-speak mumbo-jumbo in the typical mission statement, should spark enthusiasm in consumers and dedication in employees. It should be an inspiring ideology that is intrinsically linked to the company’s value proposition and competency.
Nair argues that it is this cause—this ideology—that powers strategic business transformation. And because the world is changing so rapidly, businesses have to transform themselves over and over again in order to keep up or lead markets.
“It used to be that markets reformed every several years with new ideas on what customers are interested in,” Nair says. “But now markets and customers are transforming because they encounter more unknown unknowns, those changes that they never anticipated and started to notice only after they happened. Companies that want to survive and grow must find the insight to know what their customers value and are willing to pay for continuously.
“Winning companies transform themselves in order to transform the customers they serve,” he adds. “They don’t manipulate markets, nor do they just add another feature or capability to their arsenal. In fact, they don’t think of their capabilities as arsenals, because they don’t see battles; they see opportunities to transform, not destroy.”
Nair identifies seven sins waiting to trip up any manager who seeks to transform his or her company:
Sin No. 1: Ignoring the new principles of business transformation. Many companies that fail to focus on the outward manipulation of markets and customers driven from the “ego” of the organization. Unfortunately for them, today’s markets are sensitive to purposeless wealth creation. No amount of end-of-the-year donations to needy organizations can make up for a lack of purpose and value. Mission and money must go hand in hand.
“If you think of making money without thinking of the greater contributions to society, you will neither attract the right people nor make money in the long run,” Nair says. “This is because people themselves are changing. Finding meaning at work powers the 21st century employee population. This population knows insincerity from truth, so leaders cannot ‘fake it.’ They have to be able to feel the plights of customers and people in our society. The fuel that drives our new economy fills the containers that bring purpose to profits.”
Sin No. 2: Driving without a cause. Most companies have mission statements—as well as vision statements, value statements and other official website/employee handbook fodder. Yet many employees don’t believe in them and never use them. What they need is a cause, and that’s altogether different. Once organizations know why they exist, to whom they want transformation to happen and why, they gain the audacity and authenticity to drive strategic business transformation.
“Don’t confuse ‘cause’ with ‘mission,’ ” Nair says. “A cause is a lasting theme, an architecture that supports the transformation of the greater environment. It has personal, rather than organizational, implications. Missions are given to groups marching in lockstep; causes are taken up by creative individuals. A mission is a bounded, purposeful action. Missions impose the will of managers on employees, whereas causes are grounded in the latent, unexpressed will of the overall organization.”
Discovering a cause greater than any one employee and greater than the whole propels organizations beyond the speed of lofty, purposeless, or narcissistic goals, Nair says. In his book, he cites Whole Foods as an example of a cause-driven company. He refers to a quote by co-founder and Co-CEO John Mackey in Harvard Business Review: “I think Whole Foods’ highest purpose is a heroic one: to try to change and improve our world. That is what animates me personally. That is what animates the company.”
Sin No. 3: Missing market momentum. Traditionally, products seek customers, customers form markets, and markets move with momentum. In transformation principle, momentum is identified before anything else, customers and prospects respond to momentum, then products respond to serve these prospects to move with purposeful intent. Momentum is a unique way to view the market. Companies that don’t understand it will miss the drivers that indicate where momentum is going.
Momentum drivers often lead “old” customers to consider their options in a whole new way. Being able to predict these changes of mind and heart, even before the customers themselves do, allows companies to get in first with products destined to be hot sellers.
Nair writes: “The most telling experience occurred recently when I was watching a sunset. A person nearby stated, ‘I wish I had my phone,’ when he was thinking of taking a photograph of the sunset. These customers would have rejected the idea of a phone and camera combined in the past. This is transformation at its best.”
Sin No. 4: Ignoring the two orders of value. If you assume that rational and emotional value propositions are all you need to consider, think again. There’s also a “higher order” value proposition: the symbolic. Customers symbolically attach to the product or the company that sells the product. They come to identify with the purpose of the product and what it stands for. Organizations that are able to transfer and connect market momentum into value to the customers that emerge from a transformation will gain market share and be very successful.
Take Trader Joe’s, for instance. The company has persuaded its customers to bring bags that they bought from Trader Joe’s to collect their own groceries. It has successfully tapped into “green” market momentum.
“The customers of Trader Joe’s are participating at both levels in acting to save paper or plastic and to recycle bags every time they visit,” Nair writes. “This has huge economic value because the company saves on the cost of bags, but the consumers do not see it that way. Consumers see themselves aligning with the grand vision of a better world without excess, and they believe that Trader Joe’s is conforming to their worldview authentically.”
Sin No. 5: Overlooking transformational servant leadership. The new organization is a workspace with no walls. Leadership styles of the past cannot conform to the unbounded workspace commanded by remote employees, portable tablets, portable computers and worldwide internetworks. Hierarchical management techniques and paradigms are breaking down. You may try to bend the iron bars of the hierarchical organization to make it “look” better—but if you aren’t practicing true servant leadership, you won’t be able to attract the talent it takes to compete in the transforming marketplace.
What is transformational servant leadership? While the concept is maddeningly difficult to pin down, Nair says, it contains several basic truths:
- It’s based on service rather than hierarchical controls. Leaders believe in something greater than themselves.
- There are no sharply defined leaders and followers. Leaders lead when it’s appropriate and follow when it’s appropriate.
- Organizations are populated by project-centered self-leaders who partner with one another when needed.
- Leaders strive for dramatic inner change, re-engineering and self-identification with corporate goals. In other words, it is about personal change creating group change that triggers corporate change—and not the other way around.
“They are powered by a desire to serve others, and they forget themselves, and this is the source of their undying energy and success,” Nair writes. “They do not come to this easily but through self-doubt, suffering, ridicule and even pain. Yet they are among us, and we should realize that we cannot judge anyone in our organization to be inadequate, of not having ideas to transform the world around them. Our purpose is to nurture and to find the goose that lays the golden eggs rather than be in the business of ideas. Be in the business of nurturing people with ideas, and the ideas will flow.”
Sin No. 6: Mistaking capability for strategic competency. Capabilities are what you can do for customers. Competence is the unique recipe of your capabilities and what you can do better than others consistently as far as your customers perceive. You can always gain a new capability: just learn how to do it yourself, hire someone who knows how to do it, or partner with another organization to fill that void. Stopping there, instead of understanding your competencies and using them to formulate your strategy, is the sin. It keeps you from being able to create value that people want and are willing to pay for.
Being good at one key capability is not sufficient—unless, that is, it is nonreplicable. Winning, using competencies, involves:
- Creating brand awareness among your customers and prospects who feel an alignment between the organization and their values.
- Defining communicable cause/purpose that is about a transformed customer and experience with that customer.
- Combining key ingredients that reflect a valued recipe that creates a strong, enduring, and authentic “aftertaste” to the customer who keeps returning because of it.
- Creating a structure that drives social networked feedback interactively with an approachable organizational structure