There is no shortage of leadership and management essays offering up buzzwords and recycled trends that promise to put companies on the path to greater profits. Reading the business press some days, it seems as though common sense is not very common – in fact, it's becoming a rather scarce resource.
Business people would do well to remember some of the principles and values that have steered many long-standing and successful enterprises through the inevitable turbulence every company experiences.
The landscape is littered with examples of companies that lost touch with their core businesses and values and have either failed or run into significant challenges. Nortel, Kodak and IBM are just a few names that come to mind.
Whether those companies hit a snag and fell into the abyss or were able to find their compasses and right their ships depended on their ability to rediscover their core businesses and values, and return to common sense principles.
As president and chief executive of Hewlett-Packard Canada between 1998 and 2010, and later as a vice-president of technology support for the Americas, I have dealt with the daily struggle of staying true to a company's core principles and putting them into practice. And I have seen and felt the fallout that can occur when you don't.
Those values are your anchor in turbulent times, reminding you what to focus on and what to set aside. They have to be your personal values as well. They have to be core to your soul, not simply some sayings mounted on a wall. The more aligned a company's core values are with your own, the more likely you are to succeed as a leader.
During my time at HP, I took much from the legacy and key values established by the two young engineers who started the company from a garage in Palo Alto, Calif., in 1939. That company, founded by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, went on to become a global leader in the high-tech industry. It is now facing renewed struggles as it deals with fierce competition and I am optimistic that HP's strong foundation and core values will lead it back to prosperity.
Messrs. Hewlett and Packard let common sense rule as they set out the company's goals and values, and that stance filtered through to HP's management practices, known as the "HP Way."
Many of those practices we take for granted today – from company-wide profit sharing and employee equity purchase plans to MBWA – "management by wandering around" – flex time and job sharing.
In the decades since, many other entrepreneurs, including Apple's founder, the late Steve Jobs, and Microsoft's Bill Gates, adopted the practices and spirit of the HP Way. It is based on these shared values: trust and respect for individuals; focus on a high level of achievement and contribution; conducting business with uncompromising integrity; achieving common objectives through teamwork; and encouraging flexibility and innovation. As a result, both Apple and Microsoft have have been able to thrive in an industry fraught with risk and constant change.
The take-away lesson is the importance of not becoming distracted from the basic principles and core values on which a company's original business model was formed.
While many companies declare core values and objectives on their websites and in their training manuals, the demise of many once-promising enterprises has made it clear that too few are practising and living those principles.
Paul Tsaparis is executive-in-residence at York University's Schulich School of Business, former president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard Canada and a director of numerous private and not-for-profit boards, including Indspire.