Founders are often product builders not brand builders.
They iterate their product or service but leave their brand and culture to chance. Brands emerge accidentally from product decisions and they are weaker for it.
It’s hard to build a lasting brand without a focus on culture, purpose and the stories that bind teams.
Over time, founding stories stop getting shared (because everyone has heard them) and this is when the glue that holds teams together gets weakened and companies stop working in unison.
This happens to most young companies. We’ve seen it in our own.
We’re not talking team homogeny, but what the All Blacks refer to as the Spearhead (as described by James Kerr in his book Legacy).
In Maori, whanau means ‘extended family’ and it is symbolised by the spearhead. Though a spearhead has three tips, to be effective all of its force must move in one direction. Not a single part of the spearhead should deviate from what bonds the team together. Source
Such unity starts to falter around the “white water” period, as discussed by Les McKeown in his book Predictable Success.
Here’s what happens:
- You get led by the nearest revenue and respond to the most visible competitors.
- You build a faster, shinier, simpler version of what’s expected.
- Your sales process is your personal network so you get initial sales.
- And then suddenly everything stalls.
This is a period of leadership squabbles, operational inefficiencies and strategy wobbles following initial success. We’ve been there and it’s turbulent.
Most often, the cause is the weakening of the binds that bond founders and their small teams together.
So it pays to describe the behaviours needed to achieve your goals early on.
Ask: What does unity and ‘flow’ look like for you all? What would a wonderful company behaviour look like?
Then bed it in with shared artefacts – stories, shared experiences, repeated visions and goals.
Zappos is a master of this. They tweeted that “Our philosophy is ‘we don’t sell shoes, we sell customer service’. A customer can not truly be defined, because we will assist any person that contacts us; from finding a pizza place that’s open at 2 a.m. to making a purchase. Our goal is to deliver WOW!”
These kinds of stories underpin behaviour.
Few businesses have embedded expected BEHAVIOUR into their brand and culture with clear leadership and shared stories in this way.
This is the first stage that Elysian Fields gets called in.
Founders want to quickly provide clarity, purpose and hone their sales engine beyond their immediate network. ‘White water’ provides the crisis that can lead to a quickly refocused leadership team through our Unfair Advantage sprint.