Four Musts For Creating A Long-Term Organization

By Tom Harper

After studying Solomon’s fall and researching the topic of long-term corporate success, I have found four determinants of a lasting leader or organization.

1.”Never, ever compromise your core values.” At the onset, Solomon committed to pursuing wisdom and loyalty to God. These values helped him achieve numerous victories and establish his kingdom. However, during his later wayward period, Solomon abandoned the very philosophy he was known for. He pursued short-term pleasure and the appeasement of his wives. In the end, the hard lessons from these experiences added to his vast wisdom, but their consequences could not be erased. Jim Collins, coauthor of Built To Last, points out that enduring companies adapt to changing market conditions without compromising their core ideals.

In a 1999 USA Today article, Collins prophetically characterized the Internet bubble as a gold rush that would not produce enduring companies, because their values were almost nonexistent they wanted to swoop in, go public and cash out. He wrote, “But some Internet executives want to do more than just strike it rich. They want to build something to last. The executives at, for example, have been working hard to make the transition from hot start-up to great company.”

Collins cautions leaders against trying to ingrain organizational values into people. Executives often ask me, “How do we get people to share our core values?” You don’t. Instead, the task is to find people who are already predisposed to sharing your core values. People rarely, if ever, change their values. I’ve tried to force various employees over the years to buy into a key corporate philosophy, and though they pledged allegiance with their lips, their actions said something else.

2. Pursue BHAGs and plan the far future. I can’t mention Built To Last without spotlighting my favorite concept from it: the “big hairy audacious goal,” or BHAG. Big changes in a company’s normal operations push people to new levels of commitment and excitement. String enough BHAGs together, and an organization can skip along the mountaintops for years.

Solomon was all about audacious accomplishments, especially in architecture. He conscripted almost 200,000 forced laborers for seven years to build a temple that became the center of the Jewish faith. He spent another 13 years building an extravagant palace complex. His building exploits inspired his people and put other kings in awe. The important theme in setting lofty goals, however, is a focus on the future. Lasting companies set goals and make decisions that may take years or decades to play out.

Greg Graves, the CEO of century-old engineering firm Burns & McDonnell, said, “When you’re old, you don’t make decisions for this year’s revenue and budget, because you’re blessed by people in the past who didn’t do that.” We’re going through some development that will not benefit our employees financially for several years. I guess that’s how you get to be a 100-year old company.”

3. Uncover opportunities and reduce risk by constantly running the customer data engine. Adrian J. Slywotzky, author of The Upside: The 7 Strategies for Turning Big Threats into Growth Breakthroughs (Crown Business, 2007), concluded that most strategic risks can be anticipated with a simple early-warning system based on continuous customer communication. He also found that early detection can turn risks into growth opportunities. Relentlessly taking the customers temperature, he says, “is a dependable, albeit unconventional, pathway to find many of the big growth opportunities of the next 5 to 10 years.”

If a satisfactory feedback mechanism isn’t easily accessible, customers might find it easier to just leave. Sporadic market data actually increases risk, says Slywotzky, while a steady stream of customer knowledge is as valuable as any intellectual property in the company. He points to purse-maker Coach’s 60,000 fashion customer interviews every year. One of our VPs rightly questioned a strategic decision we had made a year ago to rush into a new product. Looking back, it’s obvious we fell into an emotional trap. We bent the facts of the time to fit our emotions.

4.”Become a living organization, not a calculating one.” Roughly 40,000 U.S. businesses go bankrupt every year. According to Arie de Geus, author of The Living Company, the average life expectancy of a multinational corporation is between 40 and 50 years. For instance, a full one-third of the companies listed in the 1970 Fortune 500 had vanished by 1983. De Geus writes, Companies die because their managers focus on the economic activity of producing goods and services, and they forget that their organizations, true nature is that of a community of humans.

Obsession with profit negatively correlates to a company’s endurance, he says. Profit is a symptom of corporate health, not a predictor of it. Financial metrics describe the past, but they usually fail to reveal potential ill health in the future. In the same way, Solomon looked to his riches, broad borders, numerous victories, and the size of his army, but failed to notice his crumbling values. Perhaps his visible results made him feel invincible.

Tom Harper is the publisher of and president of the Society for Church Consulting.

This article “Four Musts for Creating a Long-Term Organization” was condensed from: Career Crossover: Leaving the Marketplace for Ministry by Tom Harper. It was reprinted in June 2007. It may be used for study & research purposes only.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”+