(This is the first in a series of four articles on the Four Cornerstones for Business Success.)

There are very few -- if any -- shortcuts, easy answers or simple solutions to the demanding complexities of starting, growing and leading a successful enterprise. Media headlines, email promotions and book jacket covers might suggest that someone has discovered a breakthrough method for guaranteed success, but genuinely new concepts are few and far between. To be sure, there’s new packaging, new perspectives, and new insights that are welcome and valuable, but the stuff of managing and leading is much more about doing the hard work, mastering the fundamentals on a consistent basis, than about the application of a new technique or program.

Think now, just for a moment, about the building you're in as you read this. (If you are outdoors, please picture a building in your mind.) Most buildings have four corners for the main structure. Additional wings may be attached, but most likely the primary building foundation has four corners to provide it with structural stability. In stone buildings, these four key positions are called cornerstones. This metaphor works very well as a model for business. Just as a building needs a solid foundation, so does a business.

The four cornerstones for business success are:PurposeStrategiesSkillsLeadership 

For optimal performance, all four cornerstones must be of roughly equivalent strength. However, leadership is “equal above all others.” Indeed, if I had to select one as the most crucial cornerstone over time, it would be leadership. But an interesting corollary is that the harmony and interdependence of the four cornerstones actually creates the strongest position. The balance of the four elements, all equally strong, is the best foundation for optimal performance.

Again, using the analogy of a building, you can easily see the deleterious effects of a weak or crumbling cornerstone. If one cornerstone is deficient, the others will have to compensate, bearing more of the weight. If more than one of the cornerstones is weak, serious problems are likely. As long as there are no strong forces that disturb the delicate balance, a business with one or more weak cornerstones may survive, but a blow to the structure from increased competition, declining economic conditions, or an internal management problem has the potential to seriously threaten the business. 

This article will discuss the first cornerstone, Purpose, and the other three cornerstones will be discussed in subsequent articles.The First Cornerstone: PURPOSE

There are several aspects of purpose. The most fundamental is economic - you must have a viable business model. (Non-profit organizations also need a viable business model in order to thrive economically.) The need to clarify this level of purpose may seem self-evident, but many businesses never achieve economic success due to a faulty business model. A sound economic premise is likely to be modified, refined and improved over time. A once successful model may need to be changed, updated or even completely re-vamped as circumstances and markets change.

The context for the business is another aspect of its purpose. A business requires many participants beyond its owners and employees. There are customers/clients, suppliers, and various other interested parties. A truly successful business considers its responsibility to all of these parties, not just its owners or shareholders. The exemplary business recognizes and respects the fact that they exist within, and because of, a larger community. Businesses who embrace their role as “good neighbors” are a source of pride and distinction in their communities.

Having a strong sense of purpose is also what enables a business to thrive and prosper over the long term. Sustainability is the “foundation of the foundation.” There are four elements in creating a sustainable business.

The first guiding principle of sustainability is Vision, which is your highest aspiration and reason for being. It is a brief description of a better future made possible by your product or service. What is the most inspiring and meaningful purpose for your efforts? Your answer should be a powerful and compelling magnet that draws people in your organization forward.

The second guiding principle is the Mission, a simple and straightforward explanation of what a company does, for whom, and to what end. For example, the mission of Google is “to provide information to everyone on the planet.”

The third principle, Goals, is a set of desired achievements and milestones chosen by the organization. Goals set the focus, determine the priorities, and provide a platform for resource allocation decisions. Goals often have a time frame, such as one, two, or five years. Objectives are the incremental steps toward those goals.

The final principle is a set of organizational Values that guide the company’s conduct and define its character. Please note that a company’s stated values must be genuine in order to be meaningful. Nice sounding platitudes are not sufficient, and employees especially will see the hypocrisy and incongruity if their company's stated values are not demonstrated by their actions.

 In summary, your business purpose is the heart of your business. Once the multiple levels of your purpose are firmly established, the second cornerstone, Strategies, is ready to be placed in the foundation. Join us here next time for the Strategies Cornerstone.•••

 Mary Luttrell is a business strategy advisor who has helped hundreds of companies simplify complexity and increase success. She provides services in strategic planning, marketing, organizational performance, meeting and retreat facilitation, and executive/leadership coaching. Ms. Luttrell is an ISO-Certified Management Consultant whose firm has been named one of the 100 Leading Management Consulting Firms in North America. Contact Mary at 707-887-2256 or thecoach@sonic.net. To download a copy of this whitepaper in its entirety, visit her website at www.maryluttrell.com.