Love in Business
In June 2016, I was alone, relaxing in my flat, when I felt that something was just not quite right. I had a strange tingling and weakness in my right side, which was quickly getting worse.
Alarmed, I just managed to call 999. Thank goodness I did because, by the time I made it to hospital, I’d completely lost the use of my right arm and leg.
The medics at the hospital were brilliant but baffled. Their worst-case scenario was that it was an aneurism – potentially fatal. The following ten days were tough, waiting for a diagnosis. I’ve never felt so vulnerable or helpless.
Having one test after another to discount all sorts of syndromes, each sounding more ominous than the next, lying in my hospital bed partially paralysed, having lost my independence in a matter of hours, gives you a very different perspective.
With my health and mobility suddenly taken away, I thought of all the things I hadn’t done with my life, my ambitions that were still unfulfilled.
I’d been in the business world for 40 years, building and running my own businesses and supporting many others. I love what I do, and my work is an intrinsic part of me - championing others, introducing like-minded people and connecting people who can help and support each other’s endeavours. However, I was working with only a handful of entrepreneurs a year, travelling to meet my clients and offering tailor-made services to each one.
Suddenly, that was all hanging by a thread, and I had to ask myself some tough, ’get real’ questions.
My thoughts were full of ’what ifs’. What if I could never work again? What would I do? A key, practical question was, what if I couldn’t travel anymore? I was currently wheelchair-bound, and I had to face the possibility that that may never change. Yet, I couldn’t imagine not continuing to share my decades of business experience to support small business owners in improving their businesses and achieving their goals.
Sense of Purpose
I thought about how I could overcome potential travel issues and change the logistics of how I worked. Instead of focusing my time on a small number of individuals in a face-to-face environment, I could inspire hundreds, maybe even thousands of entrepreneurs simultaneously, by making the most of all the virtual options now available to us.
Coming up with solutions to these ’what ifs’ gave me a new sense of purpose during this scary time, a reason to keep going. I made myself a promise - if I survived, I was going to go for it.
Over the next year, with a lot of hard work, bloody-mindedness and support, I made slow progress, recovering from what turned out to be a rare form of stroke.
First to crutches, then to a walking stick, then finally relearning to walk around unassisted. I had to learn to write all over again, to do up buttons. The list went on. Together with the fantastic support of family and friends, what drove me to keep going through all those trials and challenges was my new sense of purpose to help as many entrepreneurs as possible.
I now view that horrendous experience as a stroke of luck, for which I will be eternally grateful. It has changed my life and the way I do business for the better. I’ve spent the last five years making good on that promise to myself to go for it, facing my fears and moving into uncharted territory.
A website, public speaking, webinars, podcasts, articles, even a radio show. All to share my stories, my experience and my love for business as widely as possible. It fills me with a great deal of satisfaction to know that I’ve already helped hundreds more entrepreneurs than I would have before.
The time I spent recovering from my stroke accelerated the journey I was already on regarding the shift in how I wanted to do business. We’ve all heard the saying, "No-one’s dying words are I wish I’d spent more time in the office."
I’m sure that’s true but, seeing as we inevitably must spend so much time working, as money trees are sadly only a fantasy, isn’t it a gift to ourselves and everyone around us to be as content and energised as we can be? I don’t just mean professionally. How many people do we observe, or maybe we only need to look in the mirror, feeling miserable when they get home? Preoccupied, dejected, unable to fully relax and enjoy their personal lives, which has a huge negative impact on their relationships with family and friends.
This resonates personally with me. For the first 25 years of my career, I was incredibly single-minded, motivated almost exclusively by financial goals. Looking back, I feel embarrassed at how I did business, how my ambition and the decisions I made to make more money dominated the way I built businesses. Moreover, I was unaware of my behaviour’s impact on others, uncaring about those around me. As a result, I invested little in my business relationships and ended up in toxic ’dog eat dog’ environments.
Finally, things imploded in a perfect storm of bad experiences, and I’d had enough. I stepped back from the rat race and took some time out, knowing that something had to change.
Around then, I read ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ by Patrick Lencioni. It had a massive impact on me. It’s written in story form, which beautifully and clearly illustrates the pitfalls of teams not working well together and demonstrating excellent team dynamics. I can’t recommend it enough.
Gradually and organically, my natural leanings towards a more loving way of doing business came to the fore. Having been neglected and suppressed by the louder voice of one-dimensional, figures-oriented commercial practice, my passion and purpose grew and blossomed into the ethos and philosophy I champion today.
Yes, of course, every business needs to make money; otherwise, why bother? But I can guarantee, from personal experience, that running a business with the single, results-driven priority of making as much money as possible, can be a stressful, uncomfortable and hollow experience. On the other hand, you can run a successful business from the heart, with the quadruple bottom line of 'Purpose. Profit. People. Planet.’ always front of mind (reference 1. below).
Meaning of Love
I often think of Warren Buffett, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, the famous American investment company with billions of dollars of assets under management. As a 'traditional, corporate white male’ in his 90s, you wouldn’t necessarily expect to hear him use ’love’ when he describes successful business practice. Yet, that’s precisely what he does.
When asked about the secret of his success, he says that after their teams do all their analysis and pore over the numbers of a potential investee, Buffett insists on personally meeting the CEO. He looks them in the eye and tries to work out whether they love money or love the business. Berkshire Hathaway only invests when the CEO loves the business.
So, what does it mean to ’love business’? Love is a word that people often resist when it comes to business, feeling it’s ’lovey dovey’ and ’woo woo’ and not appropriate or relevant in a business environment. I strongly disagree. When I think of love in business, I think of passion and purpose.
Defining and articulating your purpose gives you the tools to build your business’s DNA; think of it as Purpose + Values = ’DNA’, or, if you prefer, the Culture of your business.
Running through your business like a stick of rock, the benefits of building and actively managing your business’s DNA include attracting, recruiting and retaining better talent; improving productivity through a happier, more engaged team; boosting your P&L and increasing shareholder value (reference 2. below). This is an example of how advocating love in business has commercial benefits and creates and maintains a happy team. They’re not mutually exclusive.
I must stress that this isn’t a one-off exercise. There’s no point doing this DNA work without constantly investing in and managing the DNA of your business.
A couple of tips are (1) include values-based questions in your interviewing process and (2) incorporate measurable values-based behaviours in review meetings with each employee.
Love in Business
'Love in business’ are three words that easily trip off the tongue, but it’s essential to examine and implement the practical application behind the words. It’s about engagement — what is your approach to running your business? How do you engage with your colleagues, your team, your suppliers, and your clients? Do you acknowledge your colleagues, clients or suppliers when they do a good job? And don’t forget yourself! Are you open, genuine and transparent in the way that you deal with people? What about a spirit of partnership in your approach to business?
Love in business is all about relationships rather than transactions. Shared values — how often have you been offered a big contract, but you’re doubtful about how your client would treat you? Of course, business is not all a bowl of cherries. Sometimes you must deliver a difficult message to a colleague or employee or let people go. I call it tough love. You can still be caring, but you have to challenge directly and honestly.
As I’ve travelled on my journey embracing love in business, I’ve been inspired and enlightened by some fantastic authors who have taught me so much. I strongly recommend these books, as well as The Five Dysfunctions of a Team that I referenced earlier:
‘Love is Just Damn Good Business’ by Steve Farber
‘Loveworks’ by Brian Sheehan and Kevin Roberts
‘Firms of Endearment’ by Raj Sisodia, Jag Sheth and David Wolfe
‘Loving Your Business’ by Debbie King
‘The Lovemarks Effect’ by Kevin Roberts
I passionately believe that developing, nurturing and living by the values of love in business is not only personally fulfilling but also commercially successful. I hope these thoughts and tips will help build your own sustainable, profitable business, and I wish you well.
(1) Elkington. J (Author) (1999). Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business. Capstone.
(2) Wolfe. B, Sheth. J, Sisodia. R (Authors) (2003). Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose. Pearson FT Press. In this book, the authors used this model to measure twenty-eight corporations over a two-year period, eighteen of which were publicly listed. These widely loved public companies outperformed the S&P 500 by huge margins, over ten, five, and three-year time horizons. The public ’FoEs’ returned 1,026 per cent for investors over the ten years ending June 30, 2006, compared to 122 per cent for the S&P 500; that’s more than an 8-to-1 ratio!