Our son, currently studying to be an actor, called us the other day to lament the fact that he’d been assigned some Shakespeare. “I thought I’d never have to do this again after high school”, he griped. I felt for him. I was never a fan of The Bard in school and always dreaded the moment when the English teacher would start handing out the next play to read and study in agonizing detail. While still hailed as the crown jewel of English literature, I just never connected with the work; never found the joy in reading it that others have or profess to.
However, after a recent meeting with my business partner I was reminded of a very famous Shakespeare line that really resonates with where we are as a business: “To thine own self be true”. From Act 1, scene 3 in Hamlet, this line (spoken by Polonius to his son as he leaves home) is but one of many that have lasted well into 21st century parlance. Others from Hamlet you’ll recognize; “cruel to be kind”, “something is rotten”, “method in one’s madness”, “shuffle off this mortal coil” and “to the manner born” certainly do speak to Shakespeare’s long-lasting influence and talent for poetic imagery.
Years ago, in what seems like another life now, I was a young account executive responsible for managing business with Zellers. You remember them; “where the lowest price is the law” – not exactly Shakespearean but I digress. Each year the CEO of the Canadian retailer would host a vendor ‘summit’ to outline the company’s core focus and each year it was something different. First it was toys. Then it was entertainment. Next it was health and beauty and then something called “WoMOM”. Even at the time I was struck by how unfocused the company was; always reacting to their environment rather than creating a distinct brand mission and sticking to it. The stores themselves were a representation of that failing; jumbled merchandising, signage and layout and the employees too were scattered and simply trying to keep up with the ever-changing messages from head office. Long before online and digital changed the retail landscape, Zellers predictably went out of business and it was a real shame to see.
But like Shakespearean prose, this lesson continues to live on and it’s where I come back to “to thine own self be true”. It can be so very easy and tempting to chase the shiny object, can’t it? We’ve all been there: ‘Gosh wouldn’t it be great to get that business!’ ‘We should try and move into that sector’. ‘Our competitor just added a great new feature’. The end result of this thinking is inevitably distraction from what made you successful in the first place; what your current clients really appreciate about you and why they recommend you to others. It can also remove you from what you enjoy doing and where your strengths truly lie. You become unfocused and suddenly find yourself without a brand promise, purpose and true value.
While there is a myriad of opportunity out there for a company like ShiftLink, I’m proud that we’ve stayed true to who we are. Even as we grow, we continue to provide robust services that are tailored to our core customer; becoming more than we were but still focused on what we do really well. As Polonius himself said: ‘This above all else, to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as night to day, thou canst not then be false to any man’. I can picture my son rolling his eyes.