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Two crucial questions for your business

Last week I laid into the never-ending culture of businesses playing only for the cameras, rather than playing for the real prize.

So what is that prize, and how can you tell if you’re on the way to achieving it? The prize of business is no different from the prize of life itself. It is the search for meaning in this all-too-brief episode on this planet. We all need to matter, to have impact, to leave an imprint on the sands of time.

Business should be no different. Business is not some special, separate activity; it is merely another way of passing the time and seeking meaning while doing so. Businesses should be measured in the same ways that humans should: in the way that they bring goodness to life around them, and in whether they make this planet a little better as a result of their existence.

Too highfaluting for you? You think businesses should focus on just making a pile of dosh, or on ‘increasing shareholder value,’ in the jargon that executives prefer? Well, yes. But businesses should also add real value to the world in two more fundamental ways: by giving purpose and achievement and meaning to their employees; and by giving satisfaction and utility and joy to their customers. A business that is merely a vehicle for the personal enrichment of a tiny sub-group of society is not going to have any meaningful impact on the world. Its owners will lead a small life, and its employees and customers will not gain any meaning from their interaction with the organization.

Which gives us some clues on how we should tell if our businesses are on the right path to attaining the real prize. If you are interesting in knowing how close to true achievement your own business (or the one that you work for) is, consider my two tests of business success.

The first test relates to customers, and it is this: do your customers recommend your company’s products to their relatives and very best friends? In other words, does your organization bring good news to its customers, news so good that they want to spread it to those who are closest to them?

It is in the nature of human beings to want to share good tidings and good things with those who matter to them. And that is the real test for your products and user experiences: if they matter enough in the lives of those who consume them that they want their nearest and dearest to partake in the goodness.

The second test relates to the nature of the employee experience: Is this the organization everyone in your industry wants to work for? Note that this test does not ask whether this is the company that pays the best or gives out the most perks (I have seen plenty of those in my time, and their employees are often no better engaged than the norm).

The second test is not about money; it is about how good it is to work for you. Do employees relish the experience, do they feel involved and appreciated, do they feel like they’re growing in their personal impact? And do those who don’t work for you wish they did?

What about the shareholders, you shout angrily? Well, here’s the thing: when you can engage properly with your staff and get the best work of which they are capable out of them; and when you can bond so well with customers that they are with you for life and will rope in everyone they care about, too – the bottom line will take care of itself.

These are tough tests, make no mistake. Very few organizations have any hope of meeting them. But that doesn’t mean your business should not pass muster. Make it your mission to be the one that does.

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