When I travel around the world, I learn a lot about world religions. Each one actually has three attributes in common:
- A philosophy: There is always a maxim that its followers live by. Judeo- Christians have the philosophy of the “Golden Rule”; that is “treat others the way you want to be treated.” Hinduism believes in the existence of a soul that migrates from one body to another after death and a law of karma that determines a person’s destiny in this life and the next. Buddha emphatically preaches to “believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”
- Rules and rituals: This is how a person who follows the religion practices it. In Judaism, there are rules on what to do on the Sabbath and how to eat only kosher food. Christianity allows their priests to grant followers forgiveness for their sins. Hindus revere cows and do not eat their meat. Buddhists mediate to get to a higher place known as nirvana.
- Stories: The most important part of many religious texts are the stories about the activities of the prophets and gods. These are recounted repeatedly and serve as an effective teaching method to support the philosophy, rules and rituals. There are stories of the parting of the Red Sea, Jesus curing leprosy, and Buddha fasting on his many travels.
Small businesses need the same three attributes to be successful:
- Vision and mission (philosophy). Employees will band together to serve a great business purpose. This needs to be clearly articulated by the small business owner and reflected in every action the company takes. Why does your business exist and who does it serve? Where and how is this stated inside and outside the company?
- Policies and culture (rules and rituals). This goes beyond the human resources manual that every employee gets with all the company rules. It’s culturally what is accepted and rejected inside the company. It has to do with who gets hired, promoted and fired. It’s a tally of who is celebrated and who is scorned. Every company has these policies although many times they may be informal, but no less important.
- Celebrate success (stories). This includes how the company got started, took risks and made sacrifices early on. In retelling these stories, they take on a certain myth-like status. Everyone knows that Apple started in a garage. But some stories about well-known successful companies are actually urban legends including eBay first selling Pez dispensers. Regardless, these exist because people learn lessons best through story telling.
Which of these does your company have and which are weak or missing?