Archive for October, 2016

A Rude but Welcomed Awakening

I’ll not forget an experience I had late Spring 1990. We were in our 6th year as a company, having enjoyed five straight years of rapid growth and profitability. I had added personnel and our firm was working all over the state of Michigan. However, it was May and we had lost a considerable amount of money the first four months of the year. T. L. Hart, Inc. was in trouble.

I had had a goal of becoming one of mid-Michigan’s best and largest painting contractors. And we were well on our way. Our list of reputable customers was growing and, as for me, I was active in the area’s trade association and had worked my way to the top as president. Working with this association and the state, I had developed an apprenticeship program to train new painters. All of this was in jeopardy because of the losses. Not only was what I had built at risk, but so was my family. We had sold our house in town—and couldn’t get a loan approved for the new house we wanted because of the financials.

I was humiliated and my world was fast falling apart.

One day, laying on the couch and commiserating with myself, God reminded me of a Bible verse I had read before. It was from the book of James, chapter four, verses 13-15:

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’”

There’s a lot to be learned in these three short verses, but my take away that day was this: “if the Lord wills.” That is, whatever I do—in this regard grow the company—it has to be in harmony with God’s will.

Most folks think that God and religion are to be relegated to Sundays and church, but that’s not true. Even a casual reading of the Bible instructs us that God cares about even the most mundane things, like eating and drinking and sleeping—not to mention business, employer/employee relations, profit, and so forth. I had come to understand this through many years of not only reading the Scriptures, but also being part of a Christian businessman’s group which studied such things.

God’s will is paramount to any endeavor, and it is important for the earnest believer to be always putting that ahead of his own aspirations. I think mine had gotten way out ahead of God’s

Life is too short to be messing around with pursuits motivated by pride and personal ambition. In fact, James goes on to cite the reason for his admonishment: “But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil” (verse 16).

I’m certain my inward attitude resembled at least to some degree such arrogance. Success, especially quick success, breeds such things. Thank God He interrupted the course of things and interjected His thoughts into the matter. I stood corrected.

If I remember it right, we went on that year to recover the losses and ended the year with a small profit. And I was able to get a mortgage. God is good.

I had a lot more to learn—but I shall save these for another time. What is important, albeit with respect to business, marriage and family, church, and other personal interests, is the will of God. The take-away is this: we ought always to say when considering anything, “If the Lord wills.” Or, “God-willing, we will do this or that.”

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Why Core Values are Important

Everyone has principles by which they live. For the business owner it might be financial freedom; for the school teacher, impacting the lives of the next generation; for the Christian, faith. Whether they are aware of it or not, all have values that shape their attitudes and direct their actions. Consciously or unconsciously, they constitute the heart and soul of the person; its who they are.

Companies also have tenets they operate from. Many that have identified them may refer to them as core values. These are the things that make for the culture of a company. They might be written in mission statement on the wall or simply assumed, but these are what makes the firm tick; they constitute its core.

Whether you are an individual or a huge, multinational corporation, it is important to dig deep and find out what these are. Once found, wrap yourself or your company around them and bring everything you do into alignment.

Author Gino Wickman, in his book Traction, provides a wonderful process for determining what your businesses’ core values are. The book is worth the read just for this helpful information. He even provides tools to guide you through the discovery–and yes, it is a process of discovery; what you really believe in your heart may surprise you, good or bad.

Core values can be changed. My mentor for twenty years, the late Jim Russell, once told me, “Terry, your business will take off when you change your thinking about it.” What he meant was, the underlying guiding principles that held my company at bay needed to be altered. What I held to be true about T. L. Hart, Inc. had to change.

I believe it was Michael Gerber in his book, The E-myth, who pointed out that your business is you. In other words, your business is a direct reflection of who you are as a person. I understand that most companies may have more than one person to be considered, but the maxim is the same; who you are–or, who your team is, will be seen in the firm as a whole. This is why you not only need to do some digging yourself, but include other key players in your organization.

I went through the process a few years ago and included some team members. We came up with a list of seven or eight key qualities that we thought best represented our company. I wrote them down, and for a year or so taught them at our monthly staff meetings. After a while, I quizzed the group at to what they were; not one got them right.

I learned what Wickman presents in his book: keep them to a few; no more than seven or eight, but better yet four or five. So we took another look and boiled them down further. I am now confident that our four core values truly represent who I am and what I stand for. There is buy-in from the team, and they are fast becoming corporate culture.

To put this to work your core values need to permeate the entire operation. You hire and fire by them, you make your decisions based on them, and you build your products and services around them. Your core values dictate what you do and how you do it.

In my next article I will tell what my company’s core values are and why, and how I incorporate them into what we do.