Sunday, January 26, 2014

Should Businesses Have A Philosophy?

While looking through some old files from my time at the NSC and how I was trying to reboot the whole scrip industry and get the NSC on a growth path. At the core was a need to rebuild a new way to look at the business, the team and the efforts. While it is a bit strange to think about “philosophy and business” in the same breath, the fact is that this place and this time needed just that.

NSC was a $350 million nonprofit public benefit corporation that had been around for over 15 years. It had started out as a part of the Catholic Church in one Diocesan and when I walked through the doors it had gone through a terrible break up with the Church, lost its CEO to a suspicious death (which I did not learn about until many months after being there) and was under attack from hostile players in the market. Its culture was one of division, in fighting and lack of trust. Every manager and unit of the company was divide and on their own “island” – which later I came to realize was totally on purpose. The less cohesion in the ranks and teams the more control and shadow games could be played at the top for self-gain.

I was hired by the board to turn the place around, get it focused on growth (which we did – going from $350 million to over $500 million in short order) and more importantly get the organization on solid thinking and understanding what the mission and focus should be.  For me a big part of this was reconnecting the different leaders and areas of the business, opening up the CEO (me) and board to the team and employees, making the place more transparent. Part of this for me was sharing my views and thinking on business and getting the team to open up and also push back when they felt they should.

So I would write, share, hold team lunches, walk around and sit with the employees (at our peak we would have around 300 employees in the mix). The following is an exert from one of these sharing’s, I thought it worth letting you all think from them as well.

**** From a memo to all NSC employees*****

While there are many projects, priorities and activities, the above buckets are the three key areas right here, today! It is also important that the team understand my core business beliefs and philosophies;

• Why We Exist: Never forget the customer. They should be in all we do, say, think and talk about. The start, the end and the finish to every day!

• Do Onto Others As You Would Want Them To Do Onto You. Treat each other with respect and common courtesy- even when you are at great odds and differences remember we are all different and we all bring different ideas, experiences and approaches. It is important not to talk ill or poorly of any of the team leaders or members. When you have a disagreement - either have the courage to talk one-on-one with the person about the concern, disagreement or difference of option face to face, or keep it to yourself. We all have bad days and moments (hey I do all the time) – just remember to loop back and say you’re sorry and set things straight. Attacking each other personally, whether in an “off the cuff” side comment in the hall way OR in a big group meeting accomplishes only one thing. It brings the leader down in competence and trust, and it hurts the goals of the group.

Remember, praise in public, correct and teach in private.

• Take The High Road. We all have one focus, helping more charities earn more funds. In all we do, keep the customer, the charity in mind and think "does this help them? Does this take away from them? If we take the high road, we will never make the wrong judgment call. I would rather our organization succeed via ideas, creativity, hard work, fast decision making, taking calculated risks than by being bullies!  Even when talking about or dealing with the competition, just be polite and move on – talk about our value, not about how stinky they are. By focusing on them and talking bad about them we bring ourselves down!

• Less To Do With Technology And More To Do With Communications. That most problems or issues or bad situations come from poor communications and poor listening skills. That in the end our success will have little to do with technology, or buildings, or stuff and it will be more about relationship building, communications and people leadership skills.

• Expect Challenges, Direct The Anger Towards Results. We must never look at each other in anger, instead when disagreement begins take a deep breathe, step away for a moment. Expect things will go wrong or not just as you had planned, be prepared and work it out - with grace, and confidence that we are one team. And again, we will get angry at each other – that is OK, just make sure you repair the moment – and instead of going on a “witch hunt” of who caused the problem – fix the issue and learn from it.

• As Strong As The Weakest Link. Look out for each other, make sure that when someone could be in harms way, or making them aware of something they might not know or be aware of. It is important that we give each other the benefit of the doubt. If some one can step up and help another in need, even if it is outside their area of reasonability – go for it!

• Assumptions Are A Failure Waiting To Happen. Assume nothing, whether working with a supplier or selling to the customer or turning over a project to someone on the team make sure everything is understood at the out set. Take nothing for granted, look at what has been done and why it has worked or failed, see what the competition is doing, look to other industries, other countries, others on the team. Learn from all that we know and apply it to action at hand.

• Adapt Or Die. Take action, try something, do anything. It is better to get 60 things a day done vs. one thing a month. The more we do the more we will learn, the more we will succeed. The greatest damage is in doing nothing. We should always ask everyday, what have I done lately, what can I complete and not let it hang out there? Try new ideas, new partnerships – talk to someone totally new every week, read something new everyday. Not everything will be perfect – that is OK – it is better to try, and learn – than to sit and wait!

• Be Honest – Not Rude! We all need a kick in the seat of the pants every so often, me included. It is important that we all feel comfortable to talk with each other – about concerns, ideas, points of view – and if we see someone doing something a bit off or just plain bad that we can tell them face-to-face without feelings being hurt. We shouldn’t take everything so personally. If someone says something about something, or has a different idea or approach – it is not saying, “you’re a bad person” it is more about the team working together to grow and become better.

• Everyone In A Business Is Selling All The Time. We all need to think and talk and understand our business inside and out. We need to sell the value and the benefits of NSC to everyone, everywhere all the time!

• Never Doubt That A Small Group Of People Can Change The World.  Because I have seen determined, bright, driven and caring teams move mountains with teaspoons. Each and every one of us matters and means the difference in us succeeding or not.

• Accountability Not Title. I hate titles, they drive me crazy! Some people hide behind them or use them as a weapon to beat others back and down. In the end we need to be accountable for our areas of responsibilities and jobs. We need to look at the results of what we are doing and get the job done. We all need to jump in and get the job done.

• Meeting Madness.  While I know meetings are needed and important, they can drive me crazy. At the same time, if there is a meeting scheduled and you need to be at that meeting do not be late. If ANYONE FROM THE OUTSIDE is in the meeting, whether via the phone or in person nothing makes us look bad, rude, and unprofessional than being late. Meetings should have agendas and owners driving them, and there should be clear action items and owners for the meeting.


While in the end the impact from outside issues knocked over this giant and we never were able to regain our footing, instead taking care of the charities and keeping the scrip industry going became the focus. I learned a ton about people wanting to make a difference. My belief in the people I was serving with and along side filled my heart and spirit with joy and pride. I would do it all over again, even knowing the fate and outcome.

On the day we finally shut down and everyone had to leave I remember all the leaders not wanting to go, not wanting to give up. The sense of leadership and care was so strong. While I thought the reason I was at the NSC was one thing, one reason - to grow the business, in the end was something else all together. I came to believe that I was the right person to do this difficult transition and build the right team and thinking that helped it as well.

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