Many manufacturers are skilled at detailing the merits of their product offerings, but far fewer could just as easily define their core values and reason for being in business.
What makes your company tick? Why does it exist in the first place? What is its central purpose? What values shape relations among your customers, employees and suppliers?
Addressing these questions can focus your energies and prevent you from becoming just another commodity provider.
Defining your company’s mission and core values can motivate employees, excite customers and help accelerate business growth.
The case of Web Industries is an example. As an executive with Web—which provides high-tech converting of composite and other flexible materials, as well as outsource manufacturing services—I witnessed the positive effects of such a strategy. Over the past several years, Web gradually evolved from a mainly transactional business adept at taking and filling orders into a dynamic innovator focused on finding solutions and designing new processes. The company was able to identify its guiding principles and instill them in executives and workers.
Why, How and What
Key to the transformation was the leadership and influence of Web founder Robert Fulton, whose business philosophy is summed up in the statement: “The essence of life is relationships.” Mr. Fulton guided the company’s transition from sole proprietorship to a 100% employee-owned business.
A second influence was the “golden circle” concept developed by organizational expert Simon Sinek, author of the book Start with Why. The golden circle consists of a company’s why, how and what, with why at the center. Why refers to a company’s purpose, cause or belief, its main reason for existence. How is what sets the company apart from its competitors, and what covers the company’s products and services.
In Sinek’s view, “customers don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” They need to believe that they are part of a larger purpose. Accordingly, companies should prioritize their why and how. This is true even for manufacturers with well-established product lines.
In Web’s case, the company’s central purpose—its why—is defined as: “Inspiring ingenuity through the power of close collaborative relationships.” What sets Web apart—the how—is: “Ingenuity with a personal touch.” Precision converting and outsource manufacturing form the what.
Web officials then developed a set of values consistent with their personal values and designed to enhance the employee and customer experience. Chief among these are creating and maintaining a workplace environment in which Web’s employee-owners can reach their maximum potential. The company also stresses the importance of personal, trust-based partnerships among employees, suppliers and customers. In addition, there is a strong commitment to always innovate, avoid complacency and try to exceed, not just meet, customer expectations.
These principles offered a solid footing as Web Industries transitioned from a regional player in the slitting of flexible materials to a global innovator serving sectors ranging from aerospace to medical, from personal care to general industrial. It’s no coincidence that annual sales increased almost eightfold during the same period.
What principles and values form the foundation of your company? Identifying them can help you cope with change and thrive in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
Here are three suggestions to help you identify or reaffirm your business’s core values:
1. Recognize that your company’s culture evolves over time. At Web, we were fortunate enough to have founder Bob Fulton’s proposition that “Relationships are the essence of life” as a dynamic starting point, one that would grow over five decades to encompass values such as trust, ingenuity and collaborative partnering both with customers and among our own employees.
It’s often necessary to look back in order to determine your most productive step forward. Is there a seed of wisdom in your company’s past that might help your business prosper in the future?
2. Continuously improve! Keep in mind that exceptional leadership, business practices and culture work together. Much like a three-legged stool, each must bear its own share of the load. Continuous improvement efforts can help keep your company’s foundation strong and in the process reveal the values that make your business successful.
3. Use acquisitions as opportunities to discover your own and your joining company’s finest characteristics. Acquisitions can be difficult, to a large degree because conflicting cultures might exist between the acquiring business and the one being acquired. But it’s safe to say that virtually all businesses have some practices that have been proven to work at a high degree of excellence. Examine what variables make the company you are joining with work, what its employees and customers value most about it, and meld them into your business’s own corporate equation. As we know firsthand at Web Industries, composite materials are far stronger than those that consist of just a single layer. The same holds true when two businesses bring what makes each one unique and special to a reconstituted organization.
Kevin Young is vice president of corporate development, Web Industries.