The Genetic Code for Business Success

The Genetic Code for Business Success

Every human being is unique. Just like no two snowflakes are identical , no two people are alike. Each of us has a multitude of traits. These traits are polygenic (affected by many genes) as well as multifactorial (influenced by many factors). Thus, each of us is a product of the unique combination of genes we inherit from our parents and our unique experiences. In addition, according to epigenetic theory, our genes interact with the environment. This explains why in a set of identical twins, one may develop schizophrenia and the other may not. Let’s say a set of identical twins inherited a susceptibility to schizophrenia. In adulthood, one of these twins becomes a police officer in Detroit. The second twin runs a bed and breakfast in Vermont. Guess which one is more likely to develop symptoms of schizophrenia? If you guessed the police officer, you are correct. Environmental stress is often a precipitating factor in mental illness. Assuming that working as a police officer in Detroit is much more stressful than running a bed and breakfast in Vermont, it is logical to assume that the twin working as a police officer is more likely to develop symptoms of schizophrenia, even though both twins have the same genetic predisposition.

Genome refers to the full set of genes that serve as the instructions to make an individual member of a certain species. For years an international group of scientists working on the Human Genome Project sought to map the human genome. The mapping effort was completed in 2001, but their analysis continues. These researchers have found that humans have about 25,000 genes and that 99% of these are present in other creatures as well.

Just as physical scientists have mapped the human genome, organizational scientists have mapped the genetic code for business growth and success. Genetic codes provide the means by which organisms can grow successfully in their environments. An organism’s genetic code is the key to its life and this code is stored in its DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). In a study published in the SA Journal of Human Resource Management, J. H. Vermeulen and colleagues used qualitative and quantitative data to identify a genetic code for business. Vermeulen and his team argue that a genetic business code can be developed and serve as a crucial enabler of business growth and success. Their study revealed that the code is composed of three strands: a Leadership Strand, Organizational Architecture Strand, and an Internal Orientation Strand.

The Leadership Strand involved four components: purpose, personal competence, ethical competence, and transformational competence. Constructs included in the purpose component included:

• clarity of purpose,
• forming strategic partnerships, and
• sensitive towards the environment.

The second component, personal competence, included the following constructs:

• ability to handle change,
• ability to share information,
• business acumen competencies,
• competent leadership,
• flexibility in decision-making,
• focus on intangibles,
• sensitive towards the people component,
• solid understanding of the industry, and
• understanding of the global environment.

Five constructs were discovered in the ethical competence component. These included:

• entrench values in the organization,
• high levels of loyalty,
• honesty as a value,
• integrity clearly visible, and
• lead by example.

The final component of the strand, transformational competence, was composed of the following constructs:

• focus on operational efficiency,
• innovation culture,
• predisposition to change,
• reaction to change, and
• re-engineering capability.

The Organizational Architecture Strand revealed four components including: strategic direction, customer centricity, people effectiveness, and operating efficiency. There were numerous constructs in each of these components. Here are a few examples from each:

• strategic direction: clarity of mission, ownership of infrastructure is a competitive advantage;
• customer centricity: built a strong image, customer-centric culture, understand customer needs;
• people effectiveness: drive people development, people orientation, utilization of intellectual capital; and
• operating efficiency: cost-driven, alignment of operational processes, internal communication.

The final strand in the genetic code for business growth and success is the Internal Orientation Strand. Four components make up this strand including: spiritual core, mental core, emotional core, and drive and passion. The spiritual core component includes four constructs:

• manage own destiny,
• personal insight,
• reconsider identity, and
• redefine purpose.

The constructs in the remaining components are as follows:

• mental core: direction updated frequently, high commitment level, and intrapreneurship;
• emotional core: invent their future, resilience and renewal; and
• drive & passion: business drive and passion visible, drive towards efficiency to optimize value, sustainable commitment to excellence.

Notice that the genetic business code differs from the genetic code for known organisms in that it has three strands rather than two strands (referred to as the “double helix”). Vermeulen and colleagues state that in their integrated model, the Internal Orientation Strand is in the center, serving as a connection between the other two strands. They propose that the “constituting” role is the function of the Internal Orientation Strand, whereas the “structuring” role is the function of the Organizational Architecture Strand. The “acting” role is the function of the Leadership strand. The strands are interrelated and interdependent. Vermeulen also purports that a deficiency in one component will consequentially influence the total alignment and functioning of the model.

I don’t know about you, but right now I feel like I’m a bit tangled up in the strands of this complex model. Although I have not gone into it in depth here, I am very impressed with the scope and methodological soundness of Vermeulen’s research design. I think it reveals very important and timely information. The business environment is changing at a very rapid pace and this genetic code illuminates vital components for business success.

But now that we are aware of these “strands,” where do we go from here? Unfortunately, this business genetic code does not provide us with a blueprint to inform us exactly how to run our businesses to ensure growth and success. In fact, it would be impossible to develop such a blueprint. Why? Because just as no two people are completely alike, even identical twins, no two businesses are ever completely alike, even if they are in the same industry or operating in the same business environment. In an article published in The TQM Magazine, Norman Burgess discusses the numerous attempts that have been made to standardize a quality process that will guarantee success. Burgess comes to the same conclusion that I have drawn in my own research and experience…it can’t be done. The diversity of organizations and their environments makes it impossible to standardize a success formula.

However, the business genetic code can serve as a useful tool nonetheless. It identifies areas that are crucial to organizational health so that we know what to examine when trying to identify where improvements may be needed. In an article published in Management Decision, Alexander Fink and colleagues argue for an approach that combines an examination of both external and internal factors. Notice how many of the components and constructs of the business genetic code have to do with people…people inside and outside of the organization. The success of our businesses is influenced by many things, but there is no doubt that we could not exist without people…both our employees and our customers. In order to examine how we are doing in the strands identified by Vermeulen and colleagues, we need to have a keen awareness of the perceptions and attitudes of both our employees and our customers.

Q: How do we obtain this awareness?
A: Through scientific surveys.

Fortunately, organizational psychologists have already found a way to incorporate the components of the business genetic strand into employee and customer surveys that can be used to identify areas that need improvement; enabling organizations to take action before problem areas begin to damage the “strands” and push the DNA out of alignment, so to speak. Scientists at the National Business Research Institute (NBRI), a business research firm, have spent over three decades developing and perfecting standardized instruments for discovering the perceptions and attitudes of customers and employees. Data from these instruments can be analyzed in order to identify the key drivers of the perceptions of your employees and customers. In turn, this information can be used to plan a course of action that will improve these perceptions and lead to improved alignment between the strands, which will lead to growth and increased profits.

Evidence of the effectiveness of this process can be seen in the results of employee surveys that NBRI began conducting for a maritime corporation several years ago. The results of their first benchmarking survey revealed scores that were only 6 percentiles above the national average. Since this company was not satisfied with being “average,” they took action to improve employee perceptions of the key drivers identified by their survey. In just one year, their overall performance score rose six percentiles, and it has continued to rise since then! In addition, the survey results identified the company’s strengths, areas of opportunity, weaknesses, and threats. In just one year the company doubled the number of topics listed as strengths! This company’s commitment to research and action has enabled them to keep their strands properly aligned and to grow their profitable business.

If you would like to learn more about how NBRI can help your company use scientific research to better understand your company’s DNA, properly align your “strands,” and increase your profits, contact us now at 800-756-6168.

Cynthia K. S. Reed, Ph.D.
Organizational Psychologist
National Business Research Institute