THE 3 GREAT BUSINESS LIES
August 2, 2010 2 Comments
It is incredible that marketing organisations within companies spend such an incredible amount of time
developing a company’s mission, vision and values statements and yet they all tend to come up with
basically the same things over and over again, generally covering their elevated commitment to
Customers, People and Innovation.
For example, taken directly from their web-sites …
“Ensuring a high level of satisfaction among our customers and partners is a core component of our business” Microsoft
“Dedication to every client’s success.” IBM Values
“It’s about investing in our employees and their futures. For it’s only when they realise their full potential that we can achieve our broader business goals” British Airways
“SAP is committed to recruiting and retaining top talent … we strive to allow individuals to
realize their full potential.” SAP Values
“Faced with multifaceted competition, Air France is innovating constantly, including a proactive human resources policy for development of individual and collective programs” Air France (my translation from the French).
“BP is progressive, responsible, innovative and performance driven. We push boundaries today and create tomorrow’s breakthroughs through our people and technology”
And yet, whilst every company professes to be heavily focussed on these 3 lofty aspirations, generally these tend to be the 3 greatest lies in the business world, approximating to:
1. Our Customer is #1
2. Our People are our greatest asset
3. We are driven by innovation
I haven’t chosen the above companies to suggest that they are examples of those that are guilty of expressing values that they don’t believe in, just that they all express their commitment to the same high moral ground … not in itself a bad thing, but in many companies what they write is very different to the behaviour that they exhibit. Ultimately any company is just the sum of its behaviours, its culture or “the way we do things”, irrespective of what they put in print for our edification.
1. Our Customer is #1
Companies will always profess that their customers are the number 1 priority. I believe that in many companies “customer focus” would be lucky to make it into the top-10. The latest marketing “whimsy” is to have a goal “to delight customers” without any real understanding of what this would entail, and when just being able to meet basic customer expectations is already a tough but worthwhile task, and something most customers would consider a major advance.
I prefer Apple’s approach to defining their customer commitment which is “We are genuinely interested in solving customer problems, and we will not compromise our ethics or integrity in the name of profit”. Simple and achievable.
2. Our people are our greatest asset
When it comes to “Our people are our greatest asset”, over my 40+ years of corporate life I have seen only a handful of companies that truly try and live this. The majority seem to see people as being either “bums on seats” or, as one CEO I worked for who believed that people were just part of his business formulae that could be manipulated and used as any other physical asset, without any consideration for peoples’ personal aspirations and needs … so much for having a CEO with a mathematical rather than a business background. SAS, who were voted as the #1 company to work for by Fortune Magazine’s 2010 survey of employees globally, says it well “If you treat employees as if they make a difference, they will make a difference”.
Innovation in most companies seems to be only based on their view of “genius”. The belief that if you hire bright, well educated people, that this will be enough as they will work out how to create something different or new. Genius is a critical ingredient but it is not enough. I prefer Peter Drucker’s view of innovation which is more based on “… hard work over a long period of time ..” and where the company culture (sum of behaviours) is conducive to driving change because it is part of a company’s DNA, rather than just a reaction to crises. This means that beyond just being based on genius, innovation needs to be built on things like how well you match company objectives with employees’ personal needs, whether you can build commitment and engagement, if you encourage people to take calculated risk, how you handle failure and whether you allow newly recruited bright young people to question things and drive change. Larry Page, co-founder of Google says “Through innovation and iteration, Google takes something that works well and improves upon it in unexpected ways” … hard work over a long period of time!
It’s a pity that so many companies can’t seem to realise that to be more successful they could start by focussing on turning into reality these 3 statements that they have already enunciated in their Vision, Mission and Values.
When it all boils down, committed customers, partners and staff are the only true competitive edge, and if given the environment, encouragement and opportunity to contribute, will drive the innovation needed for success.