People look at you to judge the quality and integrity of your company. Yes, there are ‘top 100’ lists of high integrity or trustworthy companies. While those lists evaluate forensic accounting and governance, there is nothing that says more about a company than one’s own personal experience with it’s people, products and service.
When I was a bit younger, I received a blessing from a spiritual leader. In the blessing he said, “you are the windows of the church,” people will see the church by how you live your life. Of course, this analogy applies similarly well to every aspect of life including personal, family and business.
Companies spend zillions of dollars to build a brand based on a particular narrative. Until you interact with that company, that may be the only image you have about the company. But eventually, personal experience takes over, and the image of that company is much more based on their people, products, and how you are treated. And it better be good, because expensive marketing based/built trust is quickly replaced with actual experience.
In my previous company, we implemented a new procurement system. Sadly, it was a case where the software was oversold and under-delivered. This year, I read a book from the CEO of that same company where he described his (and the company’s) never ending focus on the customer and what the customer needs. As much as he painted his personal values and the company with a customer centric narrative. I could see a huge disconnect between that CEO’s vision and how customers are actually being treated. I could see right through the fancy branded walls into the ‘individual’ windows of the company. The product, support, account executives, and how we were treated as customers made it very easy to see the true priorities of the company. Ultimately what the company says is less important than what its employees do.
Maybe your work is very scripted, or you don’t interact with customers, so you feel a bit immune to the responsibility to create and support your company brand. However, what you do is more important than you can imagine.
Don’t hide behind any excuses. Everyone has a customer, and everyone is (should be) a leader. In a startup company, the connection to the customer experience is abundantly clear in everything. As the organization grows, layers of people, process and organization seem to insulate employees from the very customers they exist to support. If you and your teams can’t easily connect-the-dots to what matters to your customers, then you need to spend the time to understand and align your priorities.
Here are some things I try to think about…
- Be the CEO of your business. Think like an owner, not just a worker. If you were selling what you do (your core job), who would be your customer? Use some of the common business models to evaluate how things are going. I’m thinking about a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) or a customer survey. What’s your actual brand? What do you tell people? What do people actually see/experience when they work with you? So, yep. I am now the CEO of my own business. But I’ve applied this same approach through my entire career; even before I was a manager. It works at every level.
- Don’t be complacent. If you’re just showing up and turning the crank. You are absolutely contributing to your company having a turn-the-crank culture. And you can bet that culture is being built into the very products and services your customers use; not good.
- Always look for ways to make it better. The most rewarding work, and the most rewarded work is the leadership required to make things better. This won’t be easy. But, even if you were the actual CEO it would still be very difficult. Write down your ideas. Talk to team members. Gather additional ideas and feedback. Enlist support and take action. You will be surprised what you have accomplished as you look back after a few years of steady focus to make it better. Small things are often huge levers when applied consistently over time.
- DO IT! Unless you’re an actual rocket scientist or people could die if it’s not perfect. Then there’s no reason to have a gargantuan plan with a perfect chance of success. Make sure it’s directionally accurate and START! The next several steps will be clearer as get closer to them.
- Always treat people the way you would want to be treated. This is exceptionally important. If your company, manager, or your role regularly forces you to act contrary to your beliefs, then you either need to change what’s required, or leave.
Remember your team or company (customer experience, culture, innovation, results, brand, reputation) is a reflection of the sum of the individuals. Top quality people working together are the foundation of a top-quality company, a top-quality product and a top-quality customer experience.
Don’t wait for permission. Trust me when I say that your top leadership team desperately wants and needs you to step up and take initiative and do awesome stuff! They don’t want you to just spend months and quarters thinking, planning, proposing and asking for permission. Your leaders are spending huge effort and money trying to build a brand that is ultimately only as believable as the experience and images that your customers will see in the way YOU do your work every day. Just imagine the power of your brand when you, along with the hundreds or thousands of other employees, show up every day as passionate owners of the business.
PS: It may seem daunting to take responsibility for the business. That’s the whole point. Take responsibility for yourself and the scope you’ve been assigned. YOU are (along with your peers) are what makes up the company. Start with yourself and/or your team and build from there.