Build It Right and They Will Come
Living in rural south-central Pennsylvania I see plenty of cornfields. I have a large cornfield right behind my house. As I gaze out across the cornfield I think of the movie, “Field of Dreams” and the haunting line in that movie, “build it and they will come.”
When it comes to building a business, recruiting and retaining good employees and attracting loyal customers is the lifeblood of the venture. It is not so much “build it and they will come”, but more along the lines of “build it right and they will come.”
So how does a business leader build a business the right way? I think it comes down to three primary factors.
I like to use the acronym PIQ (pronounced PEAK). Based on my experience in the military, running a retail and service business for over 15 years, and then consulting with large companies for an additional 15 years I believe building the right kind of company has these three elements that matter to employees and to customers.
Those elements are Purpose, Integrity, and Quality.
I learned the importance of communicating “purpose” to an organization when I commanded about 5,000 Soldiers and Marines in Ramadi, Iraq in 2005 and 2006 and then again when I was the commanding general of the 28th Infantry Division where I led 15,000 Soldiers.
In Ramadi, the conditions were very violent and chaotic. Insurgent attacks were extremely high and most Iraqi citizens wanted us to leave so we received little support from the populace. This created an environment for Soldiers where most days could seem like Groundhog Day.
This feeling was complicated with the frustration of being attacked by an enemy that was hard to find and fire back on since most attacks occurred with roadside bombs, rockets, and mortars.
In conditions like that, explaining to the Soldiers exactly why they were there and what they were accomplishing was paramount to maintaining good order and discipline and bolstering morale.
The purpose I communicated to the troops at all levels and at every chance I got was: “We were fighting insurgents and terrorists in Ramadi in order to keep our families, friends, and all Americans safe back at home.” That was the reason we were conducting operations in a violent area 7,000 miles away from our loved ones.
In addition to communicating purpose I also regularly communicated the overall success we were achieving. Some of the successes were the number of weapons caches we seized, the number of insurgents we detained, and the number of civil affairs projects we completed including the number of schools and young children we assisted.
I communicated the success we were having because I realized that the average Soldier focused on their small portion of the pie day after day could sometimes lose sight of the progress we made.
When I took command of the 28th Infantry Division in 2012 I had a slightly different challenge. Of the 15,000 Soldiers I commanded, 85% were not full-time Soldiers. They also had civilian jobs along with their military responsibilities.
These Soldiers were distributed across the entire state of Pennsylvania and neighboring states. The Soldiers trained in well over 70 different locations throughout that region. My objective was to take these distributed units and form them into one strong Iron Division.
I realized that the wars that were still going on in Iraq and Afghanistan would continue for some time. Even if our Division would not deploy in its entirety, I knew we would continue to send units from the 28th Infantry off to fight in very harsh conditions and it was my ultimate responsibility to ensure these units and their Soldiers were fit, resilient, and well-trained.
I realized that communicating a singular purpose was essential to help solidify these teams into one powerful force and motivate the units and Soldiers to train hard to be ready to fight in difficult conditions. I developed clear and consistent guidance, imperatives, and of course a purpose that the Soldiers could rally around.
The purpose I communicated was: “We will win when deployed overseas and increase the probability of returning as many Soldiers as possible back home alive.”
I found that communicating a clear purpose to the Soldiers I commanded improved morale, cohesion, and professionalism. The way this translates to a civilian organization is that when a business leader communicates purpose morale will improve, employees will realize they are working for something bigger than themselves, customers are treated better and there is greater pride in one’s work.
There are many definitions of integrity. One definition is, “doing what is right, even when no one is watching. Author, Gus Lee, defined integrity as, “acting for what is right, regardless of risk.”
I like to think of integrity as being honest and transparent with people and I believe integrity is the foundation of good, strong character.
Integrity is the cornerstone of building trust in an organization. Trust cannot exist where deceit resides. When a leader gains a reputation for being a person of integrity, the organization he or she leads will carry that same reputation.
Integrity and trust take time to grow but can be broken in a heartbeat. Integrity must be treated like a precious and fragile treasure. It is something any organization would want to be a hold of, and its holder must understand its fragile nature.
When an organization has a reputation for being fair and honest, employees will want to be part of that outfit. Recruiting and retention will increase. Customers will also be attracted and will tend to demonstrate loyalty by conducting business again and again.
Throughout my career in the military and the private sector I learned that followers and customers judge one’s integrity not merely by words, but by deeds. I realized that followers are always watching a leader, even when the leader is not aware of it. A leaders’ actions will be what solidifies their reputation.
An example of the impact a leader’s actions has on the rest of the organization occurred in 1993. On June 25th of that year, Todd Tobias was appointed the new Chairman and CEO of Eli Lily and Co. Pharmaceuticals. He had been the Vice Chairman of AT&T.
Three days later he was faced with a crisis that concerned the clinical trial involving FIAU (fialuridine). One of the patients participating in the trial needed to be hospitalized because of profound liver failure; several others had signs of liver toxicity and were in grave danger. He met with his senior leadership team and a group of lawyers, scientists, and public relations people.
After listening to them he expressed confidence in their ability to handle the crisis. He said he would not get in the way. However, he offered this one opinion: The most important priority was to focus on what we could do for the patients and the families. Their wellbeing should be the driver behind our decisions, not only because we had the responsibility, but it was the right thing to do.
That statement engendered him to the team. It was clear he would not micromanage, but he provided boundaries. He not only agreed to the company’s values of people, integrity, excellence – he walked the talk.
During my time leading Soldiers, I found that Soldiers expect certain things. They expect to have top-quality leaders and top-quality training. This means they expect competent and confident leadership and tough realistic training that will get them ready to fight and win our nation’s wars.
In my work in the service and retail industry and consulting for large, complex organizations I found that quality matters. I have never met an employee that does not want to be associated with a company that is known for quality.
I have a friend who likes to say he is not rich enough to buy cheap stuff. Of course, he means that quality products last longer. Customers will seek out quality. Quality products and service keep customers coming back, even if they must pay a higher price.
What that means to a business leader is that it is important to invest in the right hiring and retention processes to gain employees who will do quality work. It also means providing employees with the right training and tools so they could produce quality products and services.
It is the responsibility of leaders to remove obstacles and set conditions so followers could get the job done to the appropriate quality standards.
Telling Your Story
Once you incorporate purpose, integrity, and quality into building your organization, you must go one step further. That step involves telling your story.
People need to know that your organization is built upon the foundational elements of PIQ. You must find ways to market your organization so people know what you are about. There is an old saying, “nothing happens until someone sells something.” You must sell yourself.
What this means is that you must go up on the rooftops and shout what you are all about. When you build it right, people will only come when they know about it. Because people are attracted to the elements of PIQ, you will then be able to retain employees and customers alike.
To recruit and retain excellent followers and employees and to attract loyal customers remember to apply the elements of Purpose, Integrity, and Quality. If you build it, they might not come.
However, if you build it right, by employing purpose, integrity, and quality, and get the word out, followers and customers are sure to come and to stay.