What’s in your company’s DNA?
Feb. 11, 2017 - The start of a new year is not just a great time to look ahead with some clarity to the next year and somewhat speculatively to the distant future, it is also a good time to look back at the past year and further back to our companies’ origins.
Businesses evolve over time because they have to — because times change. Economic situations change, as does the marketplace and the business environment. The rate of change has been accelerated by technology, and now also by the significant political and societal changes underway as well. These changes may cause us to alter our visions and re-evaluate our values frequently, but what they don’t alter is our DNA. Our DNA is what our companies were born with, and unless they are sold or die, it’s what they take with them into the future.
I was recently asked to describe my company’s DNA by a respected colleague. The company is only four years old and competing in the new Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) space, so it wasn’t too difficult to talk about its vision, the opportunity and value proposition. He then asked me two thought-provoking questions: why are you, and, who are you? This made me think about our DNA, and how we can’t really describe it, but how it should be evident in everything we do. Just like it is in our real DNA — it dictates how we walk, how we talk, how we think, and how we grow.
The best way to answer his question was to describe what I believe (and hope!) are four key characteristics that are evident in our company every day.
1. “We give credit and take blame”
In many other corporations (both large and small), people feel the need to take credit and give blame. This happens when internal competition becomes the only way people move up in the organization, or when they need the need to protect their position as they see others seeking to advance up the ladder. In our company, credit is earned, given and shared genuinely.
2. “A rising tide raises all the ships in the harbour”
This is a quote one customer often uses to describe businesses working together, but it also applies to our organization, where we aim for other people’s success rather than our individual success. As we help our co-workers get better, our ability to compete with other companies improves dramatically. To quote my co-founder and a pretty good musician, Randy Hess, “I’d rather be the weakest player in a rock band than the best player.” If you are the best player in that band, it may not be such a great band!
3. “Aim for our customer’s success first, and they will help us achieve ours”
We ultimately succeed only when our customers succeed with our product. This phrase places the onus on us to make sure we deliver a well-designed and well-developed product, and stay involved and committed until they achieve their success.
4. “Think. Plan. Do.” (Because tactile outcomes speak for themselves)
Because we are still a small company, no one has a role that is limited to just thinking, just planning, or even just doing. At this stage in our development, we realize we all must be “doing” and everyone has a responsibility to get tactile things done ourselves. Thinking is required before planning, and planning before doing, but what we get done is what we measure. Our preferred measurement for progress is “outcomes” — the things we have gotten done. Tactile outcomes need few words because they speak for themselves. In our current organization, everyone thinks, everyone plans, and everyone does. As we get bigger and more ‘mature,’ I hope this characteristic remains true.
A company’s initial DNA comes from its founders. As it takes on shareholders and appoints new leaders, the DNA gets altered with each generation, but a significant part of it is passed on and carried forward. The characteristics a company exhibits strongly and consistently is what attracts certain kinds of people to apply for key positions and naturally disqualifies others; it attracts certain kinds of customers and even investors as well. If you consistently exhibit and live out your positive DNA characteristics, you will likely end up with a great group of people and a great roster of customers.
If you want a snapshot to gauge what your DNA is really like, take a look at your people and how they treat each other, your customers, and even your suppliers. It can be argued that it is the people that make the company, but at the same time, it’s the company’s DNA that attracts and even shapes its people.
So, here’s a question for you at the start of the new year: what is in your company DNA, and, what three or four characteristics make it clearly evident?
This column was originally published in the January/February 2017 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
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