What Does Success Require?

The February 2007 issue of Harvard Business Review has a great article with the title How Managers’ Everyday Decisions Create or Destroy Your Company’s Strategy. One sentence intrigued me immensely, “Strategy is crafted as managers at all levels of a company commit resources to policies, programs, people, and facilities.”

Is this true? You mean, strategy is not a divine thought from the brightest and best minds housed in the corporate office: the brand managers’ perfectly laid-out master plan; or the general manager’s latest proclamation of the company way? No, strategy is the sum of the parts—Those thousands of decisions that dictate the use of resources at any moment.

So, productive and profitably used resources, what is the secret? For organizations large or small, and individuals too, answering this question is key to success.

Business mentors often answer this question by following one of several ingrained templates:

  • Certainly some believe that if workers simply followed a well laid out plan, exactly without deviation, productive and profitable asset use would result.
  • Others believe flexibility and responsiveness to the environment are the best way to achieve the best use of resources.
  • Still others will say, “preparation, practice and execution are the cornerstones of successful resource utilization.”  Proponents will often quote Vince Lombardi and define luck as where preparation meets opportunity.

Each is flawed. There have been times in my life where I have trusted and relied on any of the schools of thought, yet, despite the flaws, success happens.  And positively contributing themes have emerged.  Productive and profitable resource use result from three key themes: 1) that people are guided by a vision of what they want to attain; 2) that people are positioned to grow from their experiences; and 3) that people make consistent use of a desirable set of values in living their lives.

A Vision is in Place

There are just too many decisions, too many uncertainties, too many unknowns in the environment to prescribe a perfect plan. The reality of decision making must address external time constraints, geographic dispersion of expertise and support groups, or even missing facts. Hence, managers, or leaders must primarily focus on making sure the vision is observable and understood. It is only with a clear and common vision that disparate decisions from multiple decision makers or single decision makers across time consistent movement in the desired direction is achieved.

Positioned To Grow From Experiences

Excellence demands that we distinguish between learning ability and fear of failure.  Success is not being perfect, nor is it receiving everything we desire.  Successful business results come from a forward-thinking mentality, one that reacts well in an uncontrollable environment.  This mentality drives innovative thoughts as necessity requires them.  Organizations stuck on avoiding failure, overly focus on maintaining the status quo, often ignoring the crucial signals from the environment.

Consistent Set of Values Underlie Trade-offs

As people live, they make many decisions and learn from each a small bit about their values. As human beings, we each have values. However, the consistent application of values is hard work, because our values do not exist as crystal clear concepts.  Business success accrues where organizations behave consistently and thereby deliver clarity to a set of values.  In this environment, employees develop expectations about management’s future responses and gain confidence in their ability to judge risk and make decisions.  Hence, the decision making and innovation that marks successful organizations flows from the power of positive expectations and comfort with taking risks.

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