What is the value of all these recent business books? I am almost finished with the new Jim Collins book, Great by Choice and although I am finding that it gets better as I get further along, I can’t help thinking about the positive impact of Built to Last and how much I still love that book.
Maybe it’s because my college education only lasted one semester, but I love and value the business books that give me something that I could use or inspire me in building a great, lasting company. By great I mean a company that has a positive impact in multiple ways, a company that has a positive impact with the culture and with the team, a company that gives back to the community, and a company that is profitable and sustainable for multiple generations.
I continue to be inspired by Built to Last and I’ve often thought about how could I give back to other entrepreneurs someday in the same way I’ve learned from some of these great business books. What I have learned over the most past 10 years has been valuable in today’s business landscape. I began a journey to build a great sustainable organization with a positive, explicit culture. Perhaps the fact that I had a lopsided focus on the culture and lost sight of some fundamental fiscal disciplines is what almost did my company in last year. However, it was the strength of the culture we built that saved us. Thankfully, I now understand the critical balance of both. It is important to be and stay profitable, and perhaps most important to keep an eye on the balance sheet and debt. As Jim Collins says in Great by Choice, some healthy paranoia is a good thing, keeping some sort of cash reserve on the balance sheet that you don’t sacrifice. I realize this might be Business Finance 101, but it’s funny how often I hear the optimistic entrepreneurs like myself lose sight of this.
The other valuable lesson I have learned and what I find surprisingly unique is the ability to create an explicit culture and all the elements that support that. To borrow from Jim Collins again, the most important is defining core values for the company and purpose, or the reason for being. This tenet is what Simon Sinek has declared as starting with the “why” and also what Tony Hsieh indentified in his book, as a core to Delivering Happiness (check out pages 230-240 in his book). Although all of these writers mention this, none of them are explaining how, or what else supports this model.
At Nick’s, with the support of a slice team of the company, we have defined our purpose and our values. And most importantly we didn’t just stop with that strategy, we support that model with a structure so that the strategy becomes culture. The purpose and values are alive and vibrant in the culture of our organization, not just a piece a paper on the wall, or in a drawer somewhere collecting dust.
Whether you are just starting out or have been in business for 10 years, I feel this is a major opportunity for business owners. Although defining the purpose for your organizations existence is an important first step, that is just the beginning. The structure and systems in your company and the leadership behavior must support the initial roll out, or it will die. If done well the result will be a huge amount of trust.