Our last posting talked about consistency. We talked about identifying “critical success factors” . . . operating principles that, when applied consistently, are at the core of a company’s success. But operating principles are only half the equation. They are the front end, the input side of things. They are the consistent activities that produce a consistent result. A consistent result, yes, but is it necessarily the result we want? It may not be if there is ambiguity, confusion, or disagreement about what we’re trying to achieve. For more on this, please read below.
“Goals produce results, not activities.”
We might go that quote one better and say, “Well-defined, highly focused goals produce results.” A well-crafted set of operating principles is a good start, but they’re only useful if they are molded and targeted to produce a very specific result. After all, nobody cares about all the great, really clever stuff we did to achieve the result. They only care about the result. In fact, conventional wisdom tells us to always begin with the end in mind. So we should start with the result we want, then work backwards to design the operating principles that will produce that desired result.
Think of this as your North Star. It’s that reliable navigation aid that you can count on to guide your thinking, your planning, and your decision-making. It’s that thing that sets you apart, that you know you can deliver, and the marketplace trusts you to provide.
In our last posting, we noted that operating principles are the “rules of the road” for a business. They are the way we do things, the way we conduct our business, not just this year, but every year. Year after year after year. Therefore, the result produced by our operating principles must also be consistent year after year. We’re not talking about vision, or mission, or values here, nor are we talking about a strategy. We’re talking about results that define us in the marketplace . . . results that are our identity. They are our North Star. They are, in fact, our “competitive advantage.” The Southwest Airlines operating principles we discussed in our last posting are all aimed at delivering their competitive advantage . . . low cost airfares. It’s the North Star that guides everything they do.
Some other examples. Imagine a high school that graduates 98% of its senior class every year, year after year. The challenges may be different every year due to changing budget requirements, staff turnover, changing student demographics, etc., but not the results they expect. A 98% graduation rate is who they are. Failure is not an option. It’s ingrained in their DNA.
Or think of a general contractor who claims to bring his projects in on time and on budget, always. His clients have never been disappointed by missed deadlines or budget-busting surprises. Never. Not once.
So sound operating principles deliver a specific, desired result, which is your North Star (competitive advantage). Sounds easy, but sometimes our North Star doesn’t shine so bright. If your North Star is a little hard to locate, or if it’s a little fuzzy and difficult to follow, call me. We should talk.