Article first appeared in Faith Today magazine, page forty two, as Four Keys to Success, Tips for executives at mission-focussed businesses.
Book publishers today will tell you business is tough. My American publisher recently emailed me to say their business was bankrupt. They couldn’t pay outstanding royalties from 2013, but would ship my inventory – at my expense – to any destination I chose. My first Canadian publisher trod a similar path five years earlier.Today I’m working with another publisher who could be headed in the same direction.
The eventual demise of these Christian-led businesses was obvious for several years in partial and delayed bill payments. However, many of us don’t heed such warnings and thus miss the opportunity to deal with structural challenges. Instead, we chase money-driven, unsustainable quick fixes.
But business executives who focus on relevant success factors will spot threats and opportunities early, and respond appropriately. I suggest these four keys for a successful organization:
- a clear vision and mission
- careful attention to success factors
- an attitude that puts people first
- a simple strategy understood by the workforce.
Vision and Mission
For a Christian-led business, the vision and mission should satisfy needs or wants that honour God. (In business, “vision” defines an organization’s purpose in broad strokes, while “mission” expands and clarifies it.)
Highly visible and understood affirmations of the organizational vision and mission are essential to help a workforce remain engaged and motivated.
Unfortunately most organizations drift away from their mission. During boom times, new money-making ventures can seem too enticing to pass up. Leaders may hire and use loans to grab short-term benefits. But as the new business fades, debt grows, employees are laid off and a toxic environment develops.
Executives must never forget that the mission is the guiding light. Leaders must pursue it passionately, methodically and consistently. Doing so enables them to resist the temptation to follow every business opportunity that crops up.
Success Explained and Tracked
Employees should know how their organization measures success, not only in their department, but overall. They should know the ingredients of success and understand it’s more than one bottom-line number.
I learned early at business school that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” The challenge is to identify “it” – five to seven critical factors to track continually. Executives must monitor inputs that determine employee and customer satisfaction, and profitability.
Sadly, most people try to manage the wrong items. They may focus wrongly on outputs, when in fact only inputs (amount and quality of material, labour, and so on) are truly manageable.
Christian-led businesses must follow biblical principles while achieving reasonable returns. Executives must be unequivocal that the business will never compromise its values. When I served as vice-president at Alcan Inc. (now Rio Tinto Alcan), we had to submit a yearly letter to the president affirming we were unaware of violations of Alcan’s principles, objectives and policies. This formal process cascaded to front-line managers – each level submitting letters to the one immediately above.
Putting People First
People are the greatest asset of any business. Motivated, passionate workers go beyond what’s needed. They lift productivity and provide superior services to customers – who in turn willingly share their positive experiences with others, thus benefiting the business.
Executives must invest time selecting, training and developing employees. They must value employees highly and treat them according to the Golden Rule.
A Clear Strategy
Vision, mission and strategy statements need to be simple and easily understood. A strategy should depict how the business intends to do its mission – essentially, how it will provide superior value to its customers.
Executives should explain the strategy to the workforce – especially managers who must build and work with congruent departmental strategies and budgets.
The Bible teaches that the Lord will guide us when we believe in Him, trust, obey and lean on Him. Fundamentally, for Jesus’ followers, success is developing and treading paths that glorify God while doing His mission. It is aligning our lives with His – and these four keys to business success can help serve as signposts on our journeys.
© Copyright 2014, Michel A. Bell
Michel A. Bell is an author of five books, speaker, founder and president of Managing God’s Money, and adjunct professor of business administration at Briercrest College and Seminary. For information on living a debt free lifestyle, visit http://www.managinggodsmoney.com/.
*First published on Managing God's Money blog on July 8th, 2014.