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How to Keep Your Business Relevant

Updated: Jul 11, 2019

Flawed Paradigms

Don’t let your business become irrelevant because you are hanging on to a paradigm that no longer serves you.

Previous success for a business is no guarantee of its future viability. In fact, sometimes, it’s the precursor to a downfall. It’s easy to begin thinking that what has gotten you here, will carry you forward. The paradigm that you hold of your business and the world you live in becomes skewed. It’s not that businesses don’t want to fix their weaknesses; they can’t see their weaknesses. There are numerous examples of companies who held an out-of-date paradigm of their business which caused them to miss out on huge opportunities. Some of those businesses are now struggling to survive or cease to exist.

These were not small companies or businesses that had barely gotten off the ground. We’re talking about Kodak, Blockbuster, and Sears, to name a few. Kodak developed the first consumer digital camera. Blockbuster was the leader in the movie rental business for years. Sears, a department store company, was once the king of retailers. What happened? There is a common theme with these companies.

They failed to recognize the emerging big picture of where their industry and the world was heading.

Kodak couldn’t get approval from management to launch the digital camera because they were afraid of what the effects might be on the film market. Blockbuster believed that their brick and mortar stores were enough to please their customers. They had been so successful that management couldn’t see why they should change their strategy.

Sears’ competitors shifted away from the general store model. The management of Sears was certain that a discount store such as Walmart wasn’t competition for Sears.

Which Economic Age is your Business In?

One of the most important paradigms that you need to understand about your business is which economic age do you think your business is in? Most of us believe that our businesses are operating in the Information Age. We have left the industrial age in the choking dust. But have we? We tend to see the world, not as it is, but as we are. It’s critical for us to get it right.

A good indicator of which economic age you are really conducting business in is how you perceive and treat your employees. Employees have always been essential in the running of a business, but as we have transitioned through the successive economic ages, the roles employees play have changed dramatically.

Stephen Covey, in his book, The 8th Habit, explains that employees need a new skill-set and a new tool-set to be successful in the Knowledge Worker Age. Most importantly, a new mindset or a new way of thinking is required.

Covey cites the comparison that Peter Drucker, one of the greatest management thinkers of our time, made of the Industrial Worker Age with today’s Knowledge Worker Age:

The most important, and indeed the truly unique, contribution of management in the 20th century was the fifty-fold increase in the productivity of the MANUAL WORKER in manufacturing.

The most important contribution management needs to make in the 21st century is similarly to increase the productivity of KNOWLEDGE WORK and the KNOWLEDGE WORKER.

The most valuable assets of a 20th-century company were its production equipment. The most valuable assets of a 21st-century institution, whether business or non- business, will be its knowledge workers and their productivity.

Stephen Covey goes on to say that “The main assets and primary drivers of economic prosperity in the Industrial Age were machines and capital—things. People were necessary but replaceable.” Systems required managing and employees were subservient to the system.

Authoritarian types of management systems got the job done. Power came with the management position. Bosses didn’t have to be good people. If a worker didn’t like his boss, he could quit, and somebody else was always there to take his place. A business could be run successfully without requiring the engagement of the mind, heart, and spirit of the worker. People were treated as things, cogs in the wheels of the machinery.

Laborers vs. Influencers

Unfortunately, these Industrial Age management systems have been carried over into the Information Age, with decreasing effectiveness.

With the advancement of technology and automation, people are less needed for manual labor and increasingly required to be idea people—creatively handling information— in short, knowledge workers. This new economic age requires a real synergy between workers and management. Employees won't accept condoned behavior of the past. They desire to be respected and valued. Employees want to feel like they are making a real contribution in an endeavor that has integrity and is bringing value to other people.

Today's workplace requires a management team that inspires and encourages employees. The employer now must be able to engage the employee's body, mind, heart, and spirit.

That kind of relationship requires supervisors that have real influence over the employee. This is not authority that comes from a title or a position but an influence that’s been earned, where the employee knows, likes and trusts the boss. The boss brings out the best in the employee.

Employees need to develop influence as well. The level of influence that employees have will determine their effectiveness, getting themselves and their ideas and suggestions taken seriously. The employees’ level of influence with customers will determine their ability to achieve sales goals.

Success for an employee in the Industrial Age hinged on what they could do with their physical capabilities. In the Information/Knowledge Worker Age, the character of the employee, or who they are, and the level of influence they have with others is what will enable them to rise in the organization.

In sales, we know that before someone will buy from us, they must know, like, and trust us. For people to know us, requires us to develop a relationship with them. This takes time. Over time, people get to know our true character. Sincerity and genuineness can’t be faked. Customers know if we have their best interest at heart. They know if we are maintaining integrity in our dealings with them. Once they get to know us, they can begin to like us, trust us, and buy from us.

In other words, the success of your business hinges upon the level of influence that your employees have with your clientele and with each other.

Why is Personal Growth Important?

In his book, Start With Why, Simon Sinek explains how the decision-making process takes place in a part of our brain that has no capacity for language. We make decisions primarily on a gut feeling. Our brains synthesize and weigh all the signals of influence that it’s receiving (words, tone, motivations, sincerity, actions, previous dealings, etc.) and turns them into a reaction, yes or no.

How effective are your employees with your customers? The level of effectiveness that your employees have with your customers is determined by the level of influence that they have with the customers. The level of influence that employees have with customers is limited by their level of personal growth.

Why is personal growth so important? Personal growth changes who we are. Who we are is the foundation for what we do.

Consider these questions regarding your employees.

  • Are your employees giving all they can? Are they using 100% of their body, mind, heart, and spirit in the performance of their duties?

  • Are they working up to their potential? Have they fully developed all their talents and abilities?

  • Does each employee have a plan in place to strengthen any weaknesses of character that they have?

If any answer is no, your employees are limiting the profit potential of your business. Their level of influence is being limited by the lack of personal growth in their lives. We tend to hire people for what they can do, but if we end up firing them, it’s usually because of who they are. We spend money on skills training for employees, increasing what they can do, but focus much less on personal growth, improving who they are.

At the end of this article is a weakness/strength grid, not exhaustive, of weaknesses that we are born with and the corresponding strengths that we aspire to through personal growth. You might have several employees that can perform the same functions in your company. They may have the same technical expertise and physical capabilities, but the quality of their output can vary significantly based on their level of personal growth. The strength of character they possess will impact the way they approach and carry out the duties of their position and the way they interact with fellow employees and customers.

I recently visited a big box retailer, wanting to purchase some printer ink. The shelf where it should have been was empty. I located an employee and asked him if the store had more. He quickly informed me that if there wasn’t any ink on the shelf, it was out of stock, and he walked away. He was friendly enough, leading me to believe he had been trained to greet customers, and he had answered my question, so technically, he was doing his job. If his level of personal growth had been higher, he would have been able to serve me better.

If his desire to add value to me and his store had been stronger, he might have at least found out for me, when the ink would be restocked. He might have even expressed his regret that they had not been able to serve me, all of which would have led me to believe that they really did care about my business. Not being a person who gives up easily, I got down on my knees and dug through the shelf where the ink should have been. I found the item I was looking for, mixed in with other ink.

How much influence do you think that employee has with me? How high an opinion do I have of that store and what is the likelihood that I will go back? A lack of personal growth on the part of employees impacts the bottom line of businesses, negatively, every day.

Are You Seeing the Emerging Big Picture?

We’ve seen some big-name companies struggle because they didn’t recognize how the world was changing. Many organizations today act like they are still operating in the Industrial Age, treating their employees as things. Being effective as individuals and organizations is no longer merely an option; survival in today’s world requires it.

I understand the reluctance of businesses to spend money and time on personal growth for their employees. You don’t see the benefit overnight. It’s not just information that can be taught, it’s strength that’s developed over time. Despite the concerns, the simple truth remains—the only way that employee behavior will improve, is through personal growth. Some businesses hesitate to improve their employees because they fear the employees will move on to better employment. I guess the only thing worse than that would be if you don’t help your employees improve, and they stay with you.

If a culture of a lack of personal growth goes unchecked in an organization, it can cost a company, millions, and sometimes, billions of dollars. Just ask Wells Fargo and Volkswagen, to name just two. How high a priority does your company place on discovering what the level of personal growth is of an applicant before hiring them? Once an applicant is hired, how do you keep focus on improving who they are or increasing their level of personal growth?

Between the weaknesses that we are born with, and the corresponding strengths that we develop is a whole spectrum of growth. Your employees are all at different points along that spectrum on their personal growth journey.

Unless you have a plan in place to help your employees increase their level of personal growth, we can safely assume that most of them will not pursue personal growth on their own.

One thing that has been made clear by the many voices raised in recent years, including the #MeToo Movement, is that employees’ expectation in the workplace is whole person treatment: body, mind, heart, and spirit. Stephen Covey refers to this as the whole person paradigm. In The 8th Habit he writes “At the core, there is one overarching reason why so many people remain unsatisfied in their work and why most organizations fail to draw out the greatest talent, ingenuity, and creativity of their people and never become truly great, enduring organizations.

It stems from an incomplete paradigm of who we are ---our fundamental view of human nature.” He continues on to say that in today’s Information/Knowledge Worker Age, only those employees treated as a whole person, in a whole job, receiving a fair wage, treated kindly, used creatively and given opportunities to serve human needs in principled ways, will choose to use their whole person to give their personal best to their employer.

To accomplish that will take personal growth on the part of the management team and the employees. Yes, it will take an investment of money and time on your part, but the alternative is that your business falls behind your competition, who are beginning to see the emerging big picture that the employee has entered a new age. If you want your employees to do more, you will have to help them become more.

Copyright © 2019 Justin T. Peterson - All rights reserved.

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