Can I be blunt? I mean, we’re friends, right?
For longer than you can imagine, I’ve been on the front lines of corporate efforts to be more responsive to customers, which also implies to be more successful in the marketplace. Here’s the lesson I’ve learned:
No amount of tactical improvements will elevate your company above all others. The only thing that will do this is to have a vision of how your company will be viewed 20 years or more from now.
To get their attention, I ask executives “what’s your three blocks long?” and tell them the story of how when my dad retired and closed his shoe store, there was a line of customers three blocks long who came to say goodbye.
How will you engender that sort of deep emotional connection? I can break it down into three steps:
How do you want to be defined in the marketplace? This means not just for how you help people, but also for the manner in which you do it.
I’m asking you to create an answer with a 20-year lifespan, not just one for the next four quarters.
How does your company behave differently than every other? There has to be enough specificity to your answers that they will drive your behavior and well as the behaviors of all your employees and even your partners.
This is why the outdoor retailer REI closes on Black Friday, encouraging its members (not customers) to get out and enjoy our natural environment, rather than being obsessed with material goods. Doing so creates an entirely unique relationship with its members.
Once you know who you are and how you want to show up, you now need to translate that to your operating model.
This is not a one-time challenge. You will constantly be building and rebuilding your model. It means doing what’s right for customers—what fits with how you want to move through the world—rather than simply being efficient or obsessed with the bottom line.
This may sound odd, but you need a conscience that guides what you build and how.
You need to rise above tactical, short-term decisions. Instead of simply protecting against the downside (i.e. what if an employee takes 10% too long to resolve a customer problem?), you should be creating systems and processes that elevate—and empower—your entire organization.
Are you, as a leader, being congruent?
Do your words match your actions? Do you interact with people—employees as well as customers—in a manner that is consistent with your vision to stand out in the marketplace, decade after decade?
Events are going to conspire against all of the ambitious actions I’m describing here. You will face tough economic conditions and fierce competitors. People will let you down. The board may challenge your vision.
Can you remain true to a vision strong enough to survive for decades? The vision alone is just a bunch of words; it takes tenacious leaders to bring it to life, defend it and protect it.
That vision drives not only how your company will be remembered, but also how you and your colleagues will be remembered.
If you want to be larger than life, then you have to act that way.
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