In a crisis, being one of the last businesses standing is the best outcome for many. And to be the last one standing requires us to strive to ever-greater excellence.As the owner, being in business, doing business and building a business tests your sense of self.
Listen to Pavlo Phitidis discuss excellence in business in this podcast from 702 and CapeTalk:
Business is conflictual. Starting one requires you to take away business from someone else. Looked at differently, it means you have to fight for your piece of the pie and the established incumbents won’t want to share any of it with you. Your success comes at a loss for your competitors.
Making the pie bigger because of a disruptive business that you are building is mostly a nice way of saying that you will take the pie away from indirect competitors and they won’t want to give any of it up.
Then there is selling and selling has a firmly conflictual element to it. You are trying to separate a customer and their hard-earned cash and mostly, they are trying to hold onto it. Should they really want what you have, then it’s a discussion around price; conflict again.
These many daily battles that you fight to build a business have two sides. The one is crushing you. The other building you. Every fight that you have that you persist with, depersonalise, and complete either leads to success or, if the deal is not done, new insights and lessons learned, that builds you. It makes you better but only if you can learn AND change your behaviour. If you win a deal and don’t question why and how or if you lose it and in that find yourself wanting to give up, then business and its many fights will crush you. You will emerge full of self-doubt with eroded confidence and a waning sense of value.
So, say things are going well for you and your business, how do you rate yourself. We always act within the purview of our own psychologies. How we see ourselves impacts greatly on how we behave in business. Many CEO’s of businesses adopt a view of themselves that is linked to the turnover of their business or the business that they are CEO’s of. Does a big, hefty, multi-billion Rand turnover mean that you are a genius, supremely gifted and superior as a human being? Many Presidents think so and many, many CEO’s and senior corporate executives do too. Some business owners certainly do. If that is so, I think you’re in for a nasty surprise. Here is why:
- How did your big turnover come about – many businesses in South Africa operate with very little competition. In almost every sector, there is a big 3 or 4 or 5. Be it financial services, automotive, hospitality, food services, pharma and so the list goes on. This highly concentrated environment often means that competition between these big businesses is limited. They may be protected by government issued licenses limiting the number of players in a market; or require extraordinary amounts of investment to simply start because of such licensing and compliance requirements, which limits your competitors. It also limits what you as a corporate giant can do. Perhaps, given that, the hefty turnover is a consequence of that, rather than remarkable genius.
- Who is the dream team – That the emperor has no clothes is a well-worn and very useful condition to consider. I’m always sceptical of a team member’s agreement with me. Not that a business is or should be a democracy. The owner carries all the risk and must make the calls to action for the business and the team. Recently, in an interview with George Stephanopoulos from ABC News and President Trump, someone coughed. He was impatiently admonished by the President and humiliated in front of White House staff. Do you think he will ever share an honest thought about an issue he is questioned about from Trump? Or will he simply agree with Trump for fear of reprisal? A further consideration is the risk of group think. It happens to us all where, as a team you might find over time that you all begin to think alike. Remedies to this include actively embracing diversity in the team and the adopting third-party collaborators and partners. These could be board members or business growth service providers. Perspective and ground-truthing are hard to maintain, but critical to not finding yourself blind-sided. Ask Kodak!
- How does funding work – If your funding stream comes from established financial institutions that, because of very long relationships and their own hunger to do business, make access to that funding a formality. The fight for funding is sobering and beyond valuable. Understand that a funder does not want to lose money and in so doing, questions and double guesses your every activity. Then use this free ‘battle testing’ aggravation as a fantastic tool to ensure your own thinking and approach is valid and the best it can be. Most funders are not ‘stupid’ actually!
- How is excellence measured – is it favourable comments from friends and family? Or is it fawning, for fear of reprisal from your team members or staff at work? If something cannot be measured it cannot be managed. Far too often we rely on anecdote to evaluate and assess ourselves and our business performance. Measuring something like excellence is hard. It requires a standard to be set first and the question is what you set it against. Competitors or your own standards? If your own, how do they come about? This is when it’s useful to have an obsessive-compulsive perfection disordered person on your team. As annoying as they are, they hold value in this regard. Once the standard is set, how do you measure it, consistently and reliably? Unless you have understood how to do this and thereafter, how to digitise it, it’s hard to maintain and impossible to maintain as you grow.
- Who are your customers – do they want you or need you. Certain services like electricity and banking services are a necessity in life. Without them you’d suffer greatly. Does that make consumers of these services customers, suggesting that they willingly engage with you to buy your version of the service or product? To the extent that your customers cannot do without you, you run the risk of assuming the credit for the business you run or have built. It creates a fundamentally false impression of your own capability and sense of self confidence. The remedy for this is to expand into a new market where a greater number of competitors reside and learn to fight for your piece of the pie in that environment. It is the litmus test of your grit and capability.
- Who are your competitors – are they matched in size and are they many? In South Africa, for example, banks enjoy a ROE around 22-25%. Failure to deliver this is upsetting for the executive teams whose incentives are measured against such metrics. As a comparison, in the UK, with over 300 financial services licenses, banks that return single digit ROE’s above 7 or 8% are lauded as brilliantly built and run businesses. Competitors bring out the best and worst in you. To rate yourself in a ground truthed reality to avoid the hubris of your future fall, surround yourself in a competitive marketplace since iron sharpens iron.
- What drives you – are you driven by an internal or external locus of control. And nternal locus of control is a true gift. It means you are mostly always in a competition with your former self; the person you are from last year or an hour ago. That self-drive in a positive psychology remains the single biggest gift in helping you strive towards excellence. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever rate yourself too highly since the best you delivered yesterday sets the standard to beat tomorrow.
Excellence is a word too seldom used in South Africa today. We tolerate and excuse everything from shocking behaviour of politicians, business leaders and governance, compliance, big brand service providers (who ironically are in service of excellence), educators and consumers. 30% for maths literacy is a commitment to failure in the future. A word without action, is a commitment to defeat.
We talk of the 4th industrial revolution with concern and intent to play in it, yet choose not to make the hard sacrifices today needed to achieve it. Words than never turn into action about creating a better future for yourself and your business seed the cancer of cynicism and self-doubt in your future self. Aristotle said: “If behaviour leads to excellence, then excellence is but a habit.”
Our habits are formed by our behaviour which in turn is driven by our attitude. Adopt excellence as a new standard in your business and the results will see you grow in a no-growth economy where the average standards of service are dismal.
Working with you at Aurik, we will strive for that excellence both in our business and most importantly, yours. It’s simple, your success is ours.