The Roman god Janus was “two-faced,” looking forward, as well as backward. This is the time of year when we look forward to new beginnings in a new year—even as we look back at the past.
Sometimes I think CEOs spend so much time focused on their company’s vision for the future that they neglect the lessons of the past.
In his book Onward, Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, says that when Starbucks stumbled in 2007-2008, “[We needed] the balance between our desire for growth and the need to preserve our heritage.” Mr. Schultz believed that there was such an emphasis on growth that the things that propelled them to become an international brand were forgotten, and the survival of Starbucks was dependent on remembering and building on the past.
Forgetting your past—your heritage—can be dangerous for your future. I think it’s important to understand and communicate your past, especially to newer employees. But it’s just as important to consistently communicate those things that you as the founder feel in your heart are the essence of what got you to where you are. It’s the foundation of your company. Without it, you’re on pretty shaky ground.
At Blinds.com, we try to stay rooted in a variety of ways:
- We’ve hung street signs from our ceilings with the street names of all the office locations we’ve occupied – including the addresses of some of the companies that we’ve acquired.
- Because the early business was in a brick and mortar store called Laura’s, we’ve named one of our meeting rooms “Laura’s.”
- We’ve named another meeting room after my first website, started back in 1996: NoBrainerBlinds.com.
- We acknowledge our first real office location, “The Alley,” with the name of a meeting room—as well as with a photo. Even the wallpaper on my own computer is a photo of The Alley. It’s called The Alley because you literally had to walk through an alley, replete with trash cans, dumpsters, and rat traps in order to reach the do to our office.
- We prominently display the scores of articles that have been written about Blinds.com during the past 16 years.
Sure, maybe these are just symbols. But they’re symbols that we are reminded made a difference, and still make a difference. Maybe yours wasn’t a mom-and-pop store like mine, but your company has roots, too. Tell your new employees about them. It’s that original, face-to-face service that inspires our commitment to personal service today. Your company no doubt also can trace its personality to its roots.
As the new year begins, you might want to spend a little time thinking about what made your company successful. What lessons did you learn? What does that mean for your future? Share it with us. We’ll all learn.