Joe Benesh is a senior architect with Shive-Hattery and President + CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, diagramming, framework development, and design thinking consulting firm.
In business school, we learn a lot about creating value for customers. You would think that would be enough – create a killer product and customers will come. If that is so -- and so many of us work so hard to create great and innovative products -- why do more than 50 percent of businesses fail in a year or less? Are those business owners misguided about their own product? Do they not understand their customer base or market segment?
My theory is that those questions are not at the root of the problem. They may be symptoms and in some cases cause the failure of the enterprise, but I think it’s something more intrinsic to the foundation of what makes a company successful.
When I talk about values, I think about the values of the companies I work for and how important those are to me. I think about the ways they are perceived outside of the company. I think about how employees, reports, and colleagues engage with those values.
When we started the Ingenuity Company, my partner and I spent (and still spend) a lot of time talking about the type of company we want to be. We discuss things that have happened to us, both positive and negative, and how we wish to replicate or avoid those practices as our company grows. We feel that this time is important; it allows us to think about the sustainability of our company in the long term, which is rooted in the value system we use to collaborate with new and existing clients.
For example, when we talk about offering services that are meant as transformational, we look inward first. What can we offer our clients that are built on our skills, knowledge, and abilities? Why would they want to work with us? How do we self-actualize in a way that allows us to adapt, be flexible, and provide the best possible service? Since our company is built on these types of values, we feel we are able to add value and build lasting and productive working relationships with our clients.
More broadly, I feel that any company that wishes to succeed can do so more fully by defining its own distinct set of values. I have worked with organizations that do not spend time developing their values structure, or feel that this type of exercise is not a worthwhile effort. These organizations tend to lose their way when adversity strikes, as they do not have those core principals to support them. This may seem daunting, but I think some simple questions can start this conversation and grow from there:
What do we stand for as a company?
What is something we will never do as a company?
What is success defined as?
What are we really good at?
What makes us better than our competition?
Who can we collaborate with - that will make both of our organizations better?
Knowing who you are as an organization and what things are at your unshakable core creates a business ecosystem that allows there to be belief as well as profitability. This belief, by you in what you stand for, and by your clients in their trust in you, will make your company what it is. This trust is the foundation for innovating in more robust and purposeful ways.
When I think about those 50 percent of businesses that fail, I always wonder if they took the time to ask themselves questions about who they were or how they were going to stay where they were once they got there. It’s easy to lose your way when you don’t take time to fully understand where you are going or why.
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