Being somewhat of a history geek with little knowledge of the Moravians, I was intrigued by a recent opportunity to participate in a walking tour of the Moravian Museum Located in downtown Bethlehem, PA. As part of an Andesa’s annual holiday party event, I thought this would be an interesting highlight to the evening’s celebration.
Needless to say, I was not disappointed. The 1741 Gemeinhaus is a five-story log structure, the largest 18th century log building in the United States, and Bethlehem’s oldest building. We learned about the facility serving as home, school, church, hospital and workspace for the settlers. The museum complex also included the 1752 Apothecary and the 1758 Nain-Schober House, the only remaining 18th century residence for Christianized American Indians in eastern Pennsylvania.
Within 20 years, the Moravians cleared over 2,000 acres of land, erected over 50 buildings and maintained nearly 50 industries. In today’s business terms we would celebrate these achievements with“Fastest Growing Company” recognition.
I began to reflect on the success of Andesa over the past 30-plus years and the key principles espoused in the 2004 Jim Collins and Jerry Porras’ business best-seller, “Built to Last.” I mean, I had to marvel at a five-story log structure built 275 years ago, still standing and functional. Talk about “Built to Last!”
Using some of Collins’ and Porras’ findings, allow me to expand on some comparisons:
Success Comes From Clock Building, Not Time-Telling – Visionary company founders take an architectural approach to building the organization. They concentrate on the company’s systems and values first, then on products. The community of Moravians began with a communal structure and a core purpose. The disciplined, communal life of the settlers served a dual purpose. They were able to survive and thrive in a back-woods location, as well as maintain a high standard of moral behavior, by associating closely with those of the same spiritual convictions. Andesa’s founder, John Walker, started with an emphasis on an employee-centric environment. He writes in “Value from Values: The Making of Andesa Services:”
I had all but convinced myself that, in name at least, the idea of the employee-centric, ethical environment had come much later in the development of Andesa. I imagined that at some point I put a name to something my partners and I developed somewhat haphazardly over the years to address various ethical issues. But then, while reviewing early corporate records, I uncovered a handwritten document dated October 10, 1979, in which I state that “the purpose of CTA (Andesa’s predecessor firm) is to provide an environment for the growth of employees.” Honestly, I was surprised. My definition of the firm was formulated in Andesa’s infancy.
Weave Ideology Into The Fabric of The Firm – To “Last,” it is imperative that a company translates its core into everything the organization says, is, and does. An organization’s core ideology should be found in its goals, job design, strategies, tactics, pay systems, cultural practices, office designs, etc. Moravian ideology permeated the community. Shared work responsibilities, common community living arrangements, and focus on mission work were essential tenants of early Moravian life, which led to a unique and successful new world experience. Many of Andesa’s processes and practices still inforce today started with values and philosophies from early decisions about the type of firm the initial staff wanted to create.
Try A Lot Of Things And See What Works – Visionary companies make some of their best moves through experimentation, trial-and-error, and sometimes by accident. The early Moravian systems and structures evolved as the community adapted to its surroundings. New enterprises were established and missions started and repurposed all to determine what was best for the community. As an organization dedicated to providing an environment for the growth of employees, many of Andesa’s breakthroughs and current efforts are experimental also. We often partner with our clients to design a solution to a particular problem, sometimes benefiting our entire client base, other times unique to that particular situation. The willingness to try something new, to experiment and to learn provides an atmosphere for growth.
Start with values, weave it into the fabric of the firm, experiment, modify and grow. Sound lessons from the Moravians, the business world and “Built to Last.“