Last week I began what will be one of the most exciting projects I have ever done.
And that is saying something. I’ve had amazing opportunities in my career so far. As a systems integrator, I’ve had the chance to help design and build some of the most technologically advanced systems in television, breaking new ground, with several “firsts” in my portfolio. As a businessman, I have started and grown two high-profile technology companies and a new division for another. I have had the chance to help multiple companies rethink and implement major marketing initiatives. But this tops anything I have ever done.
Not that it’s the biggest project, or the highest profile project I have ever done. It certainly won’t be anywhere near the highest paying project I have ever done. My client, while they don’t mind me talking about the project in general terms, don’t want me announcing who they are. So no publicity for me. I’ll likely get no press at all on this one. But in terms of doing something I deeply believe in, of using the whole of the experience I have, and in terms of challenge? This is the best.
I got the call late last week.
It was from a colleague I have worked for, and against, for over 20 years. He’s been both a competitor and a partner on dozens of projects and often, even when we were competitors, we’d have dinner together and talk.
Generally, that talk had less to do about the projects, than about business philosophy. Big, general, esoteric conversations. The kinds of conversations that are often fueled by bottles of wine, though neither of us drink very much. He’s a hard-core results guy, with a philosophical bent. And he has a new position in a company he worked for years ago that has called him in to revitalize themselves.
“Tom,” he said. “We’ve lost our soul and I want you to help us find it.”
How’s that for a project?
But I immediately knew what he meant. This happens to a lot of companies, particularly successful ones. Most companies begin with a binding philosophy, a great idea, a way of working that binds people together. They have a mission and a way of doing things that excited and motivates the people who work there. Yes, everyone wants to make money, but what really excites them is the idea, the team, the challenge, the thing that sets them apart.
But as a company grows, more often than not, they lose that thing that binds them together. There may be mission statements, bit they are more statement than mission. Diversity, a natural byproduct of growth, often dilutes the whole idea of what binds us together and gives us more than a job, but purpose.
As a company, you can grow big, at times very big, without that soul. But there is a cost:
- There is more turnover, so projects and progress slow down. More is spent just getting people up to speed.
- A less motivated staff means less efficiency and productivity.
- Less new ideas are generated.
- The left hand doesn’t know (and often care) what the right hand is doing.
- There is an increasing disconnect between different elements of the company, particularly between leaders and the rest of the company.
- The whole “It’s not my job” effect takes hold.
- Leadership wonders what is going wrong, and continually comes to the wrong conclusions.
What is soul? When I am talking to a company, it’s not the same as when I am talking to a coaching client, or a congregation. We’re not talking religion here. We are talking about a spirit that has purpose, and binds a company together. Something that creates vision and a reason for working so hard, and a reason to work together.
Companies can do just fine without a soul. But companies with a soul will generally out perform those that don’t have one. The people who work there have loyalty. They are excited to be part. You can sense it when are there. You feel it when you talk to people there. There is more than good work being done. There is drive.
And that’s what this company wants back. They don’t want to be just anther company in the field. They want to be THE company in the field, and they realize this comes only partially from strategy sessions and focus groups. It comes from something deeper than Big Data or the latest marketing trends and techniques.
It comes from recapturing their soul. The thing that makes them… them.
You want to be great? Know your soul. Want to a stand out? Know your soul. Want pople to follow you? Articulate and live your soul. Stand out, because companies and organizations with soul, do.
I won’t lie. This is not going to be easy. It will not be quick. But I think it will make a difference. And I think their leadership showed a rare wisdom in taking this tack. In future columns, I will talk more about the process, because it is a process that we can use as companies as well as individuals.
It’s going to be complex. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be challenging. It is going to matter.
I love my work.
Be well. Travel Wisely,