A Strong Company Character Is a Competitive Advantage

June 8, 2021

A Strong Company Character Is a Competitive Advantage

Change is all around us, and it’s imperative that we get ready for change rather than continue to be surprised by it. For years—actually, millennia—we have been trying to defy, deny or slow down change. We need to embrace it. 

But what’s different is that the kind of change we’re going through today is truly remarkable in our lifetimes. COVID-19. Financial uncertainty. Disruptive social change. Natural disasters. Now more than ever, we are watching to see how companies and individuals navigate these changes and show who they really are. We’re asking our leaders, our organizations, our coworkers and everyone who’s important to us what they stand for, and then we’re comparing what they say to what they actually do. The gap between what they say and what they do is a pretty good measure of their character. 

When I talk about character, I don’t just mean a list of core values that you might see published on a company’s website. Character is having the personal fortitude to do what needs to be done to foster the continued growth and success of your organization, your leadership team and your people. It’s challenging everyone—including yourself—to do everything you can to provide your customers with real value, which means doing new, sometimes risky things.

Don’t Get Stuck in the Past

To move ahead, you’ve got to build on the past but not be stuck in it. As Geoffrey Moore, author of Crossing the Chasm, explains, “Technologies from a prior era, once the focal point of innovation, now become the scaffolding upon which next-generation innovation will build.” Keep building; keep innovating; keep trying new things. Keep moving forward.

Not too long ago, I spoke with some executives who work for a very large and well-established retail company whose name you would immediately recognize. The organization’s culture has deep roots in “doing things the way we always have,” and its executives are convinced that continuing to do what made the company successful in the past will assure its success in the future.

Unfortunately, in the case of this large retail company, this perspective (actually, a bias) is holding them back. Their unwillingness or inability to let go of past success is unconsciously stopping them from doing the right thing for the company today—and for their people and their customers. 

More than a few companies are stuck in a similar predicament. Look below the surface and you’ll see that many are on a path to reduced market share and sales, along with declining revenue and profit, public criticism and perhaps even legal consequences for those involved. Their character is diminished.

Measuring Character

Character is the North Star by which we steer our organizations, and it’s the scorecard against which we are judged. Our stakeholders are listening attentively to what we say we are, and they’re watching what we actually do. In short, they’re constantly measuring our character.

We’ve known for some time that the way companies conduct themselves—demonstrating what they stand for—has become a deciding factor in what we want to buy, where we want to work and who we want to partner with. A company’s character matters to consumers. We’ve raised the bar for how businesses and leaders should behave for us to continue to support them. 

The traits and attributes now attracting people to organizations push the requirements of culture beyond simply creating an appealing workplace, stating values, and offering great benefits and perks for employees. A company’s character matters to employees.

At the intersection fusing culture and strategy, long-term business value is gained, protected or lost today by a company’s character. An upstanding company character is a competitive advantage in a fast-changing marketplace where employees and customers have many choices.

Integrate Character

The question is this: What’s the best way to ensure that character is an integral part of every decision we make?

Let me recommend an answer: by adopting a 21st-century ethos—one that looks to the future for inspiration, constantly keeps a finger on the pulse of relevant trends in the world around us, and considers how they will likely affect our business, our people and our customers today, tomorrow and well into the future. An ethos that puts the focus on character.

Today, every organization needs to live and demonstrate its true character more than ever before—to its employees, its customers, its communities and to the world at large. The year 2020 was unlike any other before. These events have made business leaders take a deep look inside their organizations to see if what they do is actually aligned with what they say they believe.

While many businesses have risen to the challenge—putting their character on full display—others have not, their leaders seemingly out of step with the truly historic events going on around them.

Assess Your Company Character

Without character, there is no trust; without trust, there is no business. Ask yourself whether you agree or disagree with these statements as an initial assessment on the health of your company character:

  • Leadership has the ability to be agile and fluid.
  • Important decisions are made at every level of the organization.
  • Our leadership team embraces change.
  • Our leaders encourage creative thinking.
  • Our organization embraces change.
  • Our company tends to learn from our mistakes.
  • Our company has a clear vision, mission and metrics.
  • Our organization is willing to sacrifice short-term recognition for longer term success.
  • Our organization has experience with managing process change.
  • Our organization understands the value of “working smarter, not harder.”

I suggest that the more you disagree with these statements, the more likely that your organization is not positioned as well as it could be. In fact, your organization may very well be set up for failure.

Excerpted with permission from the publisher, Wiley, from Upstanding: How Company Character Catalyzes Loyalty, Agility, and Hypergrowth by Frank Calderoni. Copyright © 2021 by Anaplan, Inc. All rights reserved.

The Authors: 

Frank Calderoni is Chairman and CEO of Anaplan. He is the author of Upstanding: How Company Character Catalyzes Loyalty, Agility, and Hypergrowth.