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To succeed, businesses must have a just cause, said Simon Sinek, the bestselling author of Start with Why.
“A cause so just that not only do people feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves, but they are willing to sacrifice in order to advance that cause,” Sinek said during a keynote address last week at WorkHuman 2018, a conference of human resource professionals. It took place at the Austin Convention Center.
The cause has meaning, Sinek said. It leads employees to work hard, give their best ideas, and sacrifice time away from family to travel to spread this message and sell products because they believe in them, Sinek said.
“A just cause is something you believe in,” he said. “It’s not anything you are against. It is what you stand for.”
“The companies that we love and admire tend to have a just cause that underlies what they do,” Sinek said.
Sinek says it’s about why a company is doing something. What is its purpose?
He cited Southwest Airlines, based in Dallas, as an example of a company with a just cause.
“Southwest Airlines is not an airline – they stand for freedom,” Sinek said. “They stand for the average working Joe…Their history was all about giving the freedom of travel to people who used to take the car or the bus.”
Apple wasn’t founded to be a computer company, Sinek said.
“They were founded to give power to the individual to stand up to big brother,” he said. “The personal computer was the perfect tool to advance that just cause.”
In addition to a just cause, companies must have courageous leadership, trusted teams, competition, and a flexible playbook, Sinek said.
“What is the point of having a just cause if we have don’t have leaders who prioritize the advancement of that cause,” Sinek said. “Then it’s just marketing.”
Courageous leadership comes in many forms, Sinek said.
At a corporate level, it’s committing our organizations to do the thing that advances the cause even if it costs us in the short term, he said.
For example, drugstore chain CVS, a healthcare company, sold cigarettes until the company’s leadership a few years ago banned the sale of cigarettes across all its stores.
“They took billions of dollars of revenue out of their stores,” Sinek said. Wall Street went apoplectic and CVS’ stock price dropped in the short term, he said.
But the stock price rebounded as the action created so much goodwill among its customers, Sinek said. And CVS believes that because of their actions smoking has declined in the U.S., he said.
“That’s courageous leadership on a company level,” he said.
To succeed, businesses also must have trusting and vulnerable teams, Sinek said.
He spent time with SEAL Team Six, “there about 3000 guys that are regular SEALs, only about 10 percent of them are SEAL Team Six,” Sinek said. “They are the best of the best of the best.”
What sets SEAL Team Six apart is its members are selected based on performance and trust, Sinek said.
“The high performer of low trust is a toxic leader,” Sinek said. “They would rather have the medium performer of high trust or even the low performer of high trust, over the higher performer of low trust.”
“Now the problem in business is we have a million metrics for performance and we have negligible or no metrics for trustworthiness,” Sinek said.
“And so we keep promoting people who literally are toxic leaders because they keep making or padding their numbers and they are destroying the fabric of our companies,” he said.
“The most gifted natural performer who is helping everybody on the team,” he said. “We don’t recognize them. We don’t reward them. And that’s why we don’t incentivize that behavior throughout the company.”Companies need to create an environment where people feel safe coming forward when they make a mistake or are in over their head or are stuck or having troubles at home without fear of retribution, Sinek said.
“If you do not have that where the people feel comfortable to express themselves that way, what you do have is an organization where people are showing up every day lying and hiding mistakes,” Sinek said.
Sinek told the audience of HR professionals that too many HR departments fail their people.
Today’s abuse of power in the workplace is because of the failure of HR departments, Sinek said. They do not see themselves as the advancement of the people, they see themselves as the advancement of the executives, he said.
“There has to be someone standing up for the people,” Sinek said.
A leader is simply the one who acts to look after the people first, he said.
“And HR should be the leaders of the people within the organization,” Sinek said.
Companies also must have worthy adversaries, Sinek said.
Competition is extremely valuable because it pushes us harder and reveals weaknesses to improve upon, Sinek said.
“People who are actually better at what you do than you: admire them, study them and learn from them,” he said.
“The goal is not to beat them,” he said. “The goal is to outlast them.”
Lastly, companies need to have a flexible playbook to innovate and change with the times, Sinek said.
In 1975, Kodak invented the first self-contained digital camera. They couldn’t imagine having to blow up the whole company. So they suppressed digital photography for fear that it would undermine the strategy that they had chosen, Sinek said. In 2012, Kodak went bankrupt.
Companies with closed playbooks and a refusal to compete when someone better comes along will go out of business, Sinek said.
“They could not make a decision with short-term liabilities for the long-term gains,” he said. “So they ultimately put themselves out of business. It wasn’t the market. It was their decision.”