Monday, December 27, 2010
Bob Rupp, a good friend of mine gave me a copy of “Start With Why”, by Simon Sinek. It’s must read for any business leader....especially those who have lost their way. Simon Sinek’s School Bus Test is a simple metaphor for the ability of a company’s WHY to endure .....which he describes in these words.
If a founder or leader of an organization were to be hit by a school bus, would the organization continue to thrive at the same pace without them at the helm? So many organizations are built on the force of a single personality that their departure can cause significant disruption. The question isn’t if it happens––all founders eventually leave or die––it’s just a question of when and how prepared the organization is for the inevitable departure. The challenge isn’t to cling to the leader, it’s to find effective ways to keep the founding vision alive forever.
To pass the School Bus Test, for an organization to continue to inspire and lead beyond the lifetime of is founder, the founder’s WHY must be extracted and integrated into the culture of the company. What’s more, a strong succession plan should aim to find a leader inspired by the founding cause and ready to lead it into the next generation. Future leaders and employees alike must be inspired by something bigger than the force of personality of the founder and must see beyond profit and shareholder value alone.
Microsoft has experienced a split, but is not so far down the line that it can’t be put on track. There was time not too long ago that people at Microsoft showed up at work every day to change the world. And they did. What Microsoft achieved, putting a PC on every desk, dramatically changed the way we live. But then their WHY went fuzzy. Few people at the company today are instructed to do everything they can to help people be more productive so that they can achieve their greatest potential. Instead, Microsoft became just a software company.
If you visit Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, you will find that although their WHY has gone fuzzy, it is not lost. That sense of a cause, that desire to change world again, is still there, but it has become unfocused, wrapped up in HOW and WHAT they do. Microsoft has the remarkable opportunity to clarify their WHY and regain the inspiration that took them to where they are today. If they do not, and ail they do is manage the WHAT and continue to ignore the WHY, they will end up looking like America Online, a company so far past the split that their WHY is indeed lost. There is barely a hint of the original WHY left anymore.
America Online used to inspire. LIke Google today, it was the hot company to work for. People clamored to move to Virginia to work for this amazing company that changing the rules of the business. And it was true that, like all inspiring companies, AOL set in motion changes that profoundly altered how we do almost everything. They inspired a nation to get online. Their cause as clear and their decisions were governed by their WHY. They goal was to get more people people online even if their decisions in pursuit of that goal wreaked havoc on their business in the short term. With their WHY is focus, AOL pulled ahead of their competition by decision to change from hourly pricing for Internet access to unlimited monthly pricing, a decision that created so much traffic it shut down their servers. Given the impact, the decision was neither practical nor rational, but it was the right choice to help bring their cause to life. That their systems shut down with the additional traffic only pushed them to work harder to cope with it, to ensure that America could, in fact, get and stay online.
In those days, having an AOL e-mail address was a point of pride––a sign of being one of those who was a part of the Internet revolution. These day, still having an AOL e-mail address is a symbol of having been left behind. That the meaning of something as simple as @aol.com has changed so dramatically is additional proof that the company’s cause has long since departed. Absent a clear WHY, size and momentum are all AOL has to keep them going. The company is not inspiring anymore, not to those who work there and not to those on the outside. We don’t talk about them like we used to and we certainly don’t feel the same way about theme either. We don’t compare them to Google or Facebook or any of the other industry-changing companies of today. Like a massive freight train with brakes applied, it will till take miles for this train to come to a complete stop. It’s simple physics. At best AOL’s size will help them putter along, but without a more compelling purpose, cause of belief, the company is simply a collection of stuff. It will probably end up being chopped up and sold off for scrap (technology or customers) which is a sad reality considering how inspiring AOL used to be.
It is not a coincidence that successful entrepreneurs long for the early days, It is no accident that big companies talk about a “return to basics.” What they are alluding to is a time before the split. And they would be right. They do indeed need to return to a time when WHAT they did was in perfect parallel to WHY the did it. If the continue down the path of focusing on their growth of WHAT at the expense of WHY––more volume and less clarity––their ability to thrive and inspire for years to come is dubious at best. Companies like Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Starbucks, the Gap, Dell and so many other s that used to special have all gone through a split. If they cannot recapture they WHY and re-inspire those inside and outside their organization, every one of them will end up looking more like AOL than the companies they were. “– Simon Sinek. Start With Why.
And so a challenge to not only the new businesses starting up at Jake’s Cafe and many of the second/third generation companies in Sheboygan County....What’s Your WHY? Why do you exist? If it’s just to make stuff to make money. Think again. If you want your company to endure, you’d best start with WHY.