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Leadership Q&A: The 7 Virtues as Business Development Strategy

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In my two recent columns, I have begun to describe what I’m calling the 7 Virtues of the 21st Century organization. These 7 virtues are values that can be applied to any organizational structure to improve it. The 7 Virtues are:

1. Collaboratively-led

2. Decentralized, local control

3. Long tail internal operational structures

4. Purpose-driven organic adaptability

5. Relational-asset based

6. Values that are operational

7. Ownership culture of giving

I am convinced that these virtues provide a basis for business development that may not be evident on the surface. To understand this connection, it is important to understand a fundamental truth about all organizations. This truth is that the organization does not exist in isolation, but in a social and cultural context. This context, more than anything else, is a context where people are engaged in communication and coordination about the work of their organization. When you can grasp this reality, you begin to understand that the way your business is organized determines whether it thrives, and that you only reap the benefit of its potential the people and their relationships are functioning collaboratively in a health way.

From this perspective, business development is actually the development of the organization’s capacity for relationships. Each of these virtues is focused on developing the capacity of the structure to develop those relationships. Let’s briefly look at each one of these virtues to see how this can be understood and implemented.

1. Collaborative-led: A collaborative leader establishes an environment where collaboration can happen. Not the type of collaboration where people join to get something for themselves. Instead, it is the kind that elevates the ability of one person to make a difference because the collaborative relationship expands and magnifies their shared impact. A collaborative leader looks to expand his or her network’s reach to include a wider selection of people and their networks. To do so creates the conditions for the business to grow.

2. Decentralized, local control: When I was a Boy Scout scoutmaster, we had a simple measure for determining whether a scout was doing well. Were they advancing and were they having fun. If they were advancing, and not having fun, then we knew that someone was putting pressure of them to advance. If they weren’t advancing, but having fun, we knew that they were possibly, lazy, unmotivated, or not focused on learning. In effect, a boy who was not achieving on both measures did not feel that he had the responsibility to give his best to be a scout and a member of the scout troop.

The same holds true for businesses. If your staff lacks initiative, seems not to enjoy their work, or seems to be doing only that which is assigned them, this is a clue that they feel that someone else is responsible, that they are not in charge or control of their work. This is more than a morale issue. This is a business development issue. If they are not taking initiative in the little things of their job, if they are waiting for work to come to them, then they certainly will not take responsibility for creating the conditions necessary to bring new customers to the business. Is this their fault? Only if the structure of the business is designed to give them every opportunity to do their best and be appreciated for it.

A key element in developing a truly collaborative team environment is to create an culture of responsibility and accountability. This means that the team leader is responsible and accountable to the team, not just the team to the leader. You do this, and the group at the local level will open up to seeing opportunities that most likely ignored otherwise.

3. Long-tail internal operational structures: The Long tail is a way to describe niches rather than a one-size-fits all approach. In this instance, the niche is an operational one, or, how a collaborative group organizes themselves to meet their goals. Local circumstances demand local solutions. For example, if you work for a large company, but in a small town, many of the company resources available to a person may more difficult to access. External resources may have to be tapped as a result, the operational structure adapted to those realities. The value is localism, where the customer is closer to those who provide them the service. Allowing greater freedom to organize collaborative work to better serve the customer is another facet of #2 Decentralized, local control. Having the control to make decisions, yet without the power to change the structure of the operation is the issue here.

I realize that this is problematic for large corporations where standardization of operations is the norm. It creates efficiencies that reduce costs.  However, is it effective for maximizing the potential benefit that each employee, each team, each location has to mission of the company? I don’t have an answer to this, only the question that needs to be asked.  The underlying principle is not how should we be organized, which is a structure-centric perspective, but rather, how do we enable greater personal initiative by employees to serve customers and clients.

4. Purpose-driven organic adaptability: In a competitive environment, alignment between the operational structure of the business and the ideas that drive the company, its purpose and values, become more difficult. Align people and structure with the company’s purpose and values, and the organization can adapt to changing circumstances. Make sure to use lead scoring about which you can find a ton of knowledge on to cut costs in marketing by making it effective by and making expenditures only on highly profiting tactics.

As the recession became more widespread and intensive, markets for many businesses closed, and at the same time new ones opened up. Much of this change is linked to changes in human behavior.  Look at what is happening on the street in your community. What new businesses are opening or closing?  What is changing in your customers perspective and engagement with your business?  Are you offering the same service as before? Or are you adapting to what you see changing before you and offering a different approach to meet the needs that your customers have.

One such approach is for independent professional service providers to create a Collaborative Network Group. A group is formed around their relationships to one another, the kind of client or customer they serve, the values that guide how they want to work with each other and their clients, and to provide a marketing advantage to the independent professional. (More about this approach in a future column.)

5. Relational-asset based: We live in a day where networks are a principal focus for business development. But a name on a followers list isn’t a relationship. At best it is a mere acquaintance. A relationship is with someone where there can be a genuine exchange of contributions. More than anything, this requires leaders to have relational skills that in the past were deemed “soft-skills” as opposed to the hard skills of “finance” and “strategic development.” The world has changed, and a relational-asset base is a network of people who are contributing to the organization. We still need financial management skills and strategic thinkers, but their potential value is more signficantly realized in a collaborative environment where relationships matter.

6.  Values that are operational: It is quite simple. How are your values acted out in the policies and practices of your business? Are they operational and not just public relations boilerplate. The implementation of values is one of the highest leverage, lowest cost strategies that you can initiate. For example, if respect is a core value of your business, how is that translated into action.What does it mean for someone to feel respect from someone else, or even an institution? Is not one of the most basic expressions of respect to listen to someone. Yet, how does someone truly know that you are listening? They respond in action, not simply in the nodding of their head. Operationalizing respect is to listen and follow up with action that is appropriate to the situation. Any company at every level can make simple little systems changes to deploy respect as a strategic operations initiative, and to great effect.

7. Ownership culture of giving: The shift from an impersonal sales mindset to a giving mindset maybe the hardest to achieve because it requires a change in culture, not just in policies and practices. It requires a belief that if I give of myself to you, that some benefit will come back to me. In a predatory competitive environment, it is hard to imagine giving as a successful strategy. The idea is that we are trapped in a zero-sum game where one person must lose in order for another to win.  Instead, as my friend Talia Leman likes to say, we want a “win-win-win” game. This can happen only if we each approach our relationships within a collaborative environment from the perspective of how can we all benefit from our shared efforts.

At the heart of a giving mindset is gratitude. I’ve written about this before in the context of Saying Thanks Every Day, which is simply a way to practice gratitude based on five actions. Imagine your team doing the following.

1. Saying Thanks Every Day;

2. Giving back to the people and community who made a difference in their lives;

3. Made every person welcomed guest;

4. Honored  others who need recognition and those who do and never receive it; and,

5. Create goodness in the life and work.

The 7 Virtues are a way to understand how the importance of our relationship can be strategically understood as an essential component of every aspect of an organization’s structure. This isn’t just creating a feel- good group of glad-handers who are only interested in what’s in it for me. No, this is a strategic development process that requires the hard work of personal change along with organizational change. It is hard, and requires humility, and a willingness to change because it is both personal and systemic.  Many people will never attempt it. My prediction is that they end up as the bottom-feeders in the professional services commodity market.

However, we each have a choice, and I’m convinced the choice is becoming more clear each day. The choice is how to I organize my life and work so that every day I can make a difference that matters. When that becomes your commitment, you realize that you can’t do it alone, and collaboration becomes the key strategy for becoming a person and a business of impact.

About the author

Dr. Ed Brenegar I'm a leadership speaker, writer and consultant who is a mentor and catalyst for change. I assist leaders and their teams in the transitions required to succeed in today's complex organizational environment. I live in Western North Carolina. I'm involved the Boy Scouts, a charitable leadership training group called Lessons In Leadership, an ordained Presbyterian Church USA minister, and am the host of the Say Thanks Every Day social network.

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