October 2005

A Relationship Story
A Tale of Two Companies…and the Big Difference

It was the best of companies, it was the worst of companies…and the difference was very clear.
It’s fascinating to see how different the cultures and priorities can be in different (yet equally successful) companies. With success measured much more in the short term by our fast-paced world, making the numbers is what usually defines a good company. It is my belief that there are two clearly different ways that companies go about achieving similar short-term success, and I believe the “big difference” has deeply significant impacts on long-term success.

Two companies side by side along the highway, Brand X and Brand Y. Both are characterized by corporate achievement and success at making their numbers. Both are short-term successes.
Brand X and Y share some key characteristics:

  • They only want smart people
  • They live by metrics
  • They are process focused
  • They are customer centered
  • They value strong product brands
  • They run lean and smart

However, there are critical differences:

Brand X identifies first with intensity and outcome-focus.
Brand Y identifies first with fairness and alignment-focus.

Brand X tends to be secretive and selective in communicating.
Brand Y insists on being open and candid in communicating.

Oh no, here this Jeff Black guy goes again stating the obvious. Of course it’s better to be fair and open. But wait! The Brand X mentality really happens! Some companies pay lip service to fairness and openness, but what really matters is action and behavior, not policy and slogans. I see it all the time. It’s amazing how different cultures can be – and how differently people feel about being in them.

Brand X believes that only intensity will drive the desired outcome. Brand Y believes fairness (I didn’t say wimpiness) and alignment of needs between the company and employees make greatness flow naturally – creativity and ingenuity are not bottled up by the need to look over your shoulder all the time.

Brand X behaves as if people don’t need to really know what’s going on – believing knowledge is power, and leaders need to retain power. Brand Y has a strong enough center and self-image as a company that it wants everyone to part of the knowledge process.
Now come on, tell me you haven’t seen Brand X in practice. You can try to deny that it’s bad, but I don’t buy it.

The center of company greatness is not smart people – they’re a given; it’s not efficiency – good tools make that happen; it’s not innovation – smart people innovate. The center of company greatness is mutual respect between a company and it’s people.

The result for people in Brand Y companies:

  • Less worry, more confidence
  • More passion and less aimlessness
  • More loyalty and positive energy
  • Better retention, no “reasons to leave”

For Companies – The big differences of the “big difference”:

  • Easier to attract talent – believe me, it’s hard to “sell” a bad company.
  • Getting the best out of people – people perform better when they’re confident, not scared.
  • Increased company reputation – as Vance Caesar says “the key to a person’s success is how many influential people are telling stories about their ability to build relationships of trust.” I believe this is also true for companies.

I have great clients who really believe and behave like Brand Y. I really love working with them…and I think they really get the best out of me as a partner. I welcome opportunities to work with more like them. Please let me know if your company is one, or if you know one you would like for me to know.


Jeff Black
Principal Consultant
McDermott & Bull Executive Search