Recently, I had the opportunity to hear Rosabeth Moss Kanter speak at Business Congress 2012 #ACBC12 and ask her a few questions to share with Anthillians.
For those who have not heard of Rosabeth Kanter, she a renowned Harvard Business Professor who has inspired cutting-edge innovation, strategy, leadership and culture. She has worked a broad spectrum of for-profit and non-profit industries, including celebrated corporations like IBM, Proctor & Gamble and Verizon.
Named among the 50 most powerful women in the world by The Times of London, and the 50 most influential business thinkers in the world by Accenture and Thinker 50, Kanter is a distinguished social scientist, educator and writer whose work focuses on the dynamics of organizational leadership, change and confidence.
Her advice is equally applicable for new businesses as it is to established businesses so, read on for her bonus tips for Anthillians at the end of the post.
Lesson # 1) Good moods, stickiness & parties!
When people in business are winning they are in a good mood, it’s contagious.
Winners get invited to the best parties and thus, the opportunity to network with more successful organisations.
Losers are left out.
Networks are vital and why many small companies flourish and grow.
Winner tip: Act bigger than you are if you are small and network with successful companies. Start-ups that dominate their industries usually had better partners early in their start up life.
Lesson #2) Warning! Winning is hard work
Just like an Olympian, you need to practice at what you want to do, every day and, not become complacent.
The people who make up teams in winning organisations may change but, the culture that perpetrates the organisation keeps the team winning.
Likewise, the complete opposite can occur for losers. There’s a U.S. college football team that lost every game of for nine years! The members of the football team changed, but the culture and attitude didn’t, so the team kept losing.
Winners monitor and measure their performance. They live by the saying ‘what gets measured gets done’?
Winner tip: Use key success indicators with precision meticulously, to get things done.
Lesson #3) Values purpose principles
Winners are leaders who take responsibility. Winning companies are run by people who are not afraid to say the three hardest words to say in business: ‘I was wrong.’
Losers love cover ups and do not say these words.
Winning businesses have a strong set of values and core purpose. P&G, founded in 1837, codified its values 20 years ago when it acquired Richardson Vicks.
P&G created its PVP (Purpose, Values, and Principles) to guide and unify the company with a common cause. It helped to create the company’s growth strategy of ‘improving more consumers’ lives in small but, meaningful ways, each day’. The PVP inspires P&G people to make a positive contribution every day.
These lessons are highly applicable to start ups, many of which are now writing and codifying values and purpose. Kanter pointed out a growing recognition that people cannot share in something they do not create. A PVP is a core part of a business, any business, that can be created by the whole team, not just the Founder.
Winner tip: Know what you stand for. Make sure your team does, too.
Lesson #4) Winners think small as well as big
Winners focus on small wins and one step at a time. They get right back to work the day after a success. Yes, after a success.
If all you have is a big vision for your business then you will get demotivated. This is because the gap between the now and the vision, is too big.
Here’s a good example. Toyota changed from five year plans to five week plans. If you have a five year plan you will only start working on it in the 11th month of the 4th year!
Winners use open brainstorming, their initiative and feel everyone can make a difference to the business.
Losers go it alone, set unreasonable goals and, think no one else has valuable input.
Kanter’s advice is to focus on ‘small wins’, especially in tough times. Winning companies will provide teams with tasks and goals they can achieve.
Winner tip: Break it down; project by project. Focus on achievable components to build on success.
Lesson #5) The real difference is how winners handle losing
Winners like to get together with other winners, share their experience. They are more likely to share mistakes and take on board feedback and, tips to improve. Losing becomes an opportunity to learn to a winner.
Losers, by contrast, need to improve but, are less likely to heed conversations about losing. Nor do they take on board feedback to improve.
All winners have bad patches, or products or services that do not go well. They make changes, learn and stay focused and resilient.
Businesses that are resilient can always come back. McKinsey & Company gave free consulting to U.S. businesses post the GFC in the knowledge those companies would bounce back and appreciate their help in tough times. Then, when the opportunity arose for the company to engage a consultancy, McKinsey would be at the top of the list.
Winner tip: Remember Kanter’s law: Everything can look like a failure in the middle. Refocus, redirect and you can become a winner.
So, those are the five key ways to work out if you, and your company, is a winner or a loser.
But wait! There’s more!
Bonus Tip #1: Innovation – be courageous but not stupid!
You do not get innovation without courage.
Kanter recalled how businesses often call her asking how they can be more innovative and immediately follow up with: ‘what are other businesses doing?’
It takes an innovator with courage to bring out something radically different and, not just something incremental. I mean, really, how many different varieties of toothpaste do we need? Do something different!
Incremental strategies reach a peak. In order to get more success, you need to have more failures. You need to try more ideas, more often, before you find the one that works.
Bonus Tip #2: Values matter! Your business is bigger than you!
Kanter points to a greater need today for openness in organisations today.
Founder-led companies can fall into bad habits because the founders can think they know everything. However, an autocracy cannot flourish.
Founders need to be surrounded by great teams. They also need to accept that they may not stay on as the CEO forever.
Bonus Tip #3: Partnering skills matter most
Entrepreneurs and start-ups thrive in ecosystems where they can partner with much needed resources.
Business alliances come and go and, they are really difficult to do well. Take Verizon and Google, for example. These two huge companies partnered to create the Android phone but, that alliance no longer stands.
The best alliances have a very specific outcome and an end. It needs to be recognised that the interests of the companies in the alliance can, and will, change.
What every startup needs is the skills and knowledge to identify and make alliances with the best, and most suitable, partners.
If you are interested to read more on the differences between winners and losers, go to Kanter’s blog.
Dermott Dowling is an Innovation & International Business Consultant with a passion for building great brands, businesses and teams. He is the founding Director @Creatovate.