The Five Principles of Sustainable Business Success – Creating Success Opportunities in Any Economy

Call it a slow down or a recession, the impact is the same – times are challenging. You now must look with greater attention at what you do, the decisions you make, and their impact on service, performance and profitability. Surviving the recession is not just about cutting expenses – it is about changing how you think about every aspect of your business. Tough times require a look at your challenges as ways to regroup, realign and redefine your approach to being successful.

Things change, and today’s challenges are just another component of the changes that every business must face. But the real issue isn’t the change itself – it is how you welcome, use and respond to change. To be successful in a changing world you must relearn much of what you took for granted; you must become better at inventing, responding, communicating, sharing and staying focused on your core strengths. In any economy, you must be great at the hunt for opportunities.

Today, great organizations are nimble and flexible; they are constantly on the hunt for opportunities. They regularly review every aspect of their businesses looking for efficiencies, improvements and new ways to grow their top and bottom lines; they know their businesses. They openly accept and welcome change because it forces them to improve. They choose their employees wisely and based on their ability to contribute in a meaningful and results-oriented way because their employees are the connection to the outside world, offering ideas, creating opportunities and finding ways to be better. They stay in constant touch with their customers because customers share their needs, values and interests; they ask great questions and really listen. Today’s great organizations share information easily and openly; they eliminate the barriers and obstacles to ensure all employees have what they need to be informed, invent opportunities, solve problems and respond in clever and efficient ways. Today’s great organizations have a plan and work the plan each day; they take full responsibility for their results and hold all their employees accountable for performance and success. This is what it takes to be successful.

You live in a world of business turbulence. And, according to experts, turbulence has quickly become your new “normal.” Today, you have a world that requires more focus on what our employees and customers think, feel, want and need. Today you have a world that requires effectiveness with change, strong communication and full awareness of every detail of your business. Today you must live by a strategic plan, one that is clear, focused, accountable and empirical. Today, you must rally your organization to be on the hunt for opportunities – to review ever aspect of business, consider every situation, know trends, needs and challenges – and respond with ways to add value. These are the Five Principles of Sustainable Business Success. Build these into your culture and you will have the formula to succeed. Build these into your culture and you will attract and retain the best employees and customers.

In a world of turbulence, these five principles that will guide your organization to sustainable success in any economy:

1. Expect change and learn to welcome it; be resilient.
2. Know your business: know your purpose, core strengths, and everything about your customers and competition.
3. Share what you know; eliminate all obstacles to open and honest communication.
4. Learn to focus on opportunities; approach each day with optimism to see ways to create value, improve efficiencies.
5. Own your success; build a plan and work it each day.

#1 Expect Change and learn to welcome it; be resilient.

Our world is not static; it is built on change. But, change is not really the issue; how you respond to change is key. Organizations that understand change is actually a “constant” adapt to change and use it to drive their success. Charles Kettering said, “The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that brings on progress.” Successful organizations see changing environments as opportunities to invent new products and services, expand their areas of expertise, reinvent, redefine and reposition; they see change as a way to expand what they know and do. They see change as a performance enabler; it forces each person in the organization to better understand their talents and strengths and to access them as needed for their world. Change provides the challenges and the obstacles that force you to respond, learn, grow, discover your potential, improve and find opportunities. Change is the fuel that drives great growth. Change forces your organization to grow or die, reach or fade. Change happens; it will always happen. Ignoring it will impact your success. Welcoming change leads to more confident, innovative and successful organizations.

Be great with change
You are connected to your world, now more than ever. Millions of times a day you share information about who you are, what you think, what you know and what is important. You live through social networks. You have access to more facts in one day now than your ancestors did in their lifetimes. You have the ability of always knowing what is going on; you are constantly connected. So it is possible to base your decisions on the most current news.

How change-focused are you?
1. How connected are you to your world? What sources do you use to stay in touch with your world and understand how it is changing?
2. What do you consider each day as you start your day? What elements of change do you look for and consider before starting your day?
3. What is your daily planning process? How does it modify for what you experience around you?
4. How well does your organization accommodate change? How is change perceived by your team?
5. What are two ways you accommodate change at work?
6. What are two ways you accommodate change at home?
7. What action items will you create to encourage your organization to be more change-friendly and change-optimistic?

Consider the follow as ways to become more comfortable handling change:
1. Know your world. Develop your sources to stay informed. Start each day with a review of your sources to assess your world, how changes may affect you, your business and plan for the day. This encourages you to be resilient, nimble and responsive. Organizations with layers of bureaucracy are too slow for today’s pace. Response time matters.
2. Document change. Be clear about the change you experience and its impact on your work and life. This enables you to successfully determine the best response.
3. Commit to optimism. See change as opportunity. Your perspective about change is within your control and is based on your established beliefs. You have the ability to change your perspective to one that can always find the benefits in the change. Most people focus on the negative; opportunity-focused organizations always focus on the positive. Ariane de Bonvoisin states in her book, First 30 Days, “People who successfully navigate change, know that change always brings something positive into their lives.” Every event can be approached in two ways; one with optimism and value, the other with pessimism and limits. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The measure of mental health (my addition: and personal and professional success) is the disposition to find good everywhere.” Do you see value or misfortune? You choose which of these two views you adopt. One encourages opportunities, the other limits opportunities.
4. Change happens; own your response. Victim mentality is pervasive. Successful organizations own their response to change. They think it through, focus on good, find the opportunities and own their response. Poor performers blame change and others for missed opportunities and bad results.

Build your plan to welcome change, see its benefit, use it to be better and to build opportunities. Be resilient. Stay focused on your goals and use the change events to advance your understanding of your business and and your world. You have the tools to deal with virtually every change that comes your way. As author Tom Peters so adeptly said, “To be built to last is to be built for change.”

#2 Know your business: know your purpose, strengths, and everything about your customers and competition.

Clarity counts, particularly in our changing world. What is your business? What are your core strengths, what value do you provide? Knowing your business in great detail is critical to building sustainable business success. Knowing your business will be critical in guiding your search for opportunities, as you must play to your strengths, talents and highest value areas.

Not everyone, nor every business, is good at everything. It is therefore critical for all businesses to understand their core competencies – their MaxImpact Core – the things that they are the very best at. When you know what your strengths are, you can play to them and develop your competitive advantage. You find ways to invent opportunities that need what you do best, making you more competitive and successful. When you take the time to understand what you are great at, you always start from a place of great performance power and become aware of your weaknesses and the threats to your business. A full knowledge of your business is critical to be successful regardless of the economy.

How well do you know your business?
1. What is your business purpose and what value do you provide? Who needs what you do?
2. Who is better at doing what you do? Why?
3. What are your core competencies (strengths); what are the five things that separate you from other businesses? Are these things that customer and employees perceive as valuable?
4. What are your key weaknesses; what are the things that inhibit your ability to consistently and reliably create value for your customers and employees?
5. What are threats to your business; what are the things that if left unattended will significantly impact the success or existence of your business?
6. What are the opportunity areas for your business; what areas can be improved, developed, initiated or modified to improve results, improve performance and improve success?

This principle focuses on business self-awareness, value and fit. In a changing world, many times organizations lose track of their identity, strengths and value focus; it is therefore a requirement of all organizations to regularly summarize their Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. This process, known as a SWOT Analysis, allows your organization to assess where it is, how it is doing and decisively determine options to create opportunities that play to its strengths, resolve its weaknesses and address its threats.

The SWOT Analysis process:
1. Create a grid on a full page of paper by drawing one horizontal and one vertical line through the center of the page; this creates four quadrants. Label the top left “Strengths,” the top right “Weaknesses,” the bottom left “Opportunities,” and the bottom right “Threats.”
2. With the help of all members of your organization, or with teams from your organization, review the following areas, recording your assessment of how the organization does with each area – as a Strength, Weakness or Threat. We’ll focus on creating opportunities in Principle 4:

Culture Review
o Does your organization see all events as positive events, even failures and performance challenges? Do they stay positive and use each event to rediscover, re-invent or redefine how to proceed? Is your organization fundamentally optimistic?
o Does your organization have an open and innovative culture? Do you encourage employees to observe, assess and discuss all aspects of the business, with a focus on improving and performing?
o Does your organization help each employee know their talents and strengths, and connect them to roles and responsibilities that use what they are naturally good at? Employees are most inventive in areas that match their thinking and talents – are you employees in the right roles?
o Does your organization openly solicit information from every source possible? Do they use what they hear, read about, and learn to assess performance and invent opportunity? Are all employees held accountable for gathering information, perspectives and ideas, and sharing them with others?
o Does your organization openly applaud, reward and celebrate innovation, thoughtful risk-taking and achievement? Does your organization focus on exponential (not incremental) ideas, suggestions and performance?

The external environment:
o Economic trends – what is the impact of today’s economy on your business? Note the cost of money, the attitude of consumers, the role of banks, etc.
o Social trends – what is popular, important? What are people buying, saying? What is important to people right now? Where do people live? Where are they moving to?
o Technological trends – what new technology is available? What is the trend with technology? What is popular, effective and attention-getting? What technology do people want?
o Regulation – what new regulations are imminent, are new laws? What industries will be affected? How will people react? What affects your business?

Your workplace:
o Employees:
o Are the right employees hired into the right roles (do their talents and strengths match the talents and strengths needed in their roles?)
o Does the workplace attract the best employees?
o Does the workplace engage and inspire employees to perform?
o Review benefits, incentives and rewards; are they effective and meaningful?
o Does the workplace educate, train and advance employee learning?
o Does the culture encourage employee ownership of performance and mandate that each employee contribute to performance and results?
o Policies and procedures
o Are policies and procedures employee-focused?
o Are polices and procedures performance-focused?
o Are policies and procedures clearly defined and well understood?
o Are polices and procedures meaningful and fair?
o Attitude and sense of belonging
o Is the workplace positive and upbeat?
o Is the workplace fun and committed to extraordinary performance?
o Is the workplace innovative and does it support performance risk-taking?
o Is there a winning spirit and “can do” attitude?

Your customers:
o What is the customers’ definition of value?
o Do all employees know it?
o Is it the constant focus of the organization?
o What is the level of customer service?
o What is the quality of employee/customer relationships?
o What do you know of your competition?
o What do they offer better/worse? What value do they provide?
o Why are they successful?

Your operations:
o What is the product or service quality?
o What is the product or service efficiency and effectiveness?
o What is the product or service profitability?
o What is the employee’s input in reviewing or assessing operations?
o What is the customers’ input in reviewing or assessing operations?
o Asset management – do you have the right equipment to provide the right service/product?

Your sales and marketing:
o What is your approach to selling your customers?
o How do you sell? Why do you sell this way?
o What do you sell?
o Who do you sell to?
o How do you STAND OUT with and get noticed by your customers?
o In your printed materials?
o In your electronic connection with customers including Website?
o In your personality and image?
o In your innovation and responsiveness to customers?
o In the ease of your sales process?
o In the quality of your product or service?

Your results and reporting:
o How effective is your expense control and spending management?
o In how your numbers are reviewed.
o In how your employees are included in expense review.
o In how your employees are held accountable for expenses.
o In how your employees have input in how money is spent.
o In how your employees have a role in expense control or reductions.
o How effective and meaningful is your financial or performance reporting?
o Are key metrics are defined are shared with employees?
o Is the employee impact on performance and results is summarized and shared?
o Are employees held accountable for return on spending and performance?

Your competitive advantage:
o What are your greatest competitive advantages (what gives you an edge?)
o Do you have a cost advantage? How can you maximize this advantage?
o Do you have a value advantage (do you offer better value than others)? How can you maximize this advantage?
o Do you have a differentiation advantage (are you better or different than others)? How can you maximize this advantage?

Organizations that know themselves can assess what they are great at (their strengths). They can identify aspects of their businesses that are not at the required level to be successful (their weaknesses). They can identify which weaknesses or outside events are so significant that they are considered threats. These three areas arm you with the ability to hunt for opportunities. This is a formalized process to ensure that you and your team not only fully understand your business, but can also look at it from every angle to identify opportunities to improve, become more efficient and learn to play to your strengths. The SWOT process is a great way to start the process of hunting for opportunities. It summarizes on one worksheet, a strong accurate profile of your business, with a focus on opportunities and growth.

Build your plan to know your business. How will you implement a SWOT Analysis process in your organization? How will you include as many employees in the process to benefit from their perspectives? Be intimate with what you do well and what needs improvement. This way you will always be creating opportunities to succeed and will successfully manage your business in any climate, turbulent or smooth sailing.

#3 Share what you know; eliminate all obstacles to open and honest communication.

Keep information to yourself and you limit its ability to be used, meaningful and productive. We are in an age of extreme connection. Millions of times a day people are answering the question on Twitter, Facebook, My Space, LinkedIn and other social networks, “So, what are you doing?” They are sharing information about what they think, feel, are concerned with and are passionate about. Communication is the method to share information. Organizations that remove the obstacles to communicate what they know and to move information, consistently outperform all others. Information is the key to great decisions so the flow of information must be unencumbered and uninterrupted. Today, you pay your employees to think their way through their days. You need what they know, share, think about, hear from others, want, feel and are moved by. You also need this from customers. You need constant contact, constant dialog and constant communication. Organizations that work to eliminate all interruptions to this process accelerate and improve the movement of meaningful information to all of its members.

Know the power in your team
Not everyone is great at everything. Each employee has his particular talents, his natural hardwiring that activates his best performance, and his areas of passionate response. Knowing who is great at what in the organization expands what the organization knows. By having those who are most engaged in particular areas of the business coordinate, innovate and share what they know, they bring greater information and perspectives. It is critical in today’s intellectual workplace that management defines roles more clearly, and for job seekers to apply for roles that are a better fit. The right person for the right job not only improves performance and engagement, it creates a significantly smarter workforce, as employees play to their strengths. Studies show that employees who work in their talent areas, innovate, performance and find greater opportunities than those who are not a good fit.

Employees are the eyes and ears of the organization; they are connected in so many ways. When employees are included in the mission, goals, strategy and plans of the organization, they have a new framework in which to interpret the information they receive from the outside world. This information gives employees context; context is critical for performance and opportunity thinking. Keep employees in the dark about the direction and motivation of the organization, and the organization will lose the innovation, perspectives, ideas and connection from employees. This is what employees are paid for – they are paid to think, invent, respond and drive success. A well-hired team is a significant strength of any business.

What are your communication obstacles?
1. How well is internal company information shared with employees?
2. What methods do you use to share critical information timely and with the right audience?
3. How does technology help you move internal information quickly and efficiently?
4. Are employees held accountable for using shared information in making good decisions?
5. Are employees involved in gathering and sharing information?

Constant contact
Stay close to your customers and closer to your employees. Employees and customers need constant contact from the organization. Studies show that employees work for more than money; they work for the praise and attention of their managers. Employees want manager feedback, coaching, education, mentoring and development. This connection inspires employee engagement and engaged employees perform better and invent more significant opportunities. Engaged employees act and think like owners. Therefore, care about what employees think and constantly ask for their perspectives. Demand and expect their contribution to company challenges, issues and in the hunt for opportunities.

Stay connected to your employees by asking powerful performance and need-based questions:
1. What are you good at and what do you love to do? How do you get to do this (these) in your job?
2. What are two things you need in the workplace to help you perform better?
3. What makes you feel important, valued and part of our workplace family?
4. What skills would help you feel more competent and confident in your job?
5. What other responsibilities or jobs in the organization would you like to be involved in?

Customers are critical to the success of the organization. Customers have the information you need to define value, assess performance and determine loyalty. Building constant contact with customers is also critical for all organizations. Remember the organization must first connect with employees, before these employees can connect with customers, so stay close to your customers but closer to your employees. Engaged employees will commit the extra effort to openly and honestly communicate with customer, gather information, share it and use it to create opportunities.

Consider asking these questions to stay close to your customers:
1. What is the most important thing you look for in a retail (service, construction, manufacturing, etc.) business? How do we compare with this?
2. Are we your first choice for products (service)? Why or why not?
3. We pride ourselves on our extraordinary service. What is the most extraordinary thing we have done for you? Why did this impress you?
4. If we could improve just one thing, what would be the most meaningful thing for you? What would the benefit be for you?
5. We are committed to creating a family here at ___________. Have we made you feel part of our family? How? What else would you like to see to feel like family?

Stay connected, eliminate the barriers to communication and share meaningful information. Inspire your employees to be your eyes and ears to the world and then share what they hear, think, feel and imagine. This will activate their opportunity-focused thinking. Stay connected to your customers because they have the information you need to know how to be extraordinary in their eyes. Use your tools to solicit their feedback, information and ideas, and share your thoughts and responses with them. Stay in touch. Always.

#4 Learn to focus on opportunities; approach each day with optimism to see ways to create value, improve efficiencies.

You are now aware that change is constant and it can be your greatest source or impetus for growth and improvement. You also know how to assess your business – what works well and what needs improvement. And, you have been introduced to ways to improve how you source and share information easily, completely and effectively with your teams. The stage has been set for your organization to focus on opportunities.


Optimism is key to an opportunity focus. By a commitment to assessing all events with a positive, “there is value here,” and “this will make us better” attitude, opportunities easily and quickly arise. To develop a “hunt for opportunities” strategy, consider the following:
1. Require all employees to bring one idea each day on improving service, efficiency or increasing value, exclusive of the SWOT review. Applaud employees for ideas that are used. Train employees to see opportunities in all they do.
2. Review the S, W and T of your SWOT analysis. For each observation, invent or find an opportunity that will play to the strength, correct a weakness or eliminate a threat.
3. Review the checklist that created the initial SWOT Analysis, this time with a very particular focus only on sourcing and finding any area of opportunity.
4. When your feel you have a robust list of opportunities, assemble a team to assess the impact of each. Prioritize those that are critical based on threats and weaknesses, and those that have the potential to create the greatest value, impact and results. Build a plan to implement your opportunities; be sure your plan has the ability to monitor, measure and track you’re your progress with your opportunities.

Opportunity-thinking is a significant component of every successful organizations’ culture; it is how they approach each day. Organizations that develop a straightforward, open and full-participation strategy for finding and implementing opportunities focus on value-building, performance and success. These organizations constantly review every aspect of their businesses looking for efficiencies, improved effectiveness, greater value and becoming better connected to their employees and customers. These organizations consider everything, think about everything and know their world. These organizations follow George Bernard Shaw’s thinking: “Some men see things as they are, and say, ‘Why?’ I dream of things that never were, and say, ‘Why not?’”

#5 Own your success; build a plan and work it each day.
“Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle… when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” African Proverb

You need a plan and you must live your plan from the beginning to the end of the day. A plan is about action. Talk is cheap; action drives results. Successful organizations not only know their plan (that came from their SWOT Analysis, their connection to their world, the movement of information and the innovation of their employees), but they track it, measure it, review it and live by it. They change it as the world and circumstances require, but all team members know their role, their impact and their responsibility to their plan. So, as opportunities are discussed and decided upon, they then move to being fully implemented. This is their real value.

Actions count. As those who are involved in managing a significant life change support it is critical for you to “work your plan.” To work your plan, you must know it, why it makes a difference, what role you have in it (and how others depend on you). The buck stops with you. You own your piece of the plan. Your team requires you to get it done, right, on time, and with great effort. Hunted or hunter, you survive by action.

Consider the following when creating a plan to own your success:
1. Do your employees understand what their role is in the plan and how what they do will make a difference?
2. Do your plans have timetables and measurable milestones to keep the plan on track and moving forward?
3. Are you able to measure and monitor the plan and report the progress on the plan back to those who are responsible to help them be fully accountable for their role?
4. Do you celebrate successes and coach failures in plan implementation?
5. Do you check your plans frequently to ensure the plans continue to be meaningful in today’s world?
6. Do you make the plan modification, implementation and progress a regular topic of discussion and focus?

Plans are not meant to be created and ignored. Craft a meaningful and accountability-focused plan to ensure those who have a role can and will complete their role. This activates performance and implements opportunities. This completes the process of understanding the changes in your world, knowing your business, connecting to you employees and customers and using this information to constantly source opportunities to improve, grow and become more successful.

Build these into your culture and you will innovate and lead instead of imitate and follow. These principles are effective in any economy, turbulent and recessionary, or smooth and growing. By understanding how to build a powerful, communicating and opportunity focused-team, your business will have a solid foundation, one capable of responding successfully in any economy by its constant and effective focus on and hunt for opportunities.