The 7 Deadly Sins of Business

Every day millions of Americans arrive at work filled with low-level dread and resignation. Overloaded, overstressed, and overwhelmed. The typical workday is a marathon of rushing from one task after another, with few breaks between these bursts of effort, and even fewer words of thanks from equally frantic managers and coworkers. By the time they drag themselves to the finish line at 5:00 (or 6 or 7 or even later), they’re completely drained and wondering how they’ll ever do it all again tomorrow.

The problem is not that employees don’t want to work hard. It’s that they have nothing to believe in. When people are motivated by a cause, they’ll work without stopping and without loss of energy. Their dedication to the cause will fuel them. The problem is too many companies aren’t animated by a cause at all—and their employees just live for the end of the day and for Friday. If your company isn’t giving employees a cause—if the organization exists solely to create revenue, in other words—they won’t be partners. They’ll be foot soldiers. And when you fail to meet your employees’ needs, they’ll fail to meet yours.

Think Apple. Think Disney. Think Google.

It used to be that markets reformed every several years with new ideas on what customers are interested in. But now markets and customers are transforming because they encounter more unknown unknowns, those changes that they never anticipated and started to notice only after they happened. If you’re ready to transform into an innovative, cause-driven, employee-and-customer-inspiring organization here are seven sins waiting to trip you up:

Sin #1: Ignoring the new principles of business transformation. Many companies that fail focus on the outward manipulation of markets and customers driven from the “ego” of the organization. Unfortunately for them, today’s markets are sensitive to purposeless wealth creation. No amount of end-of-the-year donations to needy organizations can make up for a lack of purpose and value. Mission and money must go hand in hand.

Sin #2: Driving without a cause. Most companies have mission statements—as well as vision statements, value statements, and other official website/employee handbook fodder. Yet many employees don’t believe in them and never use them. What they need is a cause, and that’s altogether different. Once organizations know why they exist, to whom they want transformation to happen and why, they gain the audacity and authenticity to drive strategic business transformation. A cause is a lasting theme, an architecture that supports the transformation of the greater environment. It has personal, rather than organizational, implications. Missions are given to groups marching in lockstep; causes are taken up by creative individuals. Missions impose the will of managers on employees, whereas causes are grounded in the latent, unexpressed will of the overall organization.

Cofounder and Co-CEO of Whole Foods John Mackey was quoted in Harvard Business Review: “I think Whole Foods’ highest purpose is a heroic one: to try to change and improve our world. That is what animates me personally. That is what animates the company.”

Sin #3: Missing market momentum. Traditionally, products seek customers, customers form markets, and markets move with momentum. In transformation principle, momentum is identified before anything else, customers and prospects respond to momentum, then products respond to serve these prospects to move with purposeful intent. Momentum is a unique way to view the market.

Momentum drivers often lead “old” customers to consider their options in a whole new way. Being able to predict these changes of mind and heart, even before the customers themselves do, allows companies to get in first with products destined to be hot sellers.

Sin #4: Ignoring the two orders of value. If you assume that rational and emotional value propositions are all you need to consider, think again. There’s also a “higher order” value proposition: the symbolic. Customers symbolically attach to the product or the company that sells the product. They come to identify with the purpose of the product and what it stands for. Organizations that are able to transfer and connect market momentum into value to the customers that emerge from a transformation will gain market share and be very successful.

Take Trader Joe’s. The company has convinced its customers to bring bags that they bought from Trader Joe’s to collect their own groceries. It has successfully tapped into “green” market momentum.

Sin #5: Overlooking transformational servant leadership. The new organization is a workspace with no walls. Leadership styles of the past cannot conform to the unbounded workspace commanded by remote employees, portable tablets, portable computers, and worldwide internetworks. Hierarchical management techniques and paradigms are breaking down. You may try to bend the iron bars of the hierarchical organization to make it “look” better—but if you aren’t practicing true servant leadership, you won’t be able to attract the talent it takes to compete in the transforming marketplace.

Our purpose is to nurture and to find the goose that lays the golden eggs rather than be in the business of ideas. Be in the business of nurturing people with ideas, and the ideas will flow.

Sin #6: Mistaking capability for strategic competency. Capabilities are what you can do for customers. Competence is the unique recipe of your capabilities and what you can do better than others consistently as far as your customers perceive. You can always gain a new capability: just learn how to do it yourself, hire someone who knows how to do it, or partner with another organization to fill that void. Stopping there, instead of understanding your competencies and using them to formulate your strategy, is the sin. It keeps you from being able to create value that people want and are willing to pay for.

Sin #7: Expecting flawless execution without a performance platform. It is critical to find the talent ahead of time, find the capabilities of the future ahead of time, and to ensure that your operating capability anticipates rather than responds to a transformed market. What if Amazon couldn’t ship its products on time and accurately? Customers would go to the competition, of course. And yet, it’s common for companies to do more and more—to implement greater and greater change—without a context for employees and customers to frame improvement initiatives.

There are two categories of performance management corporations must master: human (inspiring, organizing work, people performance and incentives) and corporate (analytics, systems and methods around the financial, operational, customer and strategic outcomes and outputs). To execute well in the second category a company must have capabilities in four areas: monitoring, measurement, management, and direction setting. As if that weren’t complicated enough, companies must be able to strike a careful balance between surviving today and investing in tomorrow.

It is possible for corporate leaders to transform (themselves, their organizations, and their customers), to make money, to keep their collective soul, and to give the people who do the work a real reason to come to work. Develop a strategy that reflects your beliefs and let others, both employees and customers, choose to take up your cause.

Transformation is never easy, but it is almost always worth the blood, sweat, and tears that come with it.