In the last week of August 2005, Hurricane Katrina as a Category 5 made landfall on Florida and Louisiana. The catastrophic damage it left mainly in New Orleans and the surrounding areas was unimaginable and horrifying. One of the biggest uproars was the inactivity and ill-preparedness of the FEMA organization. However, during that awful period, a shining business beacon was Walmart!
Walmart has always been a master at logistics and, in the aftermath of Katrina, was able to marshall its might and get supplies to the masses long before the government agencies could. In the process, the Big W stumbled upon a mighty truth. Doing good is good for business.
The positive PR it received for its excellent efforts to help those hurricane victims by leveraging its natural strengths for community good generated a tremendous outpouring of goodwill. So the collective Big W lightbulb went on. “Hey, we mobilized our best capabilities for society! What if we took a more comprehensive and global view?”
First, they tackled ‘zero packaging waste.’ As a supplier to one of Walmart’s Canadian vendors, my production facility was thrown into complete disarray, trying to remove all the excess packaging to meet their ‘outlandish’ targets. Any company interested in keeping that Walmart account met those targets — on time and budget. And yes, my team delivered massively and saved the day. More importantly, many other companies quickly followed suit, and we consumers are now quite picky about the amount of superfluous packaging we buy with our goods.
Next, they launched their 100% renewable energy initiative. We, the consumers, came to accept Walmart cheerfully and then other (big box) retailers dimming the lights in the summer to conserve energy. Walmart has a women’s economic empowerment initiative and banned guns and ammunition from all US stores. There is an acceptable new business culture in less than fifteen years — doing good is good for business.
Walmart is barely 57 years old and stumbled down this new transformation path hardly more than a decade ago. Whether your opinion is for or against Walmart, you gotta agree. These actions, taken together, signal a significant business change is underway.
Then in the fall of 2019
Thomas Cook, the travel company, formed in 1841, collapsed. It did not declare bankruptcy — it COLLAPSED. Overnight, 178 years went poof because too many someones through the years did not keep checking for the changes swirling in the air and make the necessary adjustments. Sadly, Thomas Cook won’t be the only one. There would be more collapses. Very soon.
I am sharing this because Pre-COVID, there was a strong movement afoot, so many positive signs that a fresh breeze is a-blowing across our lands and the times are profoundly and rapidly changing. Let me be a bit more specific. The status quo of business was already shifting quickly. Not because anyone was right. But because the business culture was shifting.
And COVID merely accelerated the shift.
Where Does Your Culture Sit?
Less than 1/3 of your employees are engaged if your company is like too many! This means they have no idea, much less care about what you and your enterprise are all about. And they won’t be happy to go that extra mile for you any time soon. Pop quiz. Do you believe more than 50% of your non-DNA family employees would drop their plans for just one Saturday or Sunday FOR FREE and join you at your community-building event/idea? If you answered no, keep reading.
If your company is like too many, you have a real problem trying to find or even hold on to motivated and engaged people; you have up to five generations working together trying to tolerate one another and worse, your profits are slowly declining. And since everyone you know is facing the same competitive pressures, shrinking margins, and increased regulation, how come it is you who always seems to get the worst of it? Exactly!
There are Easy Ways Forward
For decades, I have been beating a tom-tom about putting people first, profits second. I am not the only one. For the last ten years, I have been helping pragmatic executives adjust their thinking and their outlook based on practical and empirical evidence. I am not the only one. You know the Bullet Proof Trifecta: Make love to your customers. Have incredibly simple processes. Be an upstanding community citizen. Again, I am not the only one.
At the end of August (of 2019), The Business Roundtable, a group of 181 top business leaders, publicly committed to leading their companies for the benefit of ALL stakeholders — customers, employees, suppliers, communities and shareholders.
I particularly like the words one of the leaders, ‘CEOs work to generate profits and return value to shareholders, but the best-run companies do more. They put the customer first and invest in their employees and communities. In the end, it’s the most promising way to build long-term value.’
If you haven’t heard, the 52-year-old chief executive of Walmart is the new head of the Business Roundtable group. He is now introduced as the new age CEO who raised his company’s minimum wage, limited handgun ammo sales AND announced plans to stop e-cig sales. (Who says Gen X opportunities have stalled?)
You may know I adore the thoughts of Seth Godin, a marketing genius and all-around observer of humankind. He made an interesting observation.
The Rip Saw
Supposedly, going against the grain is really difficult.
It turns out, though, that it’s far more dangerous to cut with a rip saw, a blade that goes along the grain. It often leads to a botched project. When you’re cutting across the grain, you know exactly what to expect and won’t get surprised by a patch of resistance you didn’t expect.
The same thing goes for sailing. It’s way easier to sail diagonally across the wind than it is to run with it.
The story we tell ourselves about cutting across expectations is probably more difficult than the actual work.
In my experience, Seth is precisely right.
I have had the privilege of taking companies from the bottom of the pile to the top of the pack, helping them exceed high benchmarks and then sell themselves for outstanding returns. Those companies always had the best runs with the longest term values.
I always found making the changes necessary not nearly as tricky as uncovering the truths long-buried in closets. Once freed, those truths pretty much guaranteed massive success!
That First Baby Step
Let’s get back to you and your business. One question I hear frequently is how do I start? Followed by “Where do I start? What do I start with first? Because I sure don’t want to destroy what’s working!”
Have you ever thought about what you are simply amazing at and what you could do good with — within your community for your business? I am NOT talking about donating money, attending another dinner, or even sponsoring another event. What one thing do you do superbly from which the community as a whole could benefit?
Now, what sticky operational issues are you facing today? Alternatively, what operational matters have you been facing that are just not going away? Pick one. Only one. Start there and have a few brainstorming sessions. Seriously, no matter how brilliant we are, every one of us is dreadful at sorting out our issues alone. (I put myself in that category too. My clients know I have their backs. Well, I have my own advisors who have MY back too! None of us can operate solo. We are humans, after all.)
These two not so simple exercises are vital to your sustained long-term viability and success. So why not commit to doing one thing to get the ball rolling? Make it your business to get the momentum going in your favour. Start easy. Start somewhere. Anywhere. Just Start. Your future depends on it.
Want more ideas? Go here.