Real Leaders

Does Your Business Matter? And Can It Matter More?

Confident young businesswoman using mobile phone in front of highrise financial towers in Central Business District on a fresh bright morning

This is the second of a 4-part series exploring businesses that matter. Read series one here

Business is sacred.

I recognize that’s not a widely-held view as most employees of most businesses, unfortunately,
don’t experience their work this way. But if one allows sacredness into the conversation about
business, different possibilities start opening up.

And so, the provocation of whether your business matters – or can matter more. At the outset, the nature of what ‘matters’ is entirely neutral. One business that I know of figured out that what mattered to them was to be a launching pad for young, ambitious people in the advertising industry. In their case, they put their efforts into providing a dynamic growth experience for their people that lasted about 3-4 years, after which they were comfortable letting these well-developed professionals make their mark in ad agencies elsewhere.

Costo, an entirely different illustration of what matters, believes in community engagement and
fostering symbiotic relationships with the suburbs surrounding their stores. Southwest Airlines believes in understated, selfless effort as a way of serving their customers and maintaining low running expenses.

These three businesses couldn’t be more different, but the net effect is the same: their people have a singular rallying cry around which to rotate their collective efforts. Something that is known, and which matters to everyone in the business. Once employees have something to lock onto that is authentic, well-considered, and meaningful; generally, they will. It’s the human condition to want to be part of something and to feel energized about an idea. And once they do, it releases a groundswell of energy, generosity, and commitment that underpins their choice to devote their discretionary effort to the business they’re a part of.

What’s more, ‘mattering’ is strategically enabling. It’s not about saving the world or doing good. That nuance is extremely important in that business, as an institution, is oriented toward high performance and excellence. The ‘gift’ of business to the world is to set high bars, to move fast, to innovate ingeniously, and to create value. Never must those values be lost in the search for what matters to a business. Performance and ‘mattering’ are part of the same idea. So, how does a business unearth that matter to it?

It’s obviously a highly personal journey, but these pointers might be helpful

  • A particular form of ambition sits at the core of this journey – not only to grow
    bigger and to succeed but to be more significant. This needs to be activated as a
    catalyzer of this journey: a question; a gathering; and an exploration.
  • What matters doesn’t need to be overly profound – it just needs to be energizing
    and compelling.
  • What could matter to a business is likely already there but in an un-named and
    un-formed state. It’s an unearthing, rather than a seeking out.
  • Early adopters will reveal themselves. Engage these people and include them in the
  • Locate the strategic importance of mattering: How will employees benefit? How will
    customers benefit? How could your product/service become enhanced due to
    mattering more as a business? How could your brand be enlivened by mattering

    This is a very particular worldview to link sacredness to business, and it might sound foreign to many readers. This is the essence of the Hero’s Journey: to seek out something greater and more profound and to be able to walk the whole journey in service of this goal, including the defeats that generally accompany the victories. Without this mindset, ‘mattering’ will be a struggle as there’s simply not enough energy and excitement to power the journey. For business people of today, this is the essential question: do you see your life’s efforts as being something that matters? Or are you satisfied with the mundane?

Coming in Series 3: “Sculpting a Business That Matters.” We will explore how businesses that matter
operate and what rituals and customs are practiced within such organizations.

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