When you ask business owners about the products that they offer, they are quick to list off all of their various offerings from tangible products, to subscriptions, and services. One thing that is almost always left off of the list is the company itself. Entrepreneurs and business owners must be very mindful that their company is also their product. In fact, it is their core product.
Everything about what you do, how you do it, who does it, where you do it, and why you do it, is your cornerstone product. This is true whether you provide a service or sell a physical product. Then, it follows that, every decision you make is by definition either a feature or a defect in your company.
You need to design your company with the same care and attention as your revenue-generating offerings. After all, no one sets out to build an inferior product, and no investor wants to back an inferior product. Nor should you as the owner or founder of a business want to back an inferior product, especially since there is surely a better, faster, stronger one on a shelf nearby.
Understanding that your company is your most important product, you need to ask yourself:
- What features do I want to add to it? What defects would I like to remove from it?
- Do I want a high-performing team that can help me remove and prevent issues, or a low-cost team to whom I have to spell everything out every single day?
- Do I want an expensive office in the New York Financial District, or is it ok if I take over the garage at my house?
While some decisions may be readily apparent, there are other less obvious ones that heavily shape the features of your company. These include your hiring, firing, and training processes, your workplace culture, how you talk to customers, and even how you handle adverse situations like a pandemic. There are also several other hidden processes that define your brand to customers, investors, and the outside world. As a general rule, it is important to always remember that every problem has a solution. Many things that we take for granted today were viewed as all but impossible just a decade ago.
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As starting points to cultivating your core product, your company, you should concentrate on your culture and vision.
The first area of focus should be your workplace culture. It is important to be as purposeful about this as you are about your brand. In fact, your brand and your culture go hand in hand in many ways. It is said that if you don’t create your own brand, others will do it for you. Similarly, a company without a defined workplace culture will certainly define one as it goes along. So, as with your brand, either you have to define it or it will be defined for you. This means that you may end up with a culture that you do not want, or which is not the best for your business.
If your company has been around for a few years it may have already defined a culture. It is likely, however, that there are stronger subcultures within various departments that conflict with one another and perhaps even with the organization’s overall vision. As a quick test to check, ask five people in your company to tell you about its core values or mission. If you get five dissimilar or, worse, inconsistent answers, you have a culture problem.
You cannot expect everyone to be driving full speed towards one goal if everyone is on a different page. It’s not fair to them, and it’s not fair to you. If we think of the company as a product, these become core defects that need to be removed. You do this by defining a culture, then making sure everyone in the organization understands it and wants to be a part of it.
Sure, you may have some attrition because of the new culture. But you have to realize that you need the right people in the right roles, and self-selection is actually one of the most painless ways of ensuring that. Having a formal, culture-focused hiring and firing process is even better.
You can work with the leadership team to define the culture, you can hire experts, or you can do both. The best approach is to work with the leadership as it encourages buy-in and allows you to hear ideas and values that are derived from the diversity of experience found within your team. Having said that, the right consultants can work well with the leadership and the entire company too. So it really comes down to how much time you have and how much you are willing to spend on the exercise.
Here are the steps you need to take to begin defining the culture you want to be a part of:
- Generate a list of your core values.
- Stress test those core values.
- Refine your core values.
- Publish your core values internally.
- Incorporate them in everything you do.
This sounds simple, right? Yet, most organizations actually get stuck at the first step. It is important to be persistent, purposeful, and understand the pitfalls of this process in order to effectively maneuver through it.
If your team does not know where it is headed, there is virtually no way to tell if organizational goals are being met. In fact, it will be difficult to even set goals properly. Not only that, without a defined roadmap, you are leaving meeting goals to chance.
This is why it is absolutely critical that you write down your vision for the organization in a way that is clear and concise, so that anyone in the organization can easily repeat it back to you. Do remember though that if you are extremely clear about your business’s vision but do not communicate it clearly to your team, they will not be able to see it the same way you do.
Your “vision” can often include your “mission” or “mantra” or be a separate statement on its own. There are plenty of examples online and you’ll see a common thread among most of them: these statements prevent distraction internally. When the leadership team at Orville Redenbacher sits together, for instance, they talk about all things popcorn. Their “core focus” prevents shiny new ideas from entering their world, because they know lack of clarity creates waste.
The bottom line is that you have to start with the absolute understanding and belief that your company is your core product, as much as any of its offerings. You therefore have to work as hard and purposefully at developing this product as you do with anything else.