A Flourishing Enterprise

An Inside and Outside View of Success

Logos of Apple, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Disney, Boening, Google, and Hillstone Restaurant Group

“I used to go there,” “I used to drive one,” or, “Oh, I didn’t know they were still around!” is what you hear about lots of companies that start with a bang and grow like crazy, only to fail or slide into mediocrity. Other than the company’s founders and employees, few mourn its loss as the next big thing has already arrived. Since entrepreneurs don’t start creating an enterprise with failure in mind, you have to wonder why it’s the most likely outcome of a founder’s efforts.

Co-founder of Farmers Restaurant Group, Dan Simons, thinks it’s “something about the way the typical company is grown that runs counter to the seed that started it.” As Dan sees it, the counter force is the push to be big rather than to be remarkable; to create awareness rather than contribution. Of course, it is possible to be both a big and a remarkable company. Apple, Starbucks, Google, Disney, Nordstrom, Hillstone Restaurant Group, and Boeing Aircraft are examples. However, the once-but-no-longer-remarkable companies – Sears, Bloomin’ Brands, Macy’s, Hewlett-Packard, and all of the legacy airlines – far outnumber the “remarkables.” An obvious explanation is that there can only be one “Number One,” but that’s too facile an explanation as there is no limit on excellence.

If you care about your company earning a reputation for goodness, flawless execution, and being best-in-class or some other lofty goal, you have to wonder why some companies shine bright and seem to flourish while others fade away. Are the remarkable companies lucky or is there something about the way they are grown that puts them on the path to flourishing? My sense of it is that flourishing companies all have something in common; namely, focus.

What their leaders focus on is embedding what made them worthy of growth in the first place in their DNA and the spirit of their people at all levels. That flourishing is the result of something that leaders do is suggested by the companies that lost their mojo such as Apple, Starbucks, and Nordstrom, but regained it almost immediately when their founders retook the reins of growth. Building a company that remains worthy of growth is about leveraging the insight, wisdom, and values of the founder. When the founder steps back before these factors have been made part of the enterprise’s DNA, flourishing is no longer a possibility.

Fast Growth Makes You N(D)umb

Fast growth is like throwing gasoline on the fire of success as it feeds feelings of invulnerability, blunts common sense, and kills the initiative for intentional growth; that is, the ability of a company to be what its leaders intend it to be. The flame fans excuses for ignoring the details of mindful enterprise building. The first one I usually hear is “I know we need to do it, but we simply don’t have time” followed by others such as “It’s distracting,” “Our people won’t get it,” “It takes too long,” “It cost too much,” “Too many details,” and “Why mess with a good thing?”

Today’s excuses are tomorrow’s reasons for failure. While it’s true that there is never a convenient time to prepare for growth, there is a bad time. That’s when growth is underway but wobbling out of control due to the lack of discipline and focus, a culture muddled by new faces, and leaders who are not on the same page. Under these conditions, it is no wonder that a company loses its mojo. You see it in the wobble of a company as growth takes its toll on the core of the business, short-cuts become common, and founders wonder what’s going on.

A Flourishing Enterprise

“Begin with the end in mind” is one of the seven habits of highly effective people put forth by the late Steven Covey. Sage advice that makes too much sense to be ignored. Thinking about your company, what do you want it to stand for and achieve? That seems an easy question to answer, but it is not. The answer that I came up with is generic in that it applies to any form of enterprise: To earn a reputation for human goodness, flawless execution, and being best-in-class. Simple, but it took me more than thirty years to articulate. Its three parts – reputation, execution, and achievement – are meant to stimulate the thinking of enterprise founders and leaders. Reputation is important because it matters in that people want to be part of something that they can be proud of. Execution is important because it is the cornerstone of a consistent customer experience as customers do not like to be surprised. In addition, without it, there is no brand. Finally, best-in-class matters. When the times get tough – and they always do – only the best survive to flourish another day.

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