Business Principles

Here we are in 2011. A fresh start, so to speak.

A better start, perhaps, for many of us than last year at this time. What’s changed in the past year?

Well, in no particular order:

  • Unemployment continues to hover near double digits.
  • Inflation remains but a bubble.
  • Corporate profits are on the uptick.
  • Economic GDP is forecast to remain in the 2 percent range.
  • We are at “halftime” on the political front.
  • We remain mired in Afghanistan, while facing military uncertainty in Iraq, Korea, Iran and China.
  • Europe’s debt crisis shows no sign of abating.

Can you add to the list? As I read it, not much has changed, and if you read what I read, not much is expected to change.

So, back to business.

Many TEC and Executive Agenda companies have long accepted the reality that the “new” normal is now simply just normal. No, they are not growing by leaps and bounds in the double-digit range like they may have been in the mid-80s and mid-90s. But they have adjusted to slow growth with increased profitability.

How is this so?

I believe the successful companies throughout our state have gotten back to basic block-and-tackle tactics.

I’d like to focus on one part of these tactics. It’s carefully but definitively defining or revising—for every business stakeholder—your code of business principles.

These principles support the backbone of the purpose of our businesses. They’re not just words on paper. They’re at the core of who we believe we are. They support the legacies that have been passed on by founders. They contain the jewels of thought that transcend us through good and bad times.

So what do they look like?

Here’s an example.

  • Employees: What is your commitment and expectations of employees? Can you put it in a sentence?
  • Your purpose: What is your fundamental purpose, your reason for being? Can you put it in a sentence?
  • Customer relationships: What is absolutely key to your customer relationships?
  • Accountability: How do you measure accountability in your company?
  • Growth and profitability: What are your growth and profitability goals?
  • Business ethics: What role does business ethics play in all transactions?
  • Community: What is your position toward “giving back”?
  • Succession: Do you have a succession plan with named successors?

The basic idea is to develop and transmit these key principles to those people who are key to your future success. That’s why I used the term “stakeholders” above.

Simply printing the guiding principles will not do. They need to be talked about, starting from the owner or CEO. They need input from employees, because maybe all employees don’t believe that their company walks the talk.

The point is, they can’t be static. Words on paper without human interaction behind them are static.

If you take the time to do or revise your guiding principles, then you have a template for taking a hard look at the situation facing your business in 2011, given the observations I made at the beginning of this article. Successful companies will continue to seize three opportunities that others don’t see:

  • Innovative practices – not just add-ons.
  • New overlooked niches in your marketplace.
  • New technologies that could be licensed.

Our TEC and EA members tell us that going into any new year is always a time of fresh hope and fresh inspiration. It’s built into our American karma, wouldn’t you agree?

I firmly believe that starting at the level of reinforcing key guiding principles is basic and central to getting that ball into the strike zone in the coming year.

Our TEC colleagues in Australia just came off a very mediocre 2010 by their standards (the whole country did). Their chief partner, Nigel Stoke, just told me, “Hey, mate, we’ll keep the sails behind us. Tell your guys to do the same.” Until next month, let your guiding principles go to work for you.

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