Why Vitality in Your Business is Necessary for Growth—Part 2

by Karen Carnahan & Marsia Gunter

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Vitality is an energy that shines powerfully when we keep it living and breathing. To recap from part one, we sustain that living energy by operating every day through a set of declared values. When we believe in those values in an organization it creates an impassioned team—we want to uphold the things we believe in and the things that excite us.

And other people notice! It’s impossible not to.

When operating consistently from a set of values, it communicates "we care".  And that fundamentally changes each person's perception of the daily pattern of doing business. Every activity and interaction occurs against a background of two abiding questions:  How are we keeping the promises we made to our customers?  How are we keeping the promises we made to ourselves?  

Successful, vital organizations have many specific values, or shared beliefs, in common. A sense of exploration and discovery keep them moving forward. A respect and an expectation for abundance keeps an organization literally profitable and growing. The belief that language creates the future allows an organization to create any future it wants. And introspection as a value is also key in order to abandon assumptions that can get in the way of the future. 

Every belief has two parts. The first is believing. The second is the actual doing—taking the beliefs and actually practicing them. This is where “the rubber hits the road” in the actual operations of the company.

The Values of Exploration, Discovery, and Innovation

The value of innovation and the embracing of change is essential to vitality. Exploration and discovery are integral to growth.  Anyone who has ever watched a child explore new territory or put things together in new ways knows that. We were great at innovation and constant exploration and discovery when we were children. As adults, we seem to have largely abandoned the skills that served us so well when we were young.

Yet it is in constant exploration and discovery that business growth and vitality exists. Part of mastery as a business owner is the willingness to look at things with a fresh mind, and not just with the eyes of prior experience or knowledge.  It's vitally important that you do not let yourselves or your team get caught up in having to do things "the right way".

To assist in letting go of “the right way” and seeing a different perspective, we like to talk about a concept called “I don’t know I don’t know.”

I Don’t Know That I Don’t Know  

As an exercise, we like to describe three different ways of how we know things. First, there are the things we know, for example, ”I know how to drive a car.” Then there are things we know that we don't know, such as, “I know I don’t know how to conduct brain surgery.” Then there are the things we don't know that we don't know, which are ideas, practices, and questions that haven’t even occurred to us yet.

This space called "I don't know I don't know" can be a hot seat—prickly and uncomfortable.  It is also often the source of your most creative insights and decisions. You have to be willing to be in that space long enough and innocently enough for the exciting new idea to come to you.

Take those Post-it notes we all use. The man who invented them did it by accident.  He was really trying to make a new kind of glue. He found he had something that seemed to stick, but didn't stick permanently. If he had closed his mind to everything but the glue he was supposed to be making, then he'd have thrown this latest effort out as a failure. But by being willing to stay in that "I don't know I don't know” space for a while, he came up with a whole new possibility, a product that had never existed before.

Leave Flexibility and Room to Experiment

Keeping the Post-it note story in mind, it's important to remember that part of mastery is building in the ability to perpetually shape the business so that it stays flexible enough to accommodate change. Failure to do that often leads to painful consequences. When companies undergo drastic downsizing, you know that somebody has for a long time been failing to shape that business to reflect the future it has.

Especially in the midst of making room for change and growth, it's important to keep the conversation about the vision and passion of your business an everyday practice.

Share Your Vision and Passion as an Everyday Conversation

Sharing your vision and passion is about integration – sharing the future you are creating with the whole company. 

A shared future stays alive in lots of conversations, each and every day. Keeping the vision alive and well actually translates into real growth. You are constantly building bridges, sharing your passion and making it somebody else's passion as well. That somebody else might be an employee, a vendor or supplier, a current or prospective customer, or even a dissatisfied customer. 

Business is ultimately based on relationships, and relationships are based on conversations—the ones you have with others, and the ones you have with yourself.  

It is an owner accountability that you keep sharing with everyone what's great about this business, how it contributes. In that broad sense, you are always selling. It doesn't matter whether you are functionally a salesperson, or whether you like the selling aspect of the business.  As an owner, this is what you do. If you are not willing to do this, you had better go somewhere else and be an employee.

Nowhere is sharing values in a business more important than with the value of abundance.

The Value of Abundance – Sustaining Growth and Profit

As a business owner, you are responsible for creating and sustaining a culture of growth and vitality within your company. That means abundance needs to be one of your values—you need to have a sense of abundance, and to constantly operate from it. You need to be able to say, "It's okay to make money.  It's okay to be profitable."  

It's surprising how many businesses can't do that - as though the money side is some kind of shameful secret. It's part of being in an authentic relationship with your customers to be willing to let them know that you are making an honest and reasonable profit on the goods and services you provide. You don't have to hide your profitability, nor be ashamed of it.

The concept that “this is a profitable, vital, growing company” needs to be embedded in everyone's thinking—especially yours. It is an essential element in every conversation about your business. This underlying declaration is not about a future time when all the bills are paid, or any other ifs or whens. The future is always right now, and the conversation is about today.

If you and your people stand for the declared value "We are a profitable, growing, vital company", you will think and act and make decisions accordingly.  

If instead, you stand in the context of scarcity, then you will postpone profitability. It will be inevitable because you are not able to grasp your future. You may end up postponing profitability indefinitely. Some companies do. 

“Language Creates the Future” as a Value

Remember, language creates the future. Mastery of business ownership is essentially the mastery of language. You need to know the power of language and what it can do.

For example, suppose your business is in a very busy period. You can consider this in the language of scarcity - too much to do and not enough time or resources. This makes "busy" translate into "overwhelmed" and "hassled" and a whole host of other negatives which take the joy and passion out of the company.

OR…

… you could consider "busy" in the language of abundance - there's so much work out there, the opportunities are limitless, the company is really meeting a need, and so on. In this case, the work speeds up, the creative juices flow right along with the adrenaline, problems become opportunities, and work is challenging and meaningful.

When you speak and think from a context of abundance, the fun stays in the business. And that's important because fun is another ingredient of vitality. In the language of abundance, the world of business is exciting, not dangerous; challenging, not cutthroat; full of opportunities rather than problems. The context created by the language of abundance makes it much easier to be innovative and flexible.

Assumptions Can Limit the Future

So with all this going for us, how does it happen that we don't achieve our intended results? How do we account for those times when we find we've lost our passion for the business? The problem is usually that we're not living up to one or some of our declared values and we are getting stuck. 

This may be because we are still operating under some underlying assumptions that are not working for us. Remember, language creates the future. Our assumptions can limit the future we look for, the future we enact in the present. The assumptions may never have been spoken out loud, but they exist nevertheless and can create huge possibilities for disappointment. 

These assumptions may be personal or cultural. For example, you may be operating under the cultural assumption that "it takes time to build up a profitable business".  Well, that's often true—but not always. That assumption may be holding back the rate of growth your business is capable of. 

Or you may be operating under the assumption that it takes a fair amount of time to close a big sale. You may be letting that assumption cause you to miss the signs that would tell you the customer is ready to close the deal NOW. 

Or you may be operating under the assumption that you cannot bill the customer until after delivery of the finished product, and then must wait at least thirty days for payment - even though this causes you cash flow problems. Well, sometimes that assumption holds true, but not always. You may be tying yourself up in financial knots unnecessarily.

The Value of Introspection: Free Yourself From the Tangles of Old Thoughts and Habits

So look for the stuck places in your business, and see whether there might be an underlying assumption that is tangling you up.

Those underlying assumptions sometimes show up as old habits that are preventing the business from fully functioning in the realm of its declared values. For example, you may have a company value that declares that communication is important. But if there is an underlying assumption that communication is difficult, that can lead to a habit of careless or sloppy communication.

When things get stuck, we tend to blame the stuckness on all sorts of things, from the economy to the competition to the price of raw materials. But the real cause of the problem is that somehow the business has stepped out of its values and into its habits based on assumptions.   

The only safe assumption is that of abundance.  The only safe habit is that of growth. Vitality isn’t something that happens—it is a way of being.

Are you further interested in being in the mastery of growth and embracing the future for yourself, your company or your organization? Explore the future you want to create through ongoing coaching to develop business growth strategies, professional leadership development and business ownership, and transitioning your business for the next generation. We believe in the future you envision and stand with you to help achieve it.

Gary Gunter