company vision

This three-letter word can lead to greater business growth

Originally published on February 12, 2014 as a Guest Column in The Globe and Mail

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If you’re one of those people who gets out of bed each morning eager to find new opportunities for your business, your commitment to innovation is alive and well.

Business is all about attitude, and the drive to make a difference to our customers, families and community. The truth is that building a business means sacrifice, risk and uncertainty. The great entrepreneurs and leaders will tell you that success comes from the heart, attitude and determination you bring to each problem, every day.

I urge all entrepreneurs and change makers to adopt an ‘and’ mindset. Be open to finding new ways to serve your customers and offer more value.

This can be difficult for entrepreneurs just starting out, surviving on thin margins. As a young entrepreneur, I remember rubbing my credit card for good luck before buying supplies, hoping I had enough credit left to buy what I needed.

I encountered a similar mindset in reading Bruce Poon Tip’s new book, Looptail. As the founder and visionary behind Toronto-based G Adventures writes: “When I started the company in 1990 with a couple of credit cards, I was living in a garage apartment and had a vision. I never thought that it would become what it has. I wasn’t given the tools from my upbringing to think big.”

As entrepreneurs, we need to build on this combination of passion and sacrifice to push for more. To make the impact we want, we need to struggle beyond our constraints to create value – something different and engaging that will inspire and capture a whole new group of customers.

Roger Martin, the innovative former dean of the U of T’s Rotman School of Management, crusades against “either-or” decision making. He says too many business leaders approach decisions in terms of choosing between two or more alternate paths. “This or that” thinking represents unnecessary compromise; it’s the easy way out. I believe in ‘this and that.’ After all, ‘and’ means more: more value for the customer and ultimately more opportunities for my business.

Mr. Poon Tip’s success was founded on this same principle of more. In his view, “there was room in the industry for a travel company offering package tours using local services – giving visitors a chance to experience a real flavour of their destinations, rather than to just stroll around a few notable landmarks.”

He had a clear vision and a burning desire to create a new level of value and satisfaction for a largely ignored segment of the travel market; those who didn’t want to be stuck within the confines of posh, antiseptic resorts. But he also recognized that average adventurers did not want to have to plan, chart and tour the more remote, exotic locations of the world on their own. With G Adventures he combined tours and local flavour, creating unique experiences that ultimately built one of Canada’s most unique and global companies.

As entrepreneurs, we need to push our teams as hard as we push ourselves, to find new ways to combine separate ideas into one new vision, a breakthrough innovation. Your success could begin by changing one simple word. But what a difference one word can make. Thinking in terms of ‘and,’ rather than ‘or,’ can be game-changing. The word ‘and’ is the jet fuel of innovative thinking.

Most importantly, this attitude generates maximum value to the customer. By focusing on it, we choose to add value, not compromise it. Challenge your team to explore the power of this simple word, which can lead to success and sustained growth.

And what more could anyone ask?

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Reimagine Your People Practices to Deliver Transformational Results

attract-retain-perform-cogsBeing a strategic people practitioner for more than fifteen years it has become clear that there are three key areas within people practices that will make or break your business.  These areas are like three integrated gears with the spokes of each gear driving the advancement of the others.  The three gears are Attract, Retain and Perform.  These gears are of varying size with an interdependence and sequence to them.

 First in the sequence is Attract.  For organizations to operate they must have an employee brand that speaks to prospective employees, draws in people that align with the company’s values and have the needed talent.  Today to be able to compete for prospective employees companies must satisfy their desire for an experience not just a job.

With the chosen employees now in place the company’s efforts turn to ensuring they stay.  Retain is the next gear in the sequence and is all about delivering on your brand promise made during the hiring stage.  Organizations must get to know their employees as individuals, what they need to succeed and provide them with the tools and environment to be the best they can be.

 The final, and in some ways, most significant gear is Perform.  While business can’t operate without having the right people in place through attract and retain, I’d argue that the largest opportunity for leveraging an organization’s results comes from this area.  Through a culture of innovation, leadership practices, team effectiveness and employee engagement organizations can measurably impact performance.

 In the coming months a more in depth look will be taken at each of these three critical stages in the employee life cycle with the goal of enabling companies to re-imagine their people practices to help organizations realize transformational results.

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“Coco” Chanel – Causing a disturbance long before it was fashionable

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Born into poverty, orphaned at seven and looking up at a “glass ceiling” that was virtually opaque, Gabrielle “Coco” Bonheur Chanel (1883-1971) became one of the 20th century’s great entrepreneurs and innovators. She was a resilient businesswoman who climbed the ladder of success. And when times were tough, she found a way to turn problems into opportunities. Today, the House of Chanel is a multi-billion dollar empire and the brand, Chanel is valued at over $6 billion.

The post-Victorian era was not conducive to women causing a disturbance, especially in France where they didn’t pass women’s suffrage laws until 1944. But that did not deter the young Coco Chanel. From the time she opened her first hat shop in 1909, she began to revolutionize women’s fashion by innately understanding what women wanted and needed. She saw the improbability of the status quo, knowing that corsets, frills, fuss and lace were all about pleasing men, not women. She saw through the glass ceiling and knew that beyond the “expected and accepted,” there was an opportunity to create clothes that delighted the women, not the men. She said, “I want women to have the possibility to laugh and eat, without necessarily having to faint.” Thirty years before women had the right to vote, she gave them the right to wear jackets, pants and comfortable, practical clothes. Initially, her ideas were considered outrageous and yet, she was outrageously successful. Coco Chanel didn’t simply buck a trend; she disrupted social norms, changed cultural customs and allowed women to enjoy what they had never before imagined.

WWI brought hardship and tough economic times but rather than focusing on the problems, the budding entrepreneur found opportunity where others saw setbacks. During the war women had to work more so she designed practical wear for them. And because Spain was neutral during the war, it was a playground for the rich so she opened a hugely successful shop in nearby Biarritz, France to serve wealthy clients. By the end of the war she had created the iconic Chanel brand – casual chic, liberating, sporty – the epitome of haute couture. Then she introduced Chanel No. 5, and as they say, the rest is history.

What Coco Chanel did is not rooted in genius or luck; it’s about thinking like an innovator and acting like an entrepreneur. She built an empire on principles that are as fundamental today as they were a hundred years ago.

I categorize them as: 1) Recognizing what will delight your customers; 2) Creating an ongoing conversation 3) Seeing beyond “what is” to “what can be;” 4) Turning problems into opportunities; and 5) Being ready to cause a disturbance in the marketplace.

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