Strategy and planning are a big part of business. Defining and declaring a clear vision for a company is a big step, but not the only big step in business success. Management retreats are a common venue for great minds to gather together to think and strategize about their company’s future. At the end of the retreat, strategies, objectives and goals have been set. In an ideal world, the executives go back to the day-to-day, energized by the plan they have created and expecting that the troops are going to buy in, fall in line and implement so that success will prevail. In the real world, habits die hard. Old mindsets, practices, policies and procedures still exist. They undermine and derail and, if not continually taken into consideration, will just plain suck the life out of any hopes for the new strategies being successful. How can we avoid this?
Let’s return to the retreat and allow for time to actually conduct a force field analysis. What’s that you ask? It’s an exercise to identify those forces that pull you closer to success and those that actually pull you closer and closer to disaster? This valuable exercise identifies the path to success and the forces that are obstacles standing in the way.
Good or bad, right or wrong, are you willing to find those forces that alter your company’s destiny?
How many small team meetings have you attended where leadership has allowed the conversation to go off topic and then off agenda in a heartbeat? One thought leads to another and then another, and before you know it left field is a distant memory. Expand this happening across an entire company on a daily, weekly and monthly basis and it is easy to understand how goals are missed, projects are not completed and ideas not turned into something truly tangible.
Company leaders need to be like orchestra leaders. They need to keep everybody playing the same music, in synch with everyone else. This requires both a soft touch, and when necessary, a heavy hand. And of course, more than anything, it requires an understanding of where “true north” is and the roadmap to get there. Then it takes the ability and the willingness to communicate it continuously so that folks don’t get lost.
Orchestras have to rehearse constantly to reach performance level. Organizations do too. Practice makes perfect, or as close to perfect as humans can get. Each department of a company, like each section of an orchestra, must collaborate with the others, and each individual within a section must collaborate with team members. Leaders have the role of keeping everyone, at every level, as focused as possible.
What would your company orchestra sound like?
Every company wants to put its best foot forward, be it in the public eye, or in individual sales situations. Talk is around the strengths, the unique features, all of the things that make the company great. As we know, there is a fine line between extolling existing virtues and puffery. Puffery sometimes isn’t bad. But extreme puffery moves toward bluster and that evolves into hubris. Often times, this change is so subtle that there is very little awareness of the damage.
Hubris is dangerous. Selling on hubris is detrimental in many ways. Picture a small business that lands a big sale or big account based on the CEO overselling both product and service capabilities. The great news is they got the contract- the bad news is they got the contract and have no way to deliver on it. Suppose the company drops all other work in process to service this one piece of business that can move the company into the big leagues. What does that do to existing customer relationships? What does it do to the culture of the company when everyone is forced to drop what they are doing and focus- in a very rushed, maybe frantic manner- on something they haven’t done before. They may not have the necessary experience or expertise, which means creating a solution that is not proven, or spending a huge amount of time on research to build a solution. Or it may mean that the company has to bring on more people quickly to service the account, without properly vetting them and integrating them into the culture.
Be careful of bluster. It is only a step away from the cliff. As you slip over the cliff, you may be reconsidering whether it was worth it, but by then it is too late.
Organizational culture is a hot topic- finally. Numerous books, scholarly papers and blogs and articles are being written about it regularly. Down in the trenches of businesses large and small, it is addressed much less often. So it is interesting to observe and see how and where the culture really “sits” in an organization.
Ideally, it would permeate every nook and cranny and be a part of every employee’s DNA. It would guide decisions, actions, tactics and strategy. In actuality, that is usually not the case. Sometimes it is the leaders who lead the culture by words, example and by holding others accountable to it. And other times, the leaders seem to be AWOL on the subject. In those instances the company can lose its way, or it can be kept on its path by others picking up the flag and running with it. Culture champions influence those around them to remember why they joined the company, why they were once passionate about it, and how they can still make it great, even in a cultural leadership vacuum. Instead of complaining about the bosses, they are taking matters into their own hands and setting examples of how to align values and behaviors.
Stories of the machine operator or accounting clerk; or the nurse or a mid-level manager helping to get the train back on the tracks are not just isolated anecdotes. Individuals can lead a few followers and turn them into a movement, which from the bottom up, get the culture to where it needs to be. Don’t jump ship if the company’s executives have culture amnesia. You can be the big dog and get the culture wagging again.
Companies are so busy thinking about customer experience that they very often forget that it is the employee experience that creates it. Culture and brand are two sides of the same coin. For the outward facing brand to be positive, allowing for an exciting customer experience, the inward facing culture must be positive. That allows employees to feel good about the work they are doing, feel supported by their bosses and by the underlying core values of the company. As a result, they feel as if they are personally contributing to the customer experience.
Employers need to focus inside their companies to get the right results outside. They need to remember that every employee represents the brand and if the culture is supportive, the employees will spread a positive message and will engage with customers in a positive, powerful way. All of the data shows that organizations that recognize and act on this have higher customer loyalty and higher profitability.
Picture an employee in a “toxic” culture having a customer interaction after being unfairly treated by a superior. Is she going to present a positive face to a customer? Compare an experience at Enterprise Car Rental with one in a retail store of a large chain, far removed from headquarters. Enterprise gives a great experience every time. Their culture is strong. How many times have you been ignored in a store while the only employee is on a personal call? Or ignored by a waiter yakking with his buddies?
Strong internal culture equals strong customer experience. Make the employees feel valued and the customers will benefit. Does the employee experience in your company rise to the level of the ideal customer experience?