By Randy Ataide
The other night I had the opportunity to speak at University of San Diego at the Wealth and Legacy Seminar Series, and tackled the topic of how business leaders can build and maintain a legacy. This is a tricky question, not the least of which is that one’s legacy is inherently subjective. One person may hold that passing a successful business to an heir is a legacy while another may believe that developing a capacity for charity and philanthropy is theirs. Provided that these choices are not based upon exploitation and destruction, It is difficult for me or anyone else to criticize such a personal decision. I preceded the venerable Ken Blanchard, perhaps the leading leadership and legacy author of the past twenty years, and fortunately for me he much to agree with. (Did you know Ken was awarded by Amazon for being one of their 25 bestselling authors of all time? Wow!)
But before one can worry too much about what a specific legacy is or should be, one must first consider how to build a career or company that has the capacity to develop a legacy. One of the most surprising things I discover about speaking to groups of businesspeople in a wide variety of settings and sectors is that most really have not thought much about what business they are really in, as it is easy to confuse one’s products and services with the “real business.” What do I mean? Consider that if your particular business is financial products including life insurance, it is very easy in the midst of the work it takes to develop and understand the products, obtain the professional certification to sell the products, locate a potential client, make a proposal and close a sale, to actually overlook what is really occurring. At first glance it would seem that the real business is relationship building, but this is not the full answer. What is really occurring in such a circumstance is much more complex including key elements of trust and assurance, but also a unique set of feelings, emotions and sensory experiences about the transaction itself. Were details paid attention to? Appointments kept? Proposals clear and accurate? Ease of payment? All of these play a part in the psyche of the customers of our business, and the better that we understand this the higher the likelihood of success in the short term and legacy in the long. It is relationship building but so much more.
How do you figure this out in your own particular context and business? It really isn’t that difficult to find the answer, and we have a nearly twenty year old Harvard Business Review article by Treacy and Wiersma to thank. They concluded that there are only three “value disciplines” (e.g. “value propositions”) available to any business: first, one could have operational excellence, or the capacity to do something better, faster and/or cheaper. Second, a company could have products leadership, which more often than not is not a monumental change from what others are offering but rather subtle yet sophisticated refinements of existing products. Last, you could have customer intimacy, meaning you have developed the capacity to know, understand and serve your customers better than the competition. Obtaining one of these means you have a viable business; two of them (in any combination) is competitive advantage; all three is sustainable competitive advantage, or the “Holy Grail” of business.
This really isn’t rocket science, but a surprisingly large number of business owners either are unaware of this simple analysis or delude themselves into thinking that they really have one or two of these disciplines when they really don’t. And financial success or business accolades can sometimes mask underlying problems in the firm. A key litmus test is if all employees in the company regardless of rank, title or seniority know what the discipline is. In other words, is your particular discipline(s) unique, flexible, understandable and transmittable? If they are not known throughout the firm you likely don’t have a value discipline but rather just dumb luck.
So before you think too deeply on your legacy, think about the task at hand: Leading or working in your companies to recognize and then align assets and efforts around maximizing the opportunity created by your particular value discipline(s). That is one of the first steps you must take on creating the capacity for a personal and professional legacy.
View the powerpoint here: http://www.scribd.com/rataide1
Under “Building a Legacy in Business”