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The Privilege and Responsibilities of a Business Career

As you pursue your next job in the business world, keep in mind the primary privilege and responsibilities that go along with a career in business. Whether you are a business owner, CEO, manager, or front-line employee, a career in business consists of certain fundamentals.

Being a Part of the Big Adventure

The greatest privilege of a career in business is not making guaranteed money. A person has roughly the same odds of creating a personal net worth of $5 Million in a business career as he or she would have playing the lottery. If a person took the $200,000 (at least) that was invested in college and graduate school and instead bought lottery tickets, he or she would have roughly the same chance of amassing $5 Million in personal net worth.

The road to financial riches has become exceptionally rockier over the past decade. Some have made it big and some have lost it all. So gaining guaranteed wealth and a financially worry-free retirement is most definitely not a part of every business career.

However, every person in business does share one privilege.

Every employee from the top to the bottom of a corporation’s org chart gets to be a part of the Big Adventure of Business, which is the daily challenge to create value, let people know of the value that has been created, and attempt to sell that value for a fair reimbursement.

In essence, that’s what you get for a career in business. That feeling of adventure and sense of having to innovate and come through for customers over and over again is what keeps business people feeling purposeful and focused.

If you are working for a business just for your personal income, I believe you are fooling yourself. Regardless of your title, you have to realize that every day you are either creating more or less value for customers. You are either helping your business improve or you are hurting it. Once you sign on, you are in the Big Adventure. There are no roles that have no effect on the business.

In business, you quite literally have to deliver the goods and make those goods better month after month in order to remain a part of The Big Adventure. This is even truer today than at any time that I can recall.

The Responsibilities of a Business Career

Being a part of the Big Adventure is a privilege, and with it comes certain responsibilities.

Responsibility #1: Be Honest
Nothing ruins The Big Adventure faster for everyone than when businesspeople lie about their actual results. From Madoffian lies about billions of dollars to lying about an expense report, every act of dishonesty hurts the adventure. If we are not honest about the actual costs and profits of creating value, marketing that value, and selling that value to customers, then the adventure has no integrity. It’s just a game of make believe. After awhile it’s no longer an adventure. It’s more like a game of deception. There’s no privilege in being a part of that.

Responsibility #2: Be Competent
If you say you can do a job, actually be capable of fulfilling that role. Lying about your skills and passions just to secure a paycheck hurts your long-term career and hurts the organization. If you can’t do a certain role and don’t want to do the role, then be willing to walk away from a great salary and keep searching for the role you can perform well.

This doesn’t mean you have to be fully prepared on day one. It does mean you have to have the capacity to eventually do the job and the desire to develop the necessary skills to do it well.

Make a list of your strengths, what you do well, and your passions, what energizes you. Look at the job opening and ask yourself if you have the necessary skills and passions to eventually do the job at a very high level. This goes back to being honest, but it’s more than that. Don’t take a job just because someone is willing to give it to you. Lack of competency can ruin the Big Adventure for employees, shareholders, suppliers, and customers.

Responsibility #3: Be Realistic
Setting unrealistic expectations almost became the status quo over the past decade. Companies would brag about expecting to achieve 20% annual growth in sales and profits for the next decade. Didn’t quite work out that way, did it?

I would love for a business manager to honestly say, “Our intent is to create the best value for customers that we possibly can with the hope that they will invest in that value for a good return on our investment.” Who really knows what that return on investment is going to be before it happens? Making wild predictions as though they were guaranteed to really happen did a lot more harm than good to the world’s economy.

Responsibility #4: Be Practical
You know that whole deal about “pie in the sky” thinking. It became famous because there are no pies in the sky. From the dot-com explosion of 1999 to the supposedly infinite and never-ending growth of the stock market in 2006, we kept thinking that we could get something for nothing. It doesn’t work out that way every time, at least not for very long.

Every day in your business career, stay practical. Keep going back to the basic questions:

1. Who is my customer?
2. What value can I create for that customer that will help him or her to achieve what he or she wants to achieve?
3. How can I let those people know of the value that I can deliver to them?
4. How can I convince them to invest in the value I have to offer?
5. How can I deliver that value with exceptional quality?
6. What is the right price for me to request for the value that I have to offer?

Responsibility #5: Strive for Excellence
My definition of excellence is to do an activity as well as you can do it right now AND keep searching for ways to do it better in the future. This is another key responsibility that you have in your business career. There is no “I’ve reached the mountain top and can coast from here.” The day to coast is the day after you retire. Of course, by then the great performers have such an engrained striving for excellence that they never really stop.

Responsibility #6: Achieve Positive Results
One neat thing about my job is I get to crisscross the country a couple dozen times a year and gather input from hundreds of people from a wide range of industries. One comment I’ve heard repeatedly over the past two years from business people across the U.S. is, “We are going to be ready when the economy comes back. We are positioned well so that when the market comes back to life we will really move forward.”

There’s only one problem with that mindset. Who is going to bring the market back? If we all wait for the economy to come back, then it isn't going to happen. We have to bring the economy back by creating greater value for our desired customers.

As medicine advances, people are paying more for incredible devices and drugs to fight off horrible diseases. As cell phone technology advances, people rush off to buy the latest version. When an author writes a great book, people still line up to purchase it. When a really innovative television show like "Glee" or "Modern Family" gains a huge audience, companies still pay big bucks to show their commercials. Nobody told them that the recession is over. They saw great value and they went after it.

My favorite example of achieving positive results in tough times is Disney’s Pixar Animation Studios. Since its first film in 1995, Pixar has made eleven feature films. ALL ELEVEN WENT TO #1 AT THE BOX OFFICE. That means in the best of economic conditions and the worst, Pixar still sold an amazing number of tickets. This was true in the high-flying days of the late 1990s, during the disastrous days of September 11th and 2002, during the wildly successful days of  2003-2006, and during the long hard nights of 2007-2010. They kept providing great value and customers kept rewarding them for it.

The biggest responsibility of being in business is to produce positive results no matter the conditions of the moment. Of course, that might mean changing the way a company has always done things in the past, but that’s okay. The job of a business is not to stay with one approach forever. Its job is to create relevant value for desired customers, let those people know that it can deliver that value, and then deliver that value as well as it possibly can.

Being a part of the Big Adventure of Business is extraordinarily exciting and rewarding in so many ways. However, the cost of playing is living up to your responsibilities.

About the Author(s)

Dan Coughlin teaches practical and inspiring ideas on how to improve business performance. He is a business keynote speaker, management consultant, executive coach, and author of four books on leadership, sales, branding, and innovation. His books include Accelerate, Corporate Catalysts, The Management 500, and Find a Way to Win. His clients include GE Capital, Prudential, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Marriott, Boeing, Abbott, Toyota, Subway, Kiewit, Denny’s, and the St. Louis Cardinals. Visit Dan Coughlin’s Free Resource Center on Business Acceleration at www.thecoughlincompany.com. There you can sign up for his free, monthly e-newsletter, The Business Acceleration Newsletter.