Issue 1.4 | September 2009

In this Article: How do you ensure that you invest precious resources strategically in order to keep your company “on track” for success?

By Jonathan Wilson

A dense white filled my field of vision.  Thick mist sat heavily in the remote valley, penetrating the dense, high-altitude rainforest.  It deadened all noise and saturated my clothes and hair.  In this part of the world foreign visitors were a rarity.  The first time I entered this valley, in 1991, I was the only living outsider to have done so.  Now it was 1997 and I was with a few friends from the Yali tribe, plus two more outsiders to add to the visitor statistics of this Papuan valley: a woman from Sweden and a man from Canada.

The ascent was gruelling.  I was in the lead, followed by my Canadian friend and then the others.  The narrow trail twisted and turned and climbed, slippery with mud and roots, through the dark trunks of trees and the ever-present mist.  Every now and then barely perceptible hunting trails ran off the main trail.  But I knew how to read this terrain: I had spent most of my formative years among the Yali.

We emerged into a small clearing.  I paused and looked back.  The Yalis entered the clearing, followed by our Swedish friend.  With a shock, I realized that our Canadian friend was nowhere to be seen.  The Yalis and I reacted instantly: our friend could have taken a wrong path in any number of directions and it might prove impossible to find him.  If so, he would starve and die.  More urgently, he could walk off a fog-cloaked precipice.Immediately we started shouting his name.  One Yali hurtled back down the track and into the forest.  Time was of the essence.  Thankfully, our friend was soon found wandering on a trail to nowhere.  In the thick mist and the zigzagging of the path, he had lost sight and sound of me, even though I was only metres ahead; and when he left the trail, no-one behind saw.  His foreign eye failed to distinguish between the main trail and a side trail, and so he followed a branch to the right.  Had our Yali friend not found him, the Canadian may have met his doom.

I have never heard of a company that deliberately took the wrong path.  But the hard reality is that if you wish to be a market leader in the corporate rainforest, there is no one in front of you to follow, no-one behind you to save you, and no signposts written just for your company that say “follow this trail to profitability” or “danger ahead”.   Just as my friend struggled to read the trail, so the signs of whether or not you are on track as a business are not always obvious.

Here are some questions to help you reflect on whether you are “on track”.  Answering “yes” to any of these may indicate that you are at risk of taking the wrong trail:

1. Are you building product platforms or pursuing certain markets primarily for the purpose of “keeping up with the Joneses”, i.e. your competition?

2. Are you struggling to replicate past successes?

3. Do you have high customer and/or staff turnover?

4. Do your initiatives compete for resources?

5. Does your leadership team routinely experience unresolved debates or even conflicts?

Leading On Purpose

Answering “yes” to any of the above questions reveals, in one way or another, an alignment issue.  Alignment issues reflect either an insufficiently clear organizational purpose or a failure to rigorously adhere to a clear purpose (see our Leadership by Soul™ model).

This takes us back to the fact that understanding your soul – the outcomes you care about most, your unique mix of abilities and the driver that makes these economically viable – is a necessary prior step to developing your purpose.  In turn, your purpose is your company’s decision for exactly how you will make a difference in the market, and by when.

Only weeks ago John Sutherland from Ennova Inc. and I collaborated to work with an exciting company in Chicago who have every intention of disrupting the industry in which they operate with a very new way of doing business.  They have a major success story in one region of the US but are struggling to replicate it.  It soon became clear that this was because they did not have a clear purpose rooted in accurate self-understanding.  As a result, their executives had divergent but unarticulated assumptions about what constituted a good prospective client and how to go after them, leading to both friction and frustrations on the team.

We conducted a rapid analysis of their business model, and a critical truth emerged: they had assumed they should be the primary cause of disruption, when in fact they could not be.  Instead their purpose was to be a catalyst for disruption through their ability to effectively secure the buy-in of key industry stakeholders who will champion the new industry model.  Their purpose is not to disrupt, per se, but to inspire and facilitate a disruption movement.  A purpose of this magnitude will have an achievement time-frame counted not in years, but in decades.

A clear purpose, rooted in the truth about who you are, provides a compelling and rational motivation for employee loyalty.  It unites leadership.  It enables executives to make rapid, strategically smart decisions.  It allows line managers to efficiently and accurately allocate company resources, thereby enabling delivery of great service, which results in customer retention.  It provides a valid measure for success.  And it renders the competition irrelevant, because – and this bears repeating – no-one can replicate your soul!

Another soul insight from