In 2008, when the Great Recession hit, my recruiting business quickly began to shrink. It took me years to recover. In the process, I came to realize that my satisfaction had created complacency. My business model had been working, and I was following the adage, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” This satisfaction practically predicted eventual failure.
In the disruptive world of business, staying ahead of the competition is a never-ending challenge — even without a recession looming. New technologies, ideologies, and generational differences demand we adapt to constant change to remain successful. Satisfaction prevents us from recognizing the necessity of change.
The Secret Formula to Innovation and Success
I used to think satisfaction meant doing a job well to achieve my goals. I built a successful business and was satisfied with the results of my labors. I was consistently meeting my own expectations. I was lulled into satisfaction, until — without warning — it suddenly stopped. My business went from a five-person staff to a solo practitioner. It took years to reinvent my business to succeed again.
Companies that are driven to excel are motivated to be on the cutting edge of creative thought. They do not allow satisfaction to get in the way of innovation; they dedicate themselves to the next big thing.
However, many enterprises that aim for new ideas still fail to hit the target. What is the magic formula that produces the greater success an ambitious company strives for? What eclipses mere satisfaction and drives inspirational achievement?
A quote often attributed to Theodore Roosevelt says it best: “The most important single ingredient in the formula for success is knowing how to get along with people.”
Your values are the essential ingredients that build every relationship, including the one you have with yourself. They are your rules of conduct. They create your perceptions and become elemental to the actions you take. What I call your “Chemistry Factor” is your ability to build powerful business relationships by aligning the values you have in common with coworkers and colleagues under any circumstance.
Exceptional leaders can consciously inspire greatness in others as well as within themselves. Authentic connections rooted in shared values take them beyond satisfaction to new levels of accomplishment.
When you become satisfied with a relationship, it can become a habit that, without additional effort to improve, changes little over time. The relationship becomes stagnant. This “same old, same old” satisfaction can lull you into complacency. You are connected with people, but the connections are expected, with diminishing enthusiasm. These connections are unlikely to lead you to approach a challenge with the same value formulas of connection that will lead to innovative change.
The secret formula to innovative business success, then, is this: strive to improve and expand your methods of connection with your coworkers. To do this, you have to become better aware of the key ingredients that create these connections: your values.
Uncovering Your Values
I was working with an senior vice president in finance who every day stressed about all the work she had to manage. Her stress was negatively affecting the people who reported to her, causing a decline in productivity and an increase in her department’s turnover. She knew her staff was overloaded with work, and she was pushing everyone, including herself, to get it all done.
She was good at putting out fires, and she tried to support everyone who came to her with their problems, constantly interrupting her own work to do so. Almost all of these interruptions were not emergencies, and their frequency made the higher-level work for which she and her team were responsible that much more burdensome. Her success formula was to take on all responsibility and then either manage the issues herself or delegate them to her direct reports, often in an overwhelming fashion.
The senior vice president decided to transform her leadership approach by shifting her values of support. Instead of everyone with a problem attaining instant relief, she gave greater support to herself and her team. She was no longer the go-to person for all issues, and she delegated many responsibilities for her staff to manage. Her team valued the trust and new leadership given to them. The increased delegation inspired their actions, creating improved efficiency and less stress within the department.
Too often, we run our businesses on autopilot like this senior vice president did. We rely on what I call “DNA values”: The values we fall back on without thinking. These are values that control us, rather than the values we control ourselves. When our DNA values are disconnected from the values of others, they will create dysfunctional relationships that drain productivity in the office and limit our success.
Powerful relationships, on the other hand, are built around the values you have in common with others that improve your working relationships. Discovering new values of connection will inspire the innovative thinking that goes beyond satisfaction.
Imagine what it would be like to continually build new bridges of connection with everyone. For some of you, this would be amazing; for others, the mere thought would be uncomfortable and overwhelming. However, taking the risk to develop a new approach to growing your business is similar to taking the risk of adopting a new value perspective to connect with your coworkers. Being uncomfortable to change is a good sign that you are on the right track in building stronger relationships.
Start taking inventory of your values; they are your principles and moral standards. Take the time to define each one. What makes each value unique to you? List the values that inspire you, and take ownership of them by giving each your unique definition. For example, here’s my definition of empathy:
Empathy: Understanding another person by putting myself in their shoes.
You can add more inspiring values to your list using these three exercises:
- Ask yourself: “What do I value in others?” Add those values to your list.
- Ask others what they value in you. Add those values to your list.
- Do some research. Use Google to discover other peoples’ values lists, and see if any of their values resonate with you.
Once you have your list of values, start listening for the ones you always use — your DNA values. You will know these values because it will be hard for you to let them go. When a value disconnects you from a coworker, shift to another that you have in common with that coworkers. Here’s a good example of a common value shift that helps build connections in workplaces: When a team-wide goal is missed or delayed, coworkers often empower the value of humor to bring themselves together rather than fall apart due to infighting.
You have values in common with everyone. Discovering the many values that powerfully connect you to your coworkers is the formula for inspiration. This inspiration, in turn, will stop you from settling for satisfaction and drive you to strive for the innovative success you want.
Barney Feinberg, PCC, CPCC, CPA, is the founder and CEO of The Chemistry Factor — Executive Coach and Recruiter. Follow him on Twitter: @chemistryfactor.