Have you ever assembled a giant jigsaw puzzle that takes hours to put together, you work hard in an effort to build a beautiful picture that you can see in your mind long before the pieces come together? What happens when the last piece is missing? First you search the floor, then the garbage and finally you begin to blame. You first blame the spouse, then the kids, then lastly you blame the dog because he must have eaten it. It drives us crazy that the vision does not complete the way we see it.
As a leader you can often see the big beautiful picture for your company, your family, or your community. You explain how and why you are putting the puzzle together and how proud you will be when it is complete. Perhaps you can even get people to help you without consideration for ‘what’s in it for’ them personally. What happens when the final piece is missing? Do we throw it out and buy a new one? Do we ever really admire the partial picture? How often does the picture as you view it really come together completely how you envisioned it!
As I reflect over my career I remember one stand out company that I was lucky to work for. I was in the radio paging business (beepers) which was a commodity driven business. Our success was best in class over the top. We had two large wealthy owners, but that was not the key. We had good cash flow, considering it was a very capital-intensive business, but that was not the key either.
What we did have was an engaged workforce where the simple theme of the organization was “Customer is King”. To that end all of our efforts went to differentiating ourselves from the competition. When the large public company came to town in an effort to be the low-cost leader we sustained our market. This took a total commitment to be the best, and everyone from the top producer to the credit and collections were fully engaged.
Fast forward to other points in my career and my life as B2B CFO where the clients that need me the most are having cash flow issues. Many of these clients have strong financial backing, sales growth, unique products or services that add value to our communities and improve peoples lives. So, what is missing? How can a commodity business succeed where a high value business fails and struggles so much?
The answer to these questions is not in the numbers, it is not in the strategy, it is not in the value of the product or service, it is not even in the delivery of the product or service.
It is specifically in the relationships. Did I lifelong bean counter just admit life was about relationships and not numbers?
I offer a five-step thought process that is more important than anyone can imagine as you drive toward success.
- Define Winning and communicate your vision. Daily inspire everyone to understands how your company adds value to people’s lives. Nobody wants to engage in a company who’s sole purpose is profit. Nobody wants to be in a family who’s only purpose is to look good in a church pew. Make is one short quip that can easily be remembered.
- Keep you and your team focused Look for behaviors or results and make honest acknowledgments. We all get distracted by a daily grind.
- Keep the organization focused. Make conversations center around contributions and results instead of profit, sizzle, or efficiency. Profit seems to happen when you have people who care.
- Question everything you “know” to be true. Strive to understand your people’s views. Ask open ended questions that dig for information. Don’t be tempted to create all the solutions, because they are your ideas anyway.
- Keep working on strategic agility. When the puzzle does not complete make a new picture rather than spending precious resources chasing or blaming. Adapt quickly to your changing problems.
In the end it really is about the numbers (I was lying in the title). Finding that scorecard with an A on it is very rewarding. Do not lose track of your company’s value. Enjoy the journey. Even though I cannot find anybody with a pager any longer, I still remember those days as the most rewarding. We sold the company for 8x cash flow (EBITDA) and a few years later nobody wanted a beeper. Those were rewarding numbers. We had to recognize the changing market when the opportunity was ripe.