There’s a pervasive thought that’s crept into our business psyche over the years and it’s all about ‘the deal’. We’ve become obsessed with thinking up ways to make money, earn a passive income, clip the ticket… but tell me, where is the discussion about creating value? Why isn’t this on the management agenda or taught in our business schools?
Instead of focusing on how to increase prices, engineer the market or create the next useless app, let’s instead talk about the problems we can fix and the people we can serve.
BE A GO-GIVER INSTEAD OF A GO GETTER
I remember having this exact conversation with a fellow manager. She asked “imagine what we could accomplish if we focused all of this intellectual horsepower towards something important?” It’s a thought provoking idea…
One of my favourite books is “The Go Giver” by Bob Burg and John David Mann. In this book, the central premise is that if you want to earn more money, find a way to serve more people. And let’s face it, there are a lot of problems out there to fix and a lot of people we could serve.
CHANGING THE MANAGEMENT AGENDA
But how do we change the conversation? Here are a few ideas which I think would get the ball rolling:
- Focus on the problem instead of the product: Understanding the true problem you’re solving is surprisingly difficult. The tendency is to define it too narrowly and in only rational terms. The reality is that most problems you’re solving are a symptom of a bigger and deeper problem. Solve this and you’ll deliver more value and have the opportunity to exchange more value.
- Be clear about who you’re solving it for: We don’t like to say “no” to business. The temptation is to say “we service all markets”. But it’s important to know who has the problem you’re addressing. Once you know who they are, a lot of other things become clearer too. You know where to find these people, how to reach them and how to speak to them in a clearer and more compelling way.
- Build a strategy to serve, not sell: Business strategies are always about how to make more money. Try flipping the conversation and instead come up with a strategy designed to reach and serve more people. Ask yourself “if we serve and solve this problem for 50 people today, how can we help the next 500?”
- Change the management conversation: Are you spending all your time analysing the P&L or do your management meetings focus on value creation and delivery? Develop metrics that allow you to track the value you’re delivering and the people you’re serving, as well as the money you’re making.
Here’s an example of how I define these things for myself:
The problems I solve are about direction: I help people define where to go, how to get there and what to do first.
A lot of people have these problems in life and in business but I’m not a life coach. The people I serve are entrepreneurs, business owners and leaders, but even that’s too broad. More specifically, these problems arise when people are just starting something new, changing course or have hit a plateau. The people I serve then, are those saying to themselves “I need a plan, but I can’t see a way forward right now”.
At a deeper level, the problem isn’t just about defining a path forward. It’s solving a more fundamental and personal set of concerns:
- “This needs to work, there’s a lot riding on this.”
- “It’s my job, my responsibility – I have to fix this.”
- “It’s all on my shoulders – everyone is looking to me for an answer.”
I find in these situations, creating hope for the future, a plan to get there and concrete actions to get started, is not only good for the business but relieves a lot of anxiety for the person responsible. So at one level, I help people with business plans but at a deeper level, I’m helping people regain confidence in themselves and their ability as leaders and entrepreneurs.
CHASE THE OBJECTIVE, NOT THE OUTCOME
It can be a difficult shift to get your head around. Particularly if like most, you’ve been brought up on the ‘Gordon Gekko’ school of business. But we need to stop idolising these soulless models of business and so called “captains of industry”. This is not to say that profit isn’t important – it is, but it should be the outcome, not the objective.
If you’re delivering genuine value then customers will find you, love you and share you with their friends. You’ll create a community rather than a customer base and profit will be the natural result of the exchange.
I’m not sure why we exist on this earth, but I’m pretty sure it’s not about making a buck for its own sake. The world existed a long time before the stock market and I believe that life is about more than creating an uptick on a stock chart.
Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and Chairman of a number of family and private enterprises, Matthew is the founder of Board Associates and specialises in innovation and strategic marketing.