All systems go

Making your business valuable and getting the best from your staff to produce top results is not all that easy. Ian Cochrane sets out a strategy for success

As a founder, partner or director of your own business, do you find yourself making all the decisions, whether it be choosing the best typeface for your new identity or deciding how much to invest in advertising and new technology this year?

If the answer is no, then I congratulate you and suggest that you need read no further. You have already seen the light! If the answer is yes then I suspect your lifestyle may leave a lot to be desired and you should read on. I know that this may be difficult since there are not enough hours in the day to do everything else you need to do…

Seeing the light is about recognising that the power you have in your company as an individual is inversely proportional to the value of your business. The more individual power you have as boss, the less valuable your company is likely to be. Conversely, the less power you have, the more valuable it is likely to be. Just look at the graph below.

The concept is very simple, of course, and seems obvious. If your business depends on you, then it’s not worth much without you. Why is it then that there are relatively few valuable design consultancies around? My observations are drawn from having worked with many design businesses over the past 15 years.

The owners of valuable businesses nearly always exhibit the following personal characteristics:

They strive to increase the value of their businesses, and hence their personal wealth, and are relatively uninterested in their personal power in their companies. Over time, power and influence have simply become less important to them.

They have tremendous drive and enthusiasm for developing and improving their companies. Even though they may be running successful consultancies, they never rest on their laurels and are always seeking new ways to get ahead.

They devote a considerable amount of their time to external activity, thereby ensuring a profile for themselves, but more importantly for their businesses.

They are not afraid to ask outsiders for an expert, objective view of their business. This review can sometimes be uncomfortable but is always exhilarating and stimulates change in most organisations.

A business review is often the catalyst for change and the beginning of a real value creation process. The process itself is often very difficult for leaders since they are having to deal with both personal and organisational change. For example, being less involved in the day-to-day running of things and letting others look after your own clients can be stressful, which is why external coaches and mentors can be helpful. Some leaders go as far as appointing outside chairmen or managing directors to help them through this process.

The personal styles and methodologies of leaders will, of course, vary, but their focus of attention rarely does. My observations of what I term “value-driven” businesses are that they are obsessive about the following five activities:

The development of quality people

The system for rewarding, motivating and retaining people

The development of quality clients

The process for delivering high quality work

The promotion and profile of the business

The above activities are seen as more important than anything else, whether it be targeting new clients or ensuring the reception looks good. While these are undoubtedly important, they are just less so.

Quite often in life we experience catalysts for change – the loss of someone close, a deterioration in health, or simply the desire to go and do something different before we get too old. I always encourage people to create their own catalysts for change. Answering the following questions honestly is a good starting point:

Do I still enjoy coming to work every day?

Am I really making a difference to my business?

Do other people take major decisions in my business?

Would my business continue to thrive if I took a six-month sabbatical?

If you can answer yes to all of these, then you can be well satisfied. If you can’t, then do something about it!

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