Over 60% of new businesses go bust within five years. 70% fail within in ten years — and those are conservative estimates. The truth is, too many were doomed to fail from the start. What kept them upright was likely a combination of luck, momentum and dogged tenacity. But from a leadership standpoint, that’s the business equivalent of treading water. It’s not enough to keep the enterprise from going under.
Bloomberg’s “Startup Barometer” found that by the end of 2017, startups were up by nearly %30 over the past 12 months. But successful exits — where a company is bought or goes public — were down by 36%. Too many companies didn’t make it. To truly sustain an enterprise, it has to be built squarely on four fronts — its leader, the leader’s vision and ideas, the employees, and the customers. When each of those four factors is maintained and tended, that’s a solid foundation that can withstand all manner of pressures and disruptions. In this era, there will be no shortage of that.
Here are the four key pillars vital to every business — and how to make sure they’re all as strong as possible:
1. The Leader.
Everything begins with the founder and the founder’s vision. The founder is head coach, star player, and creator of the business story. Leaders need to make sure their vision is distinct, coherent, and so well articulated that others understand it and buy in. That vision needs to have an ultimate destination so team members can chart a clear path to reach it. Leaders have to be truly passionate and deeply committed — this is anything but another job and everything depends on them. That approach, plus a favorable and productive environment, will inspire inspire employees to share business goals and stay on track.
2. The Leader’s Idea and Vision.
A product, a service, a concept so new there isn’t even a term for it yet, or so radically innovative that nothing like it has ever been tried before — the leader’s great idea is what started the enterprise. But the strength of an idea is not its novelty, but its power to solve a real-world problem that customers face. At its core, every great idea is simply an answer to the question: How can we solve this problem for our customers? A leader’s challenge is to make sure this great idea is also connected to a unique selling proposition and a well-developed strategic plan. Innovation by itself isn’t enough.
3. The Employees.
A McKinsey report found that 90 percent of investors consider the quality of the management team to be the single most important nonfinancial factor when evaluating an IPO. Point being, leaders can’t play a “solo game.” The leader’s has to transmit their vision to a team so clearly that the team can act like clones, expanding the leader’s reach outwards to every employee. And to leverage the power of every employee requires an overall strategy of effective hiring and a continual focusing on employee training and development. If employees are treated like worker drones, business goals can’t be achieved — in this cutthroat economy, everyone needs to be engaged, committed, and aligned with the same vision set forth by the leader. And leaders can’t be everywhere at once, or do everything themselves. They need like-minded, high-performing employees.
4. The Customer.
It takes great leadership, strong ideas and engaged employees to create the right conditions to attract customers. But the decision to buy products or services rests entirely in the customers’ hands. Customers are why the company exists in the first place and they determine its survival. They are the real boss. Knoweverything about the customer base and make sure it’s going to not only sustain the business but grow over time. That requires full engagement with them — and a nimble approach to allow the business to adapt to their changing needs.
No company ever becomes the best in class by accident, and there’s no magic bullet or special sauce for long-term survival. It takes a passion to excel and a disciplined focus across all four fronts, which means every department, every desk, every function, every exchange. No leader can afford to be blindsided by overconfidence or a misguided faith in a singular ability. Superiority in one competency will not mask mediocrity in others: brilliant ideas will not overcome uninspiring leadership; employees that don’t bring their skills to bear won’t help the business sustain or grow; and a shaky customer base is a foundation for failure. Imagine a panel of judges scoring the business: whichever organization scores highest on each of the four categories will be the one that wins.
This article first appeared here.