The Soul of a Company

By Ron Pereira Updated on August 1st, 2019

Creating a strong company mission and vision is an important part of the Hoshin Kanri, or Policy Deployment, process.  All companies should have a vision.  All companies should have a mission.  And these vision and mission statements should be revisited annually to ensure they’re still accurate.

But, according to Ranjay Gulati, a professor at Harvard Business School, having a mission and vision isn’t sufficient.  Mr. Gulati also implores companies to have a soul.  The soul of a company, according to Mr. Gulati, can be broken down into three components – business intent, customer success, and employee success.

Business Intent

First, business intent is closely aligned with what Simon Sinek would call your “why.”  Why are we here?  What problem(s) are we trying to solve as a company?  Mr. Gulati uses Netflix as an example.

Reed Hastings could have easily believed his company existed to distribute DVDs but, as we all know, Netflix pivoted away from DVD distribution since their business intent is to change the way the world consumes entertainment… not to simply rent DVDs.  What will be interesting to watch in the coming years is how Netflix responds to more competition.  Will their business intent remain while the way they go about delivering value changes?

Customer Success

Next, the customer success aspect of a company’s soul is centered around the idea that the company exists for one thing – to make their customers successful.

For Netflix this means releasing awesome content and having an excellent platform.  For Gemba Academy this means helping our customers realize the incredible results authentic continuous improvement can, and will, deliver to individuals and organizations when properly applied.

In fact, one of my personal business passions is to make it clear that while Gemba Academy has more lean and six sigma learning content than any company in the world when you look across all of our platforms (and it’s not even close)… it’s not about our videos, quizzes, and support documents.  It’s not about our podcast.  It’s not about our blog articles.  Instead, it’s about helping people continuously improve their businesses and lives.  That’s what customer success means to us.

Employee Success

Finally, we come to employee success.  Mr. Gulati explains that the best, most successful, companies strive to make the work experience meaningful and energizing for all employees.  He also explains that this doesn’t mean you have to install foosball tables and offer free sodas to pull this off.  Instead, he explains true employee success is realized when people have a voice and a choice.

The lean community has long understood the importance of engaging people’s hearts and minds.  But, I can tell you from personal experience, this never gets easy.

In the end, we must never stop attempting to create and foster an intrinsically motivated workforce.  People desire autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  And if any of these components are missing your chance of long term employee success is doomed.

Easy to Lose Your Soul

Finally, some critics may be quick to accuse Mr. Gulati of attempting to come up with a new buzz word when all he’s really talking about is a lean thinking culture.

And, sure, if it makes folks feel better to throw stones so be it.  But one thing’s for sure, no matter what you call it, it’s extremely easy to lose your company if you’re not crystal clear on your business intent as well as how to ensure ongoing customer and employee success.  Hopefully everyone reading agrees with this.

I’d encourage you to listen to Mr. Gulati go into much more detail about this on this podcast.  A written transcript is also available.  It was a good reminder for me and I think you’ll also benefit from it.

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