Most Critical Lesson for Success

I have found in life that there are two groups of people: the Doers and the Servers. The Doers look inside themselves to decide what action they will take. The Servers look outside themselves to decide how to act. The simple lesson is, if you want to be successful, be a Server. Learning to be of service, however, is not so simple and most people resist it.

Serving is more about attitude and focus than style.  One need not be an extrovert to serve; you can take direction from those you serve without changing your environment. Being of service is never passive; it requires action. For example: many people have complained that government is ineffective and needs to be changed; yet few have ever introduced themselves to their representative in Congress. Many people are concerned about those in society that need assistance; but few have committed themselves to a mission that extends a hand. And many people in business claim to be customer-focused while never asking for critical feedback from customers or using customers’ important problems to direct business plans. While the concept of serving is simple, putting it in action is difficult. Often people are not aware of the priorities and values that create obstacles and can benefit from a teacher, mentor, or coach to change. Here are three reasons I think it’s so difficult:

It requires maturity. We are all born with a Doer’s mindset. Being of service requires the awareness that customers or people being served are not an extension of you. I am one of many people who grew up with the parental message, “If it’s good enough for me, it’s good enough for you.” Many missteps in business have stemmed from thinking that there is some universal logic that causes customer wants and needs to be the same as the business owner’s. Service requires humility and respect for what is different.

It requires embracing ambiguity and agility. I recently heard Carnegie-Mellon’s Prof. Anita Woolley speak about Smart Teams and the importance of having Right Goals. Prof. Woolley noted there are process-oriented goals that focus on executing a process with little regard for outcomes and outcome-focused goals that focus on an outcome with no preconceived process for getting to the outcome. Both approaches are appropriate and Smart Teams correctly identify which approach is best for a circumstance. Customer-focused strategies take a desired outcome identified by customers and trust that a process can be found to achieve it. Many organizations balk when they need to stop doing what they’re comfortable doing and listen deeply to find the way forward.

It turns values upside down. People start businesses with a passion for a trade or technology and a desire to practice it independently. Focus on customers creates a dilemma that asks the business owner to cede independence for interdependence with customers. Customer-focused businesses are taken in directions that the owners never could have anticipated.

The first step in changing a business’ focus is developing Right Relationships where needs flow from the customer to the provider and not vice versa.  I am happy to be of help to businesses looking to make that first step.

 

Sustainability or Survivability

So, what do you think of when you hear the term, “Sustainability Initiatives”? Many people think of the increasing flow of advertising that touts companies concern for the environment and our future. Indeed, the 2010 MIT Sloan Boston Consulting Group Sustainability and Innovation Survey revealed that 49% of executives thought the greatest benefit of sustainability initiatives is improved branding reputation. Executives, however, also identified benefits like reduced energy and material use and increased competitive advantage. The specific merits of sustainability varied by industry, but all executives pointed to the ability to make more money.

Diminishing supply of fossil fuels and global labor pools pose serious threats to US business; but government and regulators were identified by the MIT/BCG survey as the greatest influence on sustainability initiatives. The survey also found that larger companies were more prone to embrace sustainability programs than small companies. Perhaps this is because smaller companies need to be more agile in this economy are more concerned with survivability. Whether the concern is sustainability or survivability, there are two focus areas that all businesses should entertain:

  • Integrating Sustainability into Strategic Planning

Will scarce resources impact your future?
Are there disruptive technologies impending on your future?
Are there opportunities for new revenue streams?
Are there investments that can gain competitive advantage in your market?

  • Periodic Review of Operational Processes

Are there labor and cash savings to be gained from cycle time reduction?
Are there automation investments to improve price competitiveness?

It is in every business’s interest to observe and take notice of our changing world. Those who accept and plan for change will thrive in the future. Click on this link to take an assessment that measures your level of engagement with supportability initiatives.