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Recently, the Swyft Filings team decided to start a book club, focusing on team-building, company strategy, and other books that encourage the growth mindset. We chose The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success by Rich Karlgaard to kick off the new team activity and discovered a lot of new ideas that we otherwise might have never thought of. In our Book Club blog series, we hope to share with our audience what we learned here at Swyft Filings.
Rich Karlgaard is an influencer and thought leader in economics, politics, and business conversations. He is a publisher and columnist for Forbes’s Innovation Rules biweekly column, and a frequent commentator on Forbes on FOX. Karlgaard shares several anecdotes from large companies in The Soft Edge to illustrate how to leverage the long-term company values that make up a company’s “soft edge” – trust, smarts, teamwork, taste, and story – and to conduct strategies and execute them. The book reminds us to pay closer attention to the human side of business, not just the process-oriented decisions.
In our discussions, we spend a quarter of the hour reviewing a few chapters, and the other three quarters applying it to our business. Questions such as, “Internally, how can we improve?”, “Externally, what do we do well?”, and “How can we apply this lesson to our day-to-day operations? ” sparked a conversation that went well over the hour.
Karlgaard wanted to visualize a company’s lasting success, in the easiest way possible. Such as a person measuring long-term mental, social, and physical health, Karlgaard measures the Strategic Base (five pillars of strategy that contain market, customer, competitor, substitutes, and disrupters of a product), the Hard Edge (executing the strategy with speed, cost, supply chain, logistics, and capital efficiency), and the Soft Edge (the deepest values of a company such as trust, smarts, team, taste, and story). He calls this visualization the Triangle of Long-Term Company Success.
The Soft Edge then takes us back in time, referencing how in the previous decade, “manufacturing and supply chains were revolutionized by low-cost, mostly Asian labor. This decade, it’s robotics.” The chapter mostly explained that no matter how advanced the technology and logistics in your company get (the hard edge), competition and innovation will outrun you. It seems like common sense to have a combined strategy of hard and soft edge approaches, but not everyone can afford the time or money it takes to maintain a balanced culture.
The first question that the Swyft Filings leadership asked the team was, “Can you trust your career with this company?” And then accepted recommendations on how to improve their working experience. We wanted to make sure that the employees felt comfortable enough to be transparent with us. The team then moved on to our external relationship with the clients – Will we be here and perform for the customers when they need us? What do we promise our customers? We think about this every day to improve our relationship with both our customers and our team.
When Karlgaard refers to “smarts,” he is referring to the willingness to learn, not just academics. According to Karlgaard, smart people surround themselves with encouraging environments to learn, such as acquiring mentors and researching the business landscape so they can adapt quickly. In fact, this chapter influenced the leadership at Swyft Filings to start the book club and luncheon – to invite the employees to learn in an inclusive environment rather than out of a book alone.
Teams should be built in quality, not quantity. With a balanced and diverse team, each person contributes their own piece of the puzzle that is your business. Do not micro-manage – leading a team with explicit boundaries, but allowing their autonomy, encourages each member to use their skills to the best of their abilities. Our teams in-office, for example, are split into groups of 5-10 people. Although each group has their own purpose, every person has a unique personality and provides valuable ideas.
We started this discussion with the simple question: “Do we enchant our customers?” As in, at every step of our process, do our customers find our content appealing to the eye? We gathered feedback from our team members about what documents should have our logo, which steps seemed redundant, and brand standards. But even more than product design, Karlgaard makes a good point: “We’ve become too enamored with the process and forgotten about the sensibility.” We want to make sure that every design makes sense and serves a purpose. With each design change, also monitor the progress – how did that affect sales?
The Soft Edge ends in "Story", which can be applied to many contexts. The stories that you tell shape the company culture. Stories contribute to employee recruitment, customer relationships, organizational culture, and even the company goals themselves. In this digital age, it is now easier to share a story through modes of communication such as email and social media. Stories also tie back into "Trust" from a few chapters back – the more your stories change, the harder it is for customers and employees alike to trust you.
The soft edge of a company is, to an extent, the foundation of a company. Companies often fail to practice their deeper values and settle for the excuse, “it’s not a priority right now.” In reality, companies simply cannot set aside the soft edge. The deep values of a company are the only things that stay consistent in an ever-changing and innovating world. Set aside time for a book club luncheon, after-work activities, or a Saturday coffee meeting with your team to address the needs of your company's "soft edge", and you’ll slowly see your company evolve. We've definitely seen a change in these past few months.
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