Note: This article is part of an occasional series dedicated to exploring the contribution of human capital assets (people!) to the valuation of a business. Welcome to The New ROI: Return on Individuals.
I was looking forward to seeing one of my favorite bands again – The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group, Journey. And as someone who’s written articles about rock bands and business, my mind wandered in that direction as I asked myself: What business lessons can be learned from Journey?
What popped out as the answer is an entrepreneurial tale that was inspired by references to more than 25 song titles from the Journey song catalog.
How many can you find?
Suzanne grew up in a small town, but upon graduating she landed a job that would take her to the City of the Angels. She listened to her iPod to drown out the silence of the office while sitting at her desk. Her co-workers had been raised on radio in their cubicles and they didn’t understand why she needed to wear earbuds in the office. Being one of the younger employees, she learned first-hand about how millennials’ behavior is misunderstood by many older members of the workforce.
Suzanne wanted more from her job than to just show up, play some music and push paper around. In her mind, work should be both enjoyable and rewarding. She would look into the future and see herself being a part of a bigger mission. In the few candid conversations with her boss, he confided to Suzanne that it’s not only the young who wanted to be a part of a bigger mission. He did too.
People of every generation might be feeling that way at work too, Suzanne thought.
Millennials may be wearing earbuds, but they aren’t tuned out. They have it right when they say that they want “more than a job.” If your corporate “why” resonates, they will buy in. This is also true for your more seasoned employees as well.
The “old-guard” at the company was stuck in a rut, doing things just the same way they always had done them. Anytime a customer would ask for something that was outside the norm, it would be met with resistance. But Suzanne believed that anything is possible and was determined to make a difference.
Lost in a daydream one afternoon , Suzanne recalled a television commercial with a catchy jingle that her father had told her about some time ago. Burger King had introduced a concept called “Have it your way” in the 1970’s. It was innovative because it gave the consumer the ability to customize their burger and defied the convention that you could only get a fast-food hamburger the way that the restaurant wanted to you to have it.
Suzanne realized that her customers didn’t need (or want) the off-the-shelf solution no matter how good it was. All that really matters is what the customer wants.
That can-do attitude got her noticed.
Saying that “we’ve always done it that way” is a great way to remind your people that you’re stuck or lazy – or maybe both. It’s not about selling more widgets. It’s about giving the customer what they want, not what you want to sell them.
The leadership team initially thought that Suzanne was just a non-conformist; a rebel. But her boss understood that they can’t tame the lion that is Suzanne. The feedback from the customers suggested that she might actually be a rock star, and the company’s sales numbers were confirming that she really was.
Suzanne was ultimately recognized for her initiative, and that’s when she found herself in an uncomfortable position: under the bright lights of attention. Never one to take the credit for herself, Suzanne brought her team on the stage with her to accept the award, and she was happy to give them recognition for their role in the accomplishment.
If you have an employee who views themselves as a difference maker, by all means, let them make a difference! And by sharing the spotlight with others, you only widen the path of illumination.
Suzanne was working really hard now, and there were many days that she just wanted to escape it all, but she’d hunker down and work harder instead. Often skipping lunch.
She found herself becoming cranky and not sleeping well until one of her friends gave Suzanne a valuable tip that opened the door to good health: both her mental health as well as her physical health.
Suzanne accepted the advice with open arms and began to eat better and exercise more often. As a result, Suzanne found that she was less-stressed and more productive at work. Now she makes it a point to occasionally turn off her cell phone and enjoy some precious time alone.
Nobody on their death-bed ever wished they’d spent more time at the office. Find some balance. My dad used to say “it’s later than you think.” Be good to yourself now.
As much as she was enjoying her work, Suzanne longed for something more. She was hopelessly in love with the idea of being her own boss and felt that someday soon it would be time for her to pursue a change for the better.
Suzanne wasn’t going to explore new frontiers without first tying up loose ends with her customers. The girl can’t help it, but she really cared about her customers and she wanted to ensure that they would be properly cared for after her departure.
Having served them faithfully for some time now, leaving her employer proved to be bittersweet. But this was her decision, made on her terms. Suzanne’s boss wanted her to just stay awhile longer, but she had to pursue her destiny.
Until you find your “forever” job, be the best (insert your job title here) that you can be! And if you’re already at your “forever” job, don’t wait for someone else to do something – step up and do it first. Make yourself invaluable.
Now the founder of her own company, Suzanne discovered that leadership can be a lonely place. After all these years, Suzanne finally understood that her lifetime of dreams required sacrifices, but she would never walk away from what she considered to be a better life.
She vowed to be a great leader, while still maintaining the personal connection with her team. Suzanne knew that all business is personal, and she needed to keep her positive touch in her new role as the boss.
Believing that it’s never too late to learn something new, Suzanne sought out the people and places where she’d receive the support that she needed; including from entrepreneurs at other companies. They shared their message of love for what they do, which would resonate deeply with Suzanne like a sun-shower.
It’s worth repeating: business is personal and it’s also a team sport. People aren’t numbers on a spreadsheet or “human capital assets.” They’re human beings with hopes, dreams and aspirations. You want them to care about your goals? You need to care about them.
Suzanne’s mother, father and most of her friends, thought that she was crazy to leave her job to take the risk of becoming an entrepreneur. Suzanne knew the statistical reality that most entrepreneurial ventures will fail, but she also knew what it takes to win and she had faith in lady luck.
Incorporating all that she learned from her experiences, combined with the insights of others that were shared with her, Suzanne embraced the journey into entrepreneurship. Armed with the belief in herself, failure was not an option.
Call it karma, but yes, she did succeed, and now her old boss works for her. Reuniting with Suzanne, he felt what it was like to be “alive” again; proving that you really can teach an old dog new tricks.
It’s been said that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. To grow personally or professionally, you’re going to have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s where the magic happens. Never give up on your dreams; and don’t stop believing.
Creative Commons image by Jim Howard