The beauty of the American free enterprise system is that you are free to pursue your dream no matter where it leads, and if often leads into some painful places. Joseph built a large HR firm, but his success was much harder than it needed to be.
Business is often seen as a way of discovering your destiny. It may well be a path to a meaningful life, but it may also be a road to tragic failure. Confusing the search for personal meaning with business success may cause one to ignore certain hard realities of business.
In the ancient Greek world, they believed that each person had a ‘genie’ or genius, which was that person’s guide on the road to a person’s destiny. If you followed this inner guide, you got to your destiny. If you ignored this source of insight, you were taken by the gods and dragged to your destiny against your will. In this tragic process, you might not survive. They said you met your ‘fate’, which was just the opposite of your destiny.
The beauty of the American free enterprise system is that you are free to pursue your dream no matter where it leads, and if often leads into some painful places. I knew a fellow who used to say; “ One of the great American freedoms is the freedom to go broke.” Failure can be a painful chapter on the road to your destiny, but it can just as easily be a tragic dead end. It seems that they must make every mistake in the book before they get to the place where their destiny might manifest itself. In watching these folks doggedly make mistake after mistake, I’m tempted to say that they are pursuing their fate rather than their destiny.
Because pursuing your destiny is such a personal goal, there seems to be an unwritten rule that you may not ask for assistance. Somehow the desire to find meaning in your business life seems to dictate that you not seek help in finding the path to business success. And while there may be false guides, there is help available.
Joseph was the founder of a human resources firm providing a range of personnel and executive search services. He had started the business as a young man—after serving far a few years in a much larger business. Over a 25-year period he had grown the business to be the largest one in the region; even surpassing his old firm.
The problem was that that the business was not profitable or at least not profitable enough to sell for enough to retire on the proceeds. While they were seen as the premier service provider, they weren’t being rewarded for their expertise in many areas.
When we sat down with the firm’s best clients, a step in The Profit Process, and we asked them about the service offerings and which ones they valued the most. What surprised us in their answers was the insight that what they valued the most was something that we didn’t charge for! We just gave it away. It was an intangible that the firm had developed over the years. It was a combination of the network of candidates as well as a “feel” for the fit of the candidate with the position and the organization. But the perception in the marketplace was that a solution by this firm was preferred over other solutions available.
By articulating this perceived difference, and bundling these intangible benefits in a “menu of services” the business was able to significantly increase its revenue and profitability. Because it now knew what customers valued, it could charge a premium for those valued services. On the basis of this increased profitability, the business was sold for enough for the principle to retire on.
Many people want to be in business to find meaning in their lives and hopefully reap the rewards of their hard work. But hard work is not enough to reach your destiny. There are certain business realities that must be reckoned with. Many businesses start out to offer a high level of service at a premium price. But because they can’t know exactly what the marketplace values, they get fatigued trying to do everything well. In fact the marketplace values some things more than others, and you only have to do those things well to stand out. In this business, they worked very hard trying to do everything well, and because they didn’t know what the market valued, they wound up giving their premium service away. They were successful in the end, but the pathway was much harder than it needed to be.