Want your business to succeed in today’s world? You must follow these four rules.

Published July 3, 2020.

I’m a business owner, but I’ll be honest: I’m not happy with the business world as a whole. In fact, I’m livid at the amount of friction some businesses have caused in our society and in the lives of people.

Yes, there are some amazing, innovative, human-centered businesses, both big and small. They have my deepest respect.

But at the other end of the spectrum, there are some really bad actors. I refuse to say their names because they don’t deserve the publicity, but we all know who they are and what they’ve done:

They’ve hurt the environment. They’ve discriminated against people. They’ve caused cancer. They’ve lied and misled. They’re responsible for massive economic inequality. They’ve disrespected privacy and personal data and contributed to polarization and disinformation.

Are they the majority? No way, but their impact is severe. My gut tells me they’re yet another example of the Pareto principle — probably 20% of companies are responsible for 80% of the negative effects.

But here’s the good news: People are tired of the bad actors (and the merely average ones, for that matter). They expect and demand better.

Plus, we’re living in an age of disruption and democratization. Customers have more choices than ever, entrepreneurs have more tools at their disposal than ever, and it truly is possible for a David to beat a Goliath. In fact, we’ve seen it happen a number of times over the last two decades.

Yes, this is a moment of opportunity for the rest of us in the business world. We can take a stand and beat the bad actors — not through naming and shaming, but through competition and innovation. In fact, I believe it’s our obligation to do so, but we need a playbook to guide us.

That’s why I’ve created these four rules of modern business:

  1. Treat your employees like gold.
  2. Treat your customers like gold.
  3. Continually strive to build the best products, services, and experiences in your class.
  4. Other than your competitors losing, there should be little or no collateral damage as a result of your success.

Pretty simple, isn’t it? Simple, yet powerful.

Whether you’re already a human-centered market leader, a small upstart, or an established mid-market player looking to do better and leap forward, consider these rules your rallying cry.

In the modern business climate, I believe they are your best chance of fixing friction, achieving success, building a beloved brand, and making the world a better place.

While these rules are fairly self-explanatory, I want to dive a little deeper into two important aspects:

There’s a reason why Rules 1 and 2 are structured the way they are.

I could have simplified things by combining #1 and 2 into a single rule that says “Treat your people like gold.” But, I separated them and listed employees first for a reason:

Happy employees are the foundation on which successful companies are built. Without them, everything else will fail.

After all, your employees are the ones who serve your customers. Do you really think your customers will ever be truly happy if your employees are miserable?

Of course not. It’s impossible.

Sadly though, it feels like a significant portion of the business world doesn’t understand this. Over the last 10 to 20 years, as Customer and User Experience (CX and UX) have gotten more attention and made meaningful gains, Employee Experience (EX) has clearly stagnated or declined.

We must reverse this trend because your employees are your most precious and irreplaceable asset. They deserve the utmost dignity and respect.

Plain and simple, it’s time to put the “human” back in human resources. From the moment someone applies for a job at your company, throughout their entire tenure, every experience should be as good as possible.

That means:

  1. Great pay, benefits, and advancement opportunities.
  2. Flexible schedules and remote work options (not just during a pandemic).
  3. Creating intuitive systems and processes that work for, not against, your people. In far too many organizations, the “corporate bureaucracy” frustrates the hell out of employees and makes them feel like nothing more than a number or a cog in the machine.
  4. Forging a culture where all of your people feel valued, included, and empowered — and I do mean all. Your diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives need to be actual, sincere efforts that benefit everyone, and not just a pandering hashtag that gets tweeted out occasionally when current events warrant it.

Do right by your employees, and you’ll find that Rules 2 through 4 come much easier.

Rule 4 requires the most explanation.

I’ll admit, this one may seem cryptic at first, so here’s a hypothetical example:

Let’s say you’ve got this amazing company. Your employees are happy, loyal, and high performing. Your customers are thrilled with your products. Your competitors simply can’t keep up, and both market share and revenues are rising.

But there’s a problem…

Your products are manufactured using methods and materials that are not as environmentally friendly as they should be. Years from now, other people with no direct connection to your business may suffer or even die because they lived downwind from your manufacturing facility, and you didn’t put enough effort into sustainable and non-toxic techniques.

The environment and health are just two applications of Rule 4, so don’t get too hung up on this specific example. The point here is that it’s totally possible to ace Rules 1 through 3 and call it a day — but that’s not good enough in today’s world.

Why? Because as I mentioned in my Friction Fixer launch article, everything is interconnected, and when one thing suffers, everything suffers. Ultimately, if your business introduces any kind of negative or destabilizing element into the world that harms people — even unintentionally — it will eventually come back to haunt your business in a number of ways.

Collectively, we in the business community need to do better — much better. Whether you call this “corporate responsibility” or “social good,” the key is to do everything with intention and empathy. I find that most companies go wrong when they either:

  1. lose sight of big-picture strategy, think short term, and do things “just because” with a lack of imagination and intention; or,
  2. lose any sense of human-centered empathy and prioritize profits over people.

Bottom line: Between companies, there will always be winner and losers in business. If your competitors suffer, so be it — they should have done a better job — but innocent bystanders should not suffer as a result of your success.

I’ll have plenty more to say about these rules in future posts. After all, Friction Fixer is just getting started — stay tuned…