What’s the use in running if you’re on the wrong road?
A few years ago, I was hired by a company (let’s call it “Acme”) to improve profitability. At the start of any project, my colleagues and I always do a Discovery Process, where we split up and interview people at all levels in the company. At the end, we sync back up, share our findings and look for patterns. The process always provides incredible insight into the business, its leadership, how it operates and its culture. Moreover, it usually enables us to pinpoint the source of an issue – like low profitability.
We had received Acme’s financials in advance. On paper, it appeared to be a solid company. It was well structured financially, seemed to have efficient processes, had decent margins on its products and employee compensation was at market. Sounds great, right?!?
Yet, I will always remember the first time I walked into Acme – the atmosphere was shocking. I’ve walked into morgues with more excitement and energy than Acme. So, where did that “paper perfect” company go?
The Striking Juxtaposition
During Discovery, we learned that sales were flat, morale was extraordinarily low and employee turnover was high. All of those things were the symptoms of the profitability problem – but not the source.
While my colleagues and I were sharing notes, we had one striking finding. We had each written down the virtually same phrase in multiple interviews. We heard “That’s just the way we do it here” more times than Wile E Coyote tried to catch the Road Runner. Moreover, virtually no one could explain the link between what they did and Acme’s “Big Picture.” And, only a few (senior management) could even describe the “Big Picture” to us.
Activity without Direction
A business can look perfect on paper, but if its leaders and employees are unclear on their purpose – trouble is ahead.
As human beings, we like to have purpose or meaning. (And no, I’m not going to give you the meaning of life in a blog.) However, I am going to remind you that the most successful companies have highly engaged employees that know what they do, how to do it and most importantly, understand why their work links to something bigger than their role.
When was the last time you sat down with a staff member and discussed how their work connects to your business’ overall goals?
To engage your staff, improve performance and drive profitability, be sure you consistently and repeatedly articulate the direction of the company AND the role they play. Create a dialogue around:
- Why does that person’s work matter?
- How does their work move the company closer to its Big Picture?
- Why do they matter to the company?
The results will speak for themselves.
Back to Acme – it had a company full of Road Runners and lots of great road without a purpose-driven direction. We coached their leadership teams to link activity to purpose. Within six months, sales increased by 12%, employee turnover dropped significantly and they were able to fully leverage all of the assets it had on paper.
A few months after we wrapped the project, I met the CEO for lunch. Walking in the door, Acme was a completely different company. The energy was high, the office was alive and people were laughing. Best of all, the company was profitable, healthy and just flying.