5 lessons for laying a solid business foundation
Construction is my husband’s passion. He’s made a decent living remodeling and flipping houses. He takes pride in his work and it shows. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot from him about construction. Communications is my field and my passion, and I try to apply all life’s lessons to my craft.
Whether your organization is on the cusp of a growth spurt or planning for future growth, consider applying these basic construction lessons to your strategy.
Upgrade your home regularly to maintain its value.
Frequently upgrading your organization will keep it relevant. Upgrades include technology, resources, and an organization’s number one asset, people. Regularly re-evaluate your team to make sure the right people are in the right seats on the bus. (Jim Collins, Good to Great)
Some expansion requires stripping and replacing corroded parts of a structure.
The same is true with your organization. Begin with objectively identifying the weaknesses, and then consider options for strengthening or replacing them. It’s not always easy to be objective or to step outside of your comfort zone, but change is not easy. We become attached to methodology, tools, and people. Such loyalty is good unless we are so entrenched in the same old same old that we do not recognize a need for change.
Numbers don’t lie. If your organization is stagnant or if good people consistently opt to get off the bus, it might be time to call in an objective consultant for analysis and recommendations.
Spending a little extra on the best possible material will save time and expense in the long run.
Avoid being penny wise, pound foolish! Cutting corners on important assets (time, talent, material), inevitably costs more in the long run. Organizations should be good stewards with financial resources, avoiding waste and making calculated decisions, but efforts to cut costs at the expense of quality will result in short-term gain and long-term strife (read: expenses). There’s no shortage of documentation from which to learn about the failures and successes of countless organizations.
During the years I was most actively engaged in marketing consulting, I questioned entrepreneurs and top-level executives relentlessly. I wanted to learn what made them tick, how they succeeded, from whom they took their cues, etc. The answers amounted to a recurring theme of self-edification, perseverance, and proper positioning—successful executives surround themselves with people they deem more expert than themselves in any given area. They know how to build teams. They are secure. They trust their decisions and, therefore, the leaders they choose. Highly successful people also engage in deliberate practice.
Additions should appear seamless and be constructed without compromising the structure’s integrity.
There are countless examples of organizations that have collapsed under their own weight, often because they expanded too quickly, incurring unsubstantiated debt. Consider the staggering failure rates of restaurants. Few make it beyond one year.
What about companies like Borders Books that fail to conduct proper market research or anticipate technological changes? The colossal retail outlet invested heavily in music, allotting too much real estate to compact discs when they should have conducted thorough analysis of the format’s ability to drive revenue at a time of rapid technology changes.
Your organization has a culture and a mission. Analyze the staying power of your products and services, as well as your associates. Don’t be afraid to upgrade outdated products, methods, and people. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, but do keep track of industry trends to be sure you are implementing upgrades that meet the needs of consumers and your company culture. This means frequent and relevant employee edification, too, especially of leaders selected to be change agents. Those who have grown with the organization are valuable resources but their time investment alone does not qualify them for leadership roles.
Growth requires change, to which most mere mortals have a natural resistance. Have a succession plan. Succession planners and organizational development leads are well aware of the need to balance expertise with tenure on their leadership team.
A weak foundation cannot accommodate huge structural changes.
Accommodating robust growth may require uprooting and reforming the foundation. In his book Start With Why, Simon Sinek refers often to Apple’s successful transition from a computer company to an organization that provides an experience.
The same can be said for Wawa, Philadelphia’s favorite convenience store (and rapidly becoming Florida’s favorite, as well). The organization I witnessed pummel its competition over several decades sells more than convenience. It sells an experience. CEO Chris Gheysens attributes Wawa’s success to his predecessors, the chain’s employees, and to patrons who find camaraderie around the store’s coffee pots and hoagie kiosks. Most impressive is Chris’s servant leadership style.
Servant leaders leave legacies without even trying because they start with why and put others first. In doing so, they reap rewards they never thought imaginable. I first learned the concept of servant leadership while ghostwriting a CEO’s memoirs. A servant leader is a good listener; he constantly seeks self-improvement; he pays his help first and himself last. As a result, he earns the respect and allegiance of those around him.
A servant leader provides a solid foundation that sets the tone for a sound organization.