On the Care and Feeding of Golden Geese

Aesop warned of the dangers of cutting open the goose that lays the golden egg to gain what you want now. By doing so, you destroy the geese—and your future. Wonka tried to warn young Verruca Salt as it pertained to his geese, which he made unavailable to her (and rightly so). She wanted the entire world, and she wanted it now. Verruca, like many others, was unable to delay her gratification.

In business, this shows up when one misunderstands means and ends. Let’s start with shareholder value, the idea that a business exists to make shareholders money as its dominant priority. Because the concept starts with shareholders as the end, employees and customers become means. Mistreating the means is the most certain way to destroy your ends. Treating employees and customers as if they exist only to help you produce a profit leads to poor care and feeding of the geese.

Flipping this and treating the employees and customers as ends almost ensure shareholders get the returns they seek. As a leader, you want customers to be your end. In making that decision, you have relegated employees to means. Again, this is to abuse the geese which produce the golden eggs. Your customers and clients are going to get a certain experience working with your team. The worse your employee’s experience, the worse your customer’s.

Success, financial success more specifically, comes from focusing on things in the right order. Customers and clients are important, but not more important than the people that serve them. Shareholders are important too, but they should be an afterthought. If you get the care and feeding of employees, customers, and the stakeholders right, the return on investment is automatic. It’s when you get the sequence wrong and decide that care and feeding of the wrong parties should come first that things get sideways.

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