I hear people talk about playing the game of business all the time, but I am not sure if we really have a clear understanding of the rules of engagement in this game, or which version suits us best. So often, people will play the game as if there is a start and finish time, clear guidelines, and an obvious opponent. There really isn't! The way I see it, there are two types of games that we could play. We could play a definitive game in business, or a perpetual game. There are some significant differences in the games and you must choose wisely to ensure you find your right path to success.
The definitive game could be related to football. In the game of football, you face off with a clear opponent. Your goal is to beat the other team and to do so as effectively as possible. The decisions you make will relate directly to trying to overpower, outsmart, and outscore the opposition. You know that there is a clear end time for the game and will likely even play through an injury or two to ensure a solid victory. In business, this means you might push your people to their breaking point in order to achieve a profit goal for a quarter or for a year. It also means you are looking at other people in the same industry and thinking... we have to outdo, out market, outgrow, and outspend them in order to be the clear champion this year. You study market-share as it compares to the competition and you base your decisions on whether or not you can beat them. This game generally leads to financial struggle or at least a huge chunk of despair. We get burned out, frustrated, and angry. We begin to hate the players in the game including the part we play because it lacks fulfillment. All the while, we are unaware that we are playing the wrong game. It is time that we change the game of business!
The game of business should be a perpetual game, not a definitive one. The difference between the two is more than semantics, it is foundational. The foundation of the perpetual game is to ensure that you get to continue playing the game beyond this generation. It isn't about winning this quarter or this year. It is about being around for the next 50+ years to keep providing great products or services. When we are in the perpetual game, we invest heavily in our people, in their leadership skills, their sales abilities, and their work-life balance. We provide great jobs with the best pay and benefits that we can, because we want to leave a legacy, not a trail of broken people. This game is one that makes a mark on the community we serve and builds the potential of our people at the same time. The foundation of this game is rooted in finding the path to success that does the most good and the least harm. It is one of purpose before profits. The scales in the business must simply tip toward our people before our bank accounts. It isn't that we avoid a profit. In fact, history shows that those who are purpose-driven will win out in the end.
Here is the interesting thing I have observed over the last 20 years of being in the game as a business owner. First, those who are here for the long-term always end up with the most consistent profits. Second, those who are here for the long-term always find the greatest innovations. Third, those who are here for the long-term make the biggest positive impact. Those who are in the definitive game care more for themselves than they do for their people, their customers, or their company. The are grabbing for the gold instead of the true goal of purpose. The perpetual game provides true purpose for the employees as well as for the community served. The definitive game provides profits for the owners with the intent of selling off the company to go play another game.
The best I can tell, somewhere in the 1980's, the game shifted toward definitive and away from perpetual. I have tremendous hope with the next two generations who are filled with the pursuit of purpose. I have hope that we can return to the greatest version of this game ever. That is the version that creates legacy for the next, and the next, and the next generation. It is the version of the game that never ends.
Which game will you play?