"We can't afford to make business boring, or no one with any talent will do it."
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If there’s one word that has never been associated with famed serial entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson, it’s boring. As owner and founder of the Virgin brand – which now spans 450 companies and dozens of industries, from music to space travel (and virtually everything in between) – Branson’s secret to success is passionately creating customer-centric businesses in industries he’s personally fascinated with.
The Big Idea
Small is the New Big
"The common thread running through these ideas is that they're simple - simple enough for an individual to take forward and make happen. We all need to be aware that small, lean, entrepreneurial businesses are now the future of business as a whole."
I found this point fascinating. Here’s a guy with over 50,000 employees worldwide, preaching the value of “staying small”. But he means it. As often as is prudent, Branson works to split companies once they reach a certain size (100-150 employees, typically). He believes, as I do, that there is incredible value that comes from everyone in a company knowing each others’ names, and in feeling that their work makes a tangible difference. Of course, the “risk” to keeping companies small is a lack of redundancy; everyone needs to pull their weight, and truly work towards to the greater good of the company.
Branson says the risk is worth it. Not only can he operate leaner, more cost effective businesses, but employees have an opportunity to rise above their job descriptions, and really jump into the entrepreneurial fun of running a business. Everyone counts.
“…the more you free your people to think for themselves, the more they can help you. You don’t have to do this all on your own.”
In Business Stripped Bare, Branson’s latest in a long string of books including Losing My Virginity and Screw It, Let’s Do It, the rebel entrepreneur dives deep into the inner details of some of his most high profile ventures. Rich with anecdotes of taking on British Airways with the launch of Virgin Atlantic, challenging physics with Virgin Galactic and dozens of other examples, Branson shares what he believes to be the biggest lessons he’s learned through his varied and expansive experience.
Allow for Passion
"After all, we only live once, and most of our time is spent at work, so it's vital that we are allowed to feel good about what we do. Throwing yourself into a job you enjoy is one of life's greatest pleasures - but it's one that some leaders of industry seem determined to stamp out at all costs."
Having a small team means relying more heavily on each individual on the team. Which means you need to trust that they’re going to show up on time, be engaged in their work, and truly strive to maximize the impact of the hours they put in. Some may look at this as a leap of faith, but you can hedge your bets by creating an environment, and set of responsibilities that really ties into each person’s sense of purpose, and sense of passion. So how do you understand their passions?
Couple things – hire the right people, ask them what they want, watch and listen, and get out of their way. It’s as simple (but not necessarily as easy) as this.
If you know what you stand for (Virgin is about making the experience fun for the customer), and share that purpose during your interviews, you’ll attract the right kind of people. Once they’re in, get a sense of what motivates them – what makes them tick -by asking questions, watching their behaviour, and listening to the feedback you get. Then, stay out of their way and let them own their role. Let them take full credit, and full responsibility. Ownership = pride, and pride = dedication.
"Failure usually occurs when leaders avoid the reality of business. You have to trust the people around you to learn from their mistakes. Blame and recriminations are pointless."
If you want your staff to “own” their roles – to passionately and enthusiastically strive to do more with it, and create a bigger impact – you need to be ok with them making mistakes. I’ve often said that there are two kinds of mistakes: those that come from carelessness or lack of attention (bad), and those that come from experimentation and taking risks with the best interest of the company in mind (good. No, great.)
If something doesn’t go as planned, take a step back and look at the intention of the individual(s) involved. What were they trying to do? Chances are, if you have the right people on board, they’re going to beat themselves up enough over the mistake; they don’t need your help in doing that. What they do need (likely) is a supportive word; someone to help them identify the learning in the experience, and brainstorm another way to accomplish that which they’d set out to do the first place. You don’t ever want them to lose that entrepreneurial spirit.
Like its author, Business Stripped Bare covers a wide range of topics and industries, but the flow through message is this: People are the root of every business and, ultimately, they’re what will make or break a company. Trust your people and embrace the entrepreneurial spirit, and perhaps you too can have even a taste of the life Sir Richard Branson has created for himself.