The common thread I’ve experienced in business related to pushing on and becoming more successful is to focus on the tangible – the parts of a business that relate directly to sales, costs, efficiencies, and promotion. Often times we refer to these elements as “initiatives” or “strategies.” We focus on these elements because they’re visible and measurable. So we tweak and refine because we can measure the results. And when the needle on success moves (one way or the other) we can directly attribute the result to the tangible elements we’ve placed our focus on.
Could it be that the real secret to success, whether for the individual or the business, is not tangible at all? Could it be that the way we handle the initiatives and strategies has more to do with the intangible qualities that are the true drivers of success?
When a family raising children on a limited budget goes grocery shopping, do they purchase filet mignon, or opt for ground beef? Or better yet, do they serve their family veggies and rice, which is even less expensive and healthier?
Does a marathon runner with years of experience in training techniques and styles purchase a top-of-the-line running shoe, or a knock-off brand at Wal-Mart?
More to the point, is it the careful shopping techniques of the parents that make them good at raising children? Or the spare-no-expense approach to buying running shoes that makes the marathon runner successful? Or is it something else? What is it that drives a mother or father to think carefully about budget and nutrition for their family? Is it just that they’re smart, or are they driven by something much deeper, some deeper caring for giving the very best life they can for their children? Even though their children may prefer Hamburger Helper to rice and veggies.
Even though the marathon runner is on a limited budget he knows that using a quality shoe will prevent injuries and last longer. But is it his shoes that make him successful or a deeper emotional drive within?
While the mother is evaluating her shopping options and the marathon runner is sacrificing in one area of his life so he can purchase $150 pair of shoes, both are driven by purpose — why they do what they do.
When businesses confuse success with the “initiatives” and the “strategies,” they gradually lose sight of their purpose.
Southwest Airlines didn’t lose sight of their purpose after the twin towers came down. They vowed not to lay off a single employee. As a result their employees connected even more deeply with the purpose of the airline and continued to offer higher than average customer care, at a time when other airlines were demoralizing their teams with layoffs and short-sighted cost cutting measures. Southwest continued to remain profitable throughout one of the toughest times in their industry.
Apple didn’t lose sight of their purpose when their very famous co-founder and CEO of many years passed away. Today Apple is even more profitable than at the time Steve Jobs left this world. Their continued success is due in no small part to the creation of the “Apple University,” which is available to every executive, and is a learning process designed to explore and understand how they make their decisions, not so much the decisions themselves.
Recently I published, Reclaiming A Dynamic Culture, an interview with John Miles, CEO of Integritive, a company that is deeply purpose-driven. Following the economic downturn of 2008, Integritive continued to be profitable while many others in their industry struggled. John shared that he felt it was due to the work they had done prior to 2008, of building a company on the premise of hiring happy people and creating a happy workplace.
Each of these companies spend a lot of time making good decisions (rice and veggies over filet mignon or quality running shoes over knock-offs), but what drives them is something much deeper — a deeper desire to be more than just a profitable company, which truly is the secrete to success.