I recently had two conversations that highlighted a fundamental business challenge. People either tend to approach their business lives like sheep or like shepherds. I don't think many of us will admit to being sheep, but the truth is there are way more sheep than shepherds.
Conversation #1: "Our employees don't care about the company making money"
The first conversation took place with a colleague who works at a rapidly growing, publicly traded company. We were discussing their employee development needs when she made the comment, "Our employees don't care about the company making money." It was such a sad remark, but I knew she was right. The employees in this company, like many others, generally focused on their day-to-day tasks without giving much thought to how those tasks contributed to the bottom line. They went to work each day completely disconnected from the overall mission and goals of the organization.
In other words, they were corporate sheep. They followed the flock while not realizing it since they were only aware of the people surrounding them. They spent their day fulfilling their most immediate needs while never thinking about the overall direction of the flock. They sensed they were being guided by some mysterious authority (a.k.a. 'the man', a.k.a. 'the shepherd'), but they didn't give that much thought about that either. Sheep remain happy as long as their immediate needs were met.
Conversation #2: "That's 13 cents that just dropped on the floor"
The second conversation was with my friend, Chris, who owns the Cut the Mustard Deli in Lodi, CA. We met for lunch last weekend and he told me how his business is starting to grow because he's become fanatical about two things: customer service and cost containment. Chris told me stories about how he goes out of his way to make his customers happy and create a good experience for them by offering high quality food, reasonable prices, and enthusiastic service. He also told me that he's become obsessive about eradicating waste and has recently trimmed his monthly energy bill by 40% just by operating more efficiently. Chris told me he's so focused on efficiency that when someone drops a piece of bacon, his first thought is "That's 13 cents that just dropped on the floor!"
Obviously, Chris is a shepherd. He sees the big picture and then obsesses over the tiny details to move towards it. What shouldn't get lost in this analogy is you don't have to own the flock (or the deli, or be a controlling shareholder, or whatever) to be a shepherd. Anyone can choose to be a shepherd, but the key is making that choice.
So, what are you today? Sheep or shepherd?