Built to last

I’m just back from a holiday break with the family. It was great to rest and rejuvenate… to take in a few experiences too. Jet Ski Ocean Adventure (I’d never been on a jet ski before – the kids loved it). Also had fantastic fun at the Surfing Lesson On Noosa Beach… Oops I digress, holidays will do that to you.

In addition to lots of family time I also read some really great books. I finished Switch by Dan and Chip Heath. (Thanks Verne Harnish for the recommendation) about how to effect change with limited resources. I had a good look at two Kikki.K books – Dreams 101 and Goals – I have much that I could share from all of these (and probably will in future blogs).

RedBalloon has now grown to a significant size and I often hear that the founder can ultimately get in the way of growth. Reading helps me learn from others experience. I was fascinated by the book The Breakthrough Company by Keith Mc Farland. He of course has his own language to refer to the different influence original founders have on the business, eg. sovereign, which sometimes I find distracting, however I got some fascinating insights.

It does take something for a founder of a business to realise that there are people much better resourced to take the business to the next level. By nature, to be an entrepreneur we have to have a certain ego, and unbelievable belief in our ability. A person who starts a business will often think that ‘with enough hard work, determination and a bit of luck you can make anything happen’. The reality is that most founders have never run major corporations and it takes different talents.

Some of my take-aways from The Breakthrough Company book:

  • Breakthrough companies are not about ‘one’ person. They are about superior systems and processes and getting the best out of available resources.
  • There are many traps to successful growth, eg. ‘the emperor with new clothes’ – surrounding yourself with ‘yes’ people, not taking risks, trying to make all the key decisions and not listening to those around you.
  • To grow you need a solid foundation and structure. It builds sustainability. There is no turning everyone on a dime anymore – no change for change sake. You simply cannot think small if you want to be a massive business – you cannot be the neck of the bottle.
  • The bigger the business becomes, Breakthrough companies make bigger bets, they simply play a bigger game.

I reflect on the notion of ‘Grow or Die’ – Breakthrough companies are obsessed with growth – because the result for the customer and the employee is better. Growth creates new opportunities, new products, new careers.

Interesting that McFarland tells us “Don’t look for extraordinary people – build a place where ordinary people can do extra ordinary things…” I love this idea. I’m not extraordinary (I received very average marks at school) – but I did want to work in an organisation that I loved to go to everyday – I wanted to do something that I was passionate about. If you love what you do then you can do amazing things. (At RedBalloon we have done much with working with our teams innate strengths).

McFarland also says: “how the team feel about their workplace is a significant factor to success…” hence the RedBalloon ongoing commitment to engagement – and our mantra ‘Employees are the New Customer’.

Creating the environment where everyone can be heard and is encouraged to question business processes and assumptions builds robustness and drives continued innovation.

Let’s have a reality check here – there is no Eutopia in business, we are never ‘finished’, there is always more to be done. Crises happen in all businesses… Breakthrough businesses are no different. Crises are common – but Breakthrough businesses see crises as something to be embraced – an opportunity to address issues that will ultimately make them stronger and more robust. It is about finding a solution, innovating – not a blame game.

There is an online test you can do to see where your oranisation fits in being a ‘Breakthrough’ company. Interesting to see if my results are different to the other RedBalloon leaders and team members. Is my perception not in alignment with reality? That is why I count on the leaders around me (and the team directly) to keep telling me how they say it.

Thanks team.

Naomi Simson is the 2008 National Telstra Women’s Business Award winner for Innovation. Naomi was also a finalist for the Australian HR Awards and a finalist for the BRW Most Admired Business Owner Award in 2008. Also in 2008 RedBalloon achieved a 97% Hewitt employee engagement score. One of Australia’s outstanding female entrepreneurs, Naomi regularly entertains as a professional speaker inspiring middle to high-level leaders on employer branding, engagement and reward and recognition. Naomi writes a blog and has written a book sharing the lessons from her first five years.


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