Opinion & Analysis

Does a compelling core business ideology matter?

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Many years ago, the former president of Ford Motor Company, Red Polling requested a tour of TMMK – Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky Inc – and to talk to the executives.

Well, Mr Fujio Cho who was TMMK’s president at that time, having thought about the contributions of Ford in the early days of Toyota as well as the respect he had for Red, he obliged.

So Red came with an entourage and went round the plant, the experience continued for an hour and half. Then, Mr Cho asked Mr Red, “What do you think?” “Nothing unusual” responded Mr Red. So Cho asked for suggestions and Red offer a few.

After the tour, Mr Cho gathered his people and said to them, “We learn a valuable lesson today. We have the same equipment and systems as Ford, but what Mr. Polling did not see was our competitive advantage, which is our people.” 

Now, the thing is that the behaviour of people is powered by their ideology. One’s ideology determines the things s/he holds at high esteem – his/her values – and his/her intent or reason for engaging in any endeavour – purpose – as well as one’s perception of the direction to follow whether it’s taking a job and even the kind of job or setting up a business and how s/he goes about running the business. 

In reality, an ideology will determine the kind and quality of leadership expressed in any business. And the quality of leadership expressed will determine the success of the business. In other words, human behaviour which result to the outcomes we see is driven by our ideology. For example, Adolf Hitler led the massacre of over 200,000 Jews at Nazi concentration camp in Germany. This movement was a result of his ideology. Research shows that he believed that people can be separated into different races, where some are superior and others are inferior. So he believed the superior should rule and dominate the inferior. To him the German race was the Aryan race and superior to other races like the Jews. 

However, what benefits should inspire one to identify and drive his business with a compelling core ideology? I offer a few in the following paragraphs. 

PROVIDES A BASE FOR CONTINUED PROGRESS

Human beings are able to move their hands and legs; stand up, bend forward, push objects etc in a bid to get things done because the body has a core – the muscles that stabilise the spine and pelvis. The core helps the physical body generate the power for those activities. And for example, in pushing an object, the amount of weight that one can push and the speed at which s/he does that is determined by the strength of one’s core. The core gives the body stability for movement.

Your Core ideology gives you stability by giving you an identity; it tells people what you stand for, why you engage in anything or the cause you are in the pursuit of. Your product or service only gives expression to your ideology and that product or service could be anything. So with that core in place, you can explore, experiment, evolve, move and make progress. For example, Apple produces iPad, iPhone, Mac, Apple watch, Apple TV. What keeps them together as they move and make progress in several directions and produce different categories of product is their ideology – challenging the status quo and empower the individual.

Without the core ideology, no business will have the freedom to make progress in different industries with different categories of products and services. 

EMPLOYEE LOYALTY

A recent research by Gallup on the state of the workplace revealed that 70% of workers in Sub-sahara Africa are watching and actively seeking new jobs. The implications are one, your workers are most likely not with you – they have one leg in and one leg out. Second, you might be incurring costs you could have avoided – it costs six to nine months salary to replace every worker that leaves. Third, your competitive advantage is weakening – since a strong team is part of your competitive advantage. Finally, you have workers whose potentials are untapped. 

Yet as research shows, one of the reasons workers are more likely to stay in a company is when they have a sense of belonging. A company’s ideology is the basic way to establish that sense of belonging. That ideology identified and expressed is an invitation to people who share in that ideology to join your organization. 

When they finally join and their ideologies are in congruent with that of the company, they become loyal to the ideals that drive the company. You must understand that people are loyal to ideals that inspire them not necessarily to leaders in positions of authority. They are only loyal to the leader because the leader is an embodiment of ideals that inspire them. Moreover, if we believe in the same thing or put another way, are inspired by the same thing, we will trust one another. And trust is one of the major reasons one team outperforms another. 

CUSTOMER LOYALTY

According to Simon Sinek, the renowned leadership expert and the best selling author of Leaders Eat Last, “People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.” Organizations that have identified their core ideology focus their marketing on communicating to their customers in every way they can that ideology. Because when people buy into that ideology, they also become loyal to the idea and they will follow you to any direction you go since they have the same base with you, believe the same thing you do. Your products or services become a reminder to them of the pursuit they are all involved. 

If a company is known by what they do, when what they do changes for political, technological or cultural reasons, their customers will find it difficult to follow them. Why? Because they have not trusted them in that area. Imagine a company known by what they make say, computer. And over time, for whatever reason, begins to make phones. Except they first, transform themselves to be known and identified by their ideology, customers will not feel the trust to patronise them. Your products or services is simply a way of expressing your ideology.

AIDS YOUR DECISION MAKING

In the mid 80s River blindness was ravaging third world countries and over a million people were affected by that warm that found its way into the body and then the eyes with painful blindness.

Merck & Co Inc an American multinational pharmaceutical company whose net income in 2022 is $14.52 billion ventured into discovering a cure and producing a drug they called Mectizan that could help these over a million people get rid of the disease. They did this knowing that these people affected by the disease couldn’t pay for it. However, they did in hope that one government agent or another body will pay for it to be distributed to these patients who needed the drug badly. But that hope did not materialise. Yet they went ahead to distribute the drugs for free even by themselves, at their own expense. And by 1998, they have already distributed over 200m tablets of the drug. Why?

Here’s their ideal: in 1929 the president of the company George Merck who took over from his father the founder of the company said, “We try to remember that medicine is for the patient not for profit. The profit follow, and If we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we have remembered it, the larger they have been.” They believe they are in the business of preserving and improving human life.

In an interview, the CEO at the time they produced Mectizan, P. Roy Vagelos was asked why they went ahead at their own expense to distribute the drug even by themselves. He said, “Failure to do that will demoralise scientists who work for a company that views itself as in the ‘business of preserving and improving lives,’ whose actions are measured by the success in achieving that goal.”

Obviously, their choices and decisions are guided by their core ideology – medicine is for the patient and not for the profit.

Finally, it’s important to note that unless one wants to simply experience short term gains then an ideology may not be necessary. However, if one wants to experience sustainable business success, build a business that not only make profit but will out last him/herself with enduring impact, then identifying and driving one’s business with a core ideology is inevitable. (I’m happy to answer your questions: godswillerondu@gmail.com)

Godswill O. Erondu is the Pioneer, Africa Workplace Leadership Summit. He’s a leadership consultant and works with organizations – public and private – to transform their leadership and culture for superior performance and increased profit.

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