How Missing Our Numbers Transformed My Business

Corporate culture was something I never thought about when I was running my first startup. In fact, I don’t think anybody did back then. I was reading all the popular business books published in the late 70’s and early 80’s and don’t remember this subject coming up one time. Our company was growing at 30% per year. I was focused on leadership and execution.

Then we missed our numbers.

I felt like the whole place fell apart. Salesmen didn’t hit their numbers. Management didn’t get their bonuses, and neither did anyone else. We went from being the most successful and confident young professionals in the universe to feeling like failures. Just like that. In the blink of an eye.

My team became depressed.

I didn’t know what to do. I talked to a friend who was the president of a large division of a public company. He said, “Bring everyone together and talk about your values.”

“What’s that about?” I asked.

“You need to remind everybody what you stand for as a company,” he explained.

While my friend was talking, I was thinking to myself, What the heck do we stand for? What do I stand for? After giving these questions some deep thought, I concluded his suggestion was a good idea. And, to be honest, I didn’t have any other ideas. I scheduled a company-wide meeting.

I set a drop dead date for the meeting.

Then I was forced to think about what I needed to present. This particular exercise was brutal. I was used to talking about our achievements and goals at these meetings. How I was to talk about values? What I value. What we value.

I remember it like yesterday.

I was standing at the raised podium staring at our two hundred employees. They all looked tired and defeated. I could see the tiredness in their eyes as they were thinking, What can Charlie possibly say after a year like we just experienced. It was January, cold, 8 am in a room with terrible lighting.

This was my time to talk about values.

How can I remember all this yet not remember what I said? But I don’t. I do remember I talked about who we are, what we stand for, and what’s important to us. It was a much shorter talk than our usual annual kick-off.

When we got back to the office, many people came by and said how much the talk helped. That talk on that day had an impact on all of us. I believe we realized who we were. Not what we did or didn’t do, but who we were at our core in our wins and our losses. This was a corporate reset.

We grew up that day together.

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