After more than 30 years working for companies both large and small, I’ve decided to wade into the waters of entrepreneurial life. I’m excited to announce I’ve started my own consulting firm, The Five Echelon Group. I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart and the time feels right to explore that passion while embarking upon this next phase of my career journey.
So What is The Five Echelon Group?
It’s a consulting practice focused on helping small and midsized businesses build out strategies for long-term success. In the years leading up to this decision, I’ve spoken with many business owners. In those discussions, I’ve heard a common theme. Many of them were so busy running the day-to-day of their businesses that they never really took the time to build out a strategic plan. Business plans evolved rather than being strategically designed. Most days were spent fighting fires. Money was wasted on things that didn’t move the business forward and often, employees weren’t engaged in its success. They had a vision of where they wanted to go but not a roadmap on how to get there.
Our mission is to help businesses like these get the right strategies in place to become successful and that’s the reason behind the name, The Five Echelon Group. It’s a belief that there are five foundational areas for success in business. The bedrock is Organizational Culture. Building a company with a mission and a set of shared values. On top of that, there are the People, Product, and Process that together, create a strong foundation. Hiring for cultural fit, building products designed to address a specific market need and constantly improving processes for efficiency. The goal, of course, is to generate Profit. But it’s about more than making money. It’s about how money can enrich the lives of both owners and employees. It’s a tool to enable a more positive work-life balance. At a high level, that’s how The Five Echelon Group came into being and it’s our strategic vision for helping companies become successful.
Why Not Just Take Another Corporate Job?
Don’t get me wrong, my corporate experience has been invaluable. I’ve made countless friends and connections, traveled the world, developed valuable skills, all while earning a great living. During that time, I’ve worked with large enterprise companies and small businesses. I’ve experienced many management philosophies and learned from some visionary leaders. Through those experiences, I’ve gained many insights which have helped prepare me to step out on my own.
In the United States, 99.7% of businesses employ less than 500 people and 98.2% have less than 100. These are the businesses our economy is built upon even though you won’t see most of them discussed on CNBC. Unfortunately, their failure rates are high as these business struggle to gain traction in a crowded, noisy marketplace. They often have a business idea but not the strategies in place to become successful. This presents a tremendous opportunity to help. But a couple other factors heavily influenced my decision as well.
I believe values are critically important and it became clear to me in my recent job searches and experiences, that my values weren’t in alignment with much of what I was seeing. We’ve all read about CEO pay and how it has become so disproportionate to what workers are making. In publicly traded companies, there’s the constant manipulation of numbers to satisfy Wall Street earnings expectations. Expense cuts hinder employee’s ability to do their jobs while big bonuses get paid to executive leaders. For many companies, profit has become their most important core value while others are relegated to a poster in the conference room. Even when browsing through job postings, it’s amazing to see how few companies make a point of having a mission or promoting their values.
I’m a firm believer in building a positive organizational culture. In working with employees to help them learn, grow and become actively engaged with the company’s mission. I believe too in clear, open and honest communication. Not in using information as a tool for power and control, but using it to get employees collaborating together towards a common goal.
I think that all employees should be participants in success. This isn’t because of some egalitarian idealism. I think profits are good and when employees are invested in the success of a business, they will each make a contribution towards achieving it.
It’s inevitable that when you work for a large company, the percentage of contribution attributable to you will be small. Everyone plays a minor part in the success of the larger organization. What can be frustrating is that after long days at the office, travel away from home, and the never-ending flood of email, it can leave you wondering what it was all for. The treadmill of work often seems to produce little more than a paycheck.
That’s not to say people aren’t doing meaningful work, creating great products and solving real problems. For me, the issue was growth and contribution. Increases in salary were great as were bonuses and promotions, but in the end, the result was simply more of the same.
I believe what truly inspires us to be our best is when we can contribute in a meaningful way. It’s about more than reaching a sales quota or meeting an often arbitrary deadline. It’s doing something that positively impacts the lives of others. That’s when we get inspired and grow. A culture that values contribution means more than the CEO getting to put his name on the side of a university building or scholarship fund. It means that all employees are encouraged and supported to give back. To become involved in their communities and to serve an organizational mission that’s about more than enriching the lives of a few.
I live in the United States and we have the dubious distinction of being the only advanced economy that doesn’t guarantee workers any paid vacation. In fact, one-quarter of private sector workers get no paid time off at all. The U.S. sits down at number 19 in a ranking of the happiest countries to live. I’m not saying that we rank so low because of vacation time alone but I think it speaks to this larger issue of work-life balance.
People need the ability to recharge for their health and well-being. To spend time with family and friends. To get outside, travel and away from their daily routines and commutes. What seems to have eluded current corporate thinking is that vacation is an expense and therefore bad. I believe the opposite is true. Stress and anxiety levels are at record highs. That’s not a recipe for engagement and in fact, hurts organizational culture and employee productively.
I believe we need a better work-life balance. The flexibility to work to accommodate our lives, not our lives accommodating work. Some people spend literally days each month commuting only to arrive and sit in a cubicle all day. Some see co-workers more than family, miss important events or get home so late and tired, they just want to sleep. That’s not the kind of living that brings out our best. We should be figuring out ways to work less, not more. To have more freedom, not less. To encourage employees to take time off, recharge and come back to work energized and refreshed.
The Journey Ahead
Those are just some of the reasons I decided it was time for a change. I wanted the opportunity to live my values, to make a more meaningful contribution and achieve a healthier work-life balance, and in the process, help others do the same.
I know there will be challenges ahead but I greet each day with enthusiasm. I’m more fit and less stressed than I’ve been in years despite the challenges of starting a new business. It’s because I’m able to work each day according to my values. Success will follow, I’m not worried about that, but it’s not going to be measured only in dollars and cents. It’s the value I can bring to others and my ability to live life grateful for the opportunity to make a meaningful difference.
If you have questions or comments, I’d love to hear them.
If you have a business challenge we could help with, I’d love to hear about that too. Just click the Contact Us button below.
It’s going to be an exciting journey!