Are You Operating Like the Fortune 500?

by Howard Litwak

As a Certified Business Coach, Howard specializes in helping Business Owners, Executives, and Managers Improve their ability to set and achieve goals, develop success oriented thinking and habits and refines their skills. He believes that success in business is driven by individuals and teams who have the right combination of these things. Howard has clients that span across 30 different industries. When you meet him, you'll immediately see why he has been so successful across so many business sectors. He mixes big picture thinking, with practical, results oriented actions, and an ability to challenge peoples thinking in a positive way so that they can take different actions. And he is pretty fun to be around. Howard's approach pays rich dividends for clients who put a premium on professional competence, continuous improvement, being the best that they can for themselves and their customers, and will do what it takes to break out of the "status quo."

 

Many companies do the "right things" and "do things right." Yours may be one of them. Or you might wonder: What does it mean to "do things right?" And what are the "right things?" Verne Harnish discusses this in "Mastering the Rockefeller Habits." (I highly recommend reading!) According to Harnish, "Right Things" address the questions of get, keep, and grow. "Things Right" addresses management practices, structure, processes, disciplines, and habits.

I just finished a project rollout with a Fortune 500 Company which, for them, is doing the right things and doing things right. They are an early industry innovator committed to an industry dominating strategy. Committed to increasing market share, improving its culture, and driving up customer satisfaction both internal and external. A worthwhile mission, I'm sure you will agree.

Here are some general "right things" this organization is doing. If done right in your organization they will help refocus the senior team, align everyone to the same page, drive execution and the results, and increase cash flow and profitability.

  1. Have a vision. It's a powerful force when the organization knows where it is going and what it wants to achieve. Vision gives the people in the organization purpose and meaning for their work. An organization's vision sets the stage for change and provides the reason behind change. What is it your organization is trying to achieve? How do you make people feel that they are an important part of the organizational whole?
  2. Provide constant and consistent training and development to reinforce the skills and culture you want. The research is definitive that training and development increases loyalty. "One off" training won't do it. (That's sending your people to a seminar here and there.) IBM requires its management to complete 40 hours per year of management training. How do you train for commitment? How do you train for competency?
  3. Determine organizational values and bring them to life. The very core of the organization lies in its values. They clearly define expectations. When brought to life and implemented throughout the organization, they can be used to modify behavior so it's consistent with the vision and strategic plan. The greater clarity your people have of the organization's values, the more precise and effective their actions will be. A strong culture based on carefully thought out and clearly defined values leads to superior performance, higher employee retention, and gives everyone a framework within which to make decisions. Are your organization's values clearly articulated and brought to life on a daily basis? Is your culture one which encourages people to be their best and perform their best?
  4. Improve associate satisfaction to improve customer satisfaction. Every organization has an internal brand either by design or default. Your external customer experiences the same climate environment as your internal customer. A climate by design provides an opportunity for individuals to maximize their level of involvement and commitment to achieving organizational goals and best serving the customer. Organizational resources should support all things related to strategy and people. How your employees are treated and how they treat each other ultimately determines how they treat your probable purchasers and current customers. So the focus needs to be internally driven and externally focused on the customer in order to increase sales and build a loyal customer base. How does your organization measure and manage employee satisfaction and loyalty?
  5. Evaluate, benchmark, and manage points of connection. Points of connection are critical to your probable purchaser's and current client's positive experience. Careful thought and word crafting at every point can have a huge impact on how someone feels when interacting with your people. Everyone remembers how they were made to feel. When was the last time you evaluated the effectiveness of what happens at every step of every type of customer interaction? This can be one of the most rewarding exercises your organization ever does. Increased profitability follows improving your customer experience.
  6. Change the language you use where appropriate. Language is powerful in that it guides actions. You've got to speak the words before the desired actions will come. Calling people who visit your store, or can purchase from you, "guests" or "probable purchasers" will change attitudes towards them. It can instill self-belief in the outcome of every interaction. Can you see a difference between a guest and a customer? Or a probable purchaser and a prospect? Language will shift thinking. Thinking leads to behavior! Do you believe that the customer is the #1 core of your business? Do your associate's attitudes reflect that consistently? Are your word tracks focused on best serving the customer?
  7. Innovate to differentiate yourself from your competition. This can't help but lead to increased market share. The objective of both innovation and differentiation is the same-to develop a position that potential customers see as unique. Moving away from traditional ways of doing things can create new and better ways, leading to fewer comparisons with the competition. For example, think of the car buying process. It's not that difficult for a dealer to be different from the competition because, for the most part, the buying experience is not that good. Just providing a better experience is a differentiator. What process do you have in place for innovation? Can your employees clearly communicate what sets you apart from your competition?
  8. Evaluate your operating systems. Operating systems can make a difference in your customer experience, both internal and external. Customer experience, ease of process, and time of process can all be impacted in a positive way by removing obstacles in the way of people performing their roles and making it easier to purchase. Operating systems absolutely need to support the efforts of individuals. When was the last time you evaluated how easy it was for each employee to get the results required from their role and how easy it was for people to do business with your organization? Do you ask your people to analyze processes which interfere with their performance and the performance of the organization? Bad processes will live forever unless you do something about it!
  9. Standardize everything into playbooks to become predictable, repeatable, and sustainable. Standardization is critical and best practices need to be identified and put into practice. Michael Gerber (The E-Myth Revisited) says that complete standardization is the hallmark of any replicable model. (See McDonalds, Starbucks and other multi-site businesses) Gerber also says that a focus on exact procedures frees average people to achieve world-class results every time and at every location if applicable. The aim of the playbook strategy is to set up practices focused on meeting customer needs and to execute them consistently from store to store. This practice led to a 15 percent compound annual growth rate over a four year period for this company. Do you have a playbook for every process and every department?
  10. Stay the course. Strategy is a long term play. Organizational change is a long term play. There can't be any going back and it can't be perceived by your people as a "flavor of the month." Focus on creating a learning organization that applies knowledge, ideas, and improvement and does it quickly. It is important to have a development process in place that ensures development of critical skills, challenges people, and coaches them to higher levels of performance. What qualities do your people need to develop to be better self-leaders? Does each person in the organization have a detailed development plan with short and long term goals and action steps?
  11. Have a rewards and recognition system. Rewarding what you want to improve is the most effective way of influencing the behaviors which are consistent with the vision, values, and the strategic plan. Performance should be regularly measured against desired results and core values. Your people should know that their efforts are appreciated and that their accomplishments are recognized. What is your organization's rewards and recognition program? How do you currently measure performance?
  12. Be clear on what you are measuring, what is most important, and why. The client company had short term focus on profitability (critically important, don't get me wrong) which almost lead to drastic changes in the long term vision of changing the customer experience when it started to drop. Profitability started climbing quickly once the skills and knowledge missing were identified and training was put in place. And we didn't compromise the experience, which was almost sacrificed for keeping the numbers up. What is it that your organization measures and why? Are you focusing on results rather than activities?

The process this company went through was simple, although not simplistic, and certainly very involved given the size (50,000 employees.)

They decided that the best way to improve the business was to focus on the customer.

They defined what customer service and satisfaction looked like.

They determined what needed to be done and created a truly differentiated strategy. They will be working on flawless execution forever.

If you make the significant choice of doing these "right things" and "things right", you will have chosen to create a high performance organization. If you don't, you will relive the same life over and over. If you are fine with that, that's fine.

At the very least dedicate your business to the satisfaction of the consumer. All of the above "right things" support this as the most important, overriding lesson of all!