Are you Building a Business; or Something More?
I spent several years serving on a not-for-profit board that was recently honored for its work in my community. Our charter was to build schools, and the school district commemorated our service with a plaque in a local high school. As the school board President gave his opening remarks, he spoke about the courage and determination required to overcome obstacles and erect something that can last into perpetuity.
I have also been honored to work with very successful businesses built on the sweat of entrepreneurs, whose vision stood the test of time. In some cases, the businesses thrived as new generations innovated, and others faded away with the persona of their founder.
As companies build culture, it is important they tell stories, and reinforce the foundational elements that make a company strong and resilient. I am not talking about hanging a black and white picture of a founder (like something out of Mad Men). Companies have traditions and norms, often rooted in another time, when things like quality, or caring for others were not taken for granted.
I was facilitating a strategic planning meeting with a 35 year old company recently. The founder had died, and his nephew took over the reins. As we recast the vision for the company, and established a growth plan, I saw my clients eyes tear up. He could see the promise of the future, and the realization of the dreams of his uncle before him.
I have also seen the opposite be true, where it can take a company a decade or more to recover from a benevolent dictator, who managed with an iron fist, and stifled collaboration and innovation.
Thus sustainability is an important part of legacy. Kodak and Xerox are storied and venerable companies that did not change with the market. To create a long lasting legacy means celebrating the past while simultaneously embracing the future.
Companies should be purposeful about how they position their legacy within their brand. It is a slippery slope to say you have been around for 50 years, because to be traditional, or the first, does not always mean to be the best. Such companies need to communicate that they have been innovating for decades, and continuously bringing the best products to the market.
The same is true for hiring, where millennials may not be that impressed with history. Messaging should focus on being the real deal, the trail blazers and the authentic.
If you are an emerging leader, you should be thinking about what your legacy could be some day. Employees want to be part of something bigger than they are. If you demonstrate you are truly committed to building something special, they will come along for the ride.
Marc Emmer is President of Optimize Inc., a management consulting form, specializing in Strategic Planning. Marc can be reached at 661-296-2568.