The 20 Most Powerful Words in Business
A version of this article first appeared at Inc.com.
Success in business is relatively simple: Make good decisions more often than you make bad ones, and you win. Make bad decisions too often, and you lose.
Simple? Yes. Easy? No. Particularly because, as your business grows and becomes more complex, more and more people get involved in the decision-making process.
At first, it’s just you and your gut instinct–and more often than not, you and your gut get it right (that’s what gets your business out of Early Struggle in the first place). Getting it right means your business succeeds and grows. Growing means adding people and complexity. And before you know it, the most important decisions are being made not by you, alone, but by teams– some of which include you, and some of which don’t.
And teams, as everyone rapidly finds out, generally suck at making high-quality decisions consistently.
Hidden agendas, passive-aggressive point-scoring, manipulative bullying, sullen disengagement: The ways in which teams can screw up the simple process of making a good decision are legion– and so are the suggested remedies. Endless books, workshops and assessment tools have been produced (my own included) each claiming to solve the issue of dysfunctional teams.
My take? Around 70 / 80 percent of the crud that occurs when otherwise good people get together in a joint decision-making process can be eradicated by the conscious use of a simple, 20-word statement. I call it The Enterprise Commitment, and here it is:
“When working in a team or group environment, I will place the interests of the enterprise above my personal interests.”
This simple statement of intent–so simple that it may seem at first to have been coined by Pollyanna herself–is in fact a highly powerful rubric that will keep your team focussed on high-quality decision-making.
A Statement That Makes a Statement
Think of a high-performing team like a group of highly-skilled surgeons gathered around a patient on the operating table: little unnecessary distraction, full focus, high-quality data, precise analysis, mutual support and clinical execution.
Why is this picture so different from the scene in most boardrooms? In my experience, it’s not because the individuals concerned are less capable or less committed. It’s simply that the “patient” isn’t clearly defined. For the surgeon in an operating room, there’s no question about who she’s there to serve.
For an executive in the boardroom, the “patient” (the business) is amorphous, indistinct, and sometimes forgotten about altogether. The Enterprise Commitment simply, but powerfully, keeps everyone’s focus on what’s truly important– the needs of the enterprise as a whole.
(By the way, I use the term “enterprise” because the same dynamic applies not just to entire organizations, but any enterprise undertaken by two or more people, including a business, division, department, project, group or team.)
Try using The Enterprise Commitment in upcoming team meetings. You can print it out on flashcards for your other team members here, and see if reminding everyone of who the patient truly is, transforms your decision-making. I’m betting it does.