Last week, I wrapped up the Assessment phase with a founder and his leadership team. This is where we go deep and inventory everything the company has that relates to People and Culture, including surveys, interviews and a detailed content bank.
It’s a way to take complete stock into a company’s competitive strengths and opportunities related to their people and culture so founders can get back in control of their time, their work and their team’s performance.
Among other insights from the assessment, I was really impressed to see how many of his people felt deeply connected to their customers. And this is very good, for many reasons.
Because here’s the thing. Your company is your people.
Yeah, I know that’s not grammatically correct, but stick with me for a second. 🙂
I’m not talking about the fact that without your people, you wouldn’t have a product to sell or anyone to support it (which is obvious). What I mean is, your customers are buying your people.
Unless you are on the very cutting edge of the industry and no one has created what you are selling, then chances are there are a couple- or many- companies competing for the same share of the market. What differentiates you from your competitors is often not what you’re selling, but how you’re creating your niche in the market.
With options in front of them, customers have the luxury of choosing not just on features and convenience, but on whether or not they believe in you as a company.
When your customers choose you, they’re saying that they believe on a deeper level in your strategy and your vision and how that’s going to guide the continuous improvement of your product.
And who embodies all of this, and executes on your vision to make that future a reality?
This is why it’s so important that you treat your people like the biggest (and most expensive) asset that you have.
Because that is exactly what they are.
And yet, many early-stage entrepreneurs pay far more attention to other things when they’re running their business. Without a doubt, there are many capabilities that are important to invest in like customer onboarding and market positioning.
But if your strategy for running your team equates to delegating the responsibility to somebody else with a passion for it, or planning a fun-filled retreat without much strategic substance, or if your admin has evolved into your Head of People, then you are most likely missing some very important opportunities to get your most expensive asset aligned to what matters most.
So how do you get your people to be the living, breathing embodiment of your culture? How do you get your customers to buy you?
1. Know Yourself.
- Before you can convince a customer that you’re unique, you need to know what that is. Start with your vision. When you daydream about the future of your company, what does it look like? What are you doing? What difference are you making in the world? Have you created something that no one has thought of yet? Are you solving a problem in a totally new way? What does the future look like?
- Declare your Core Values. What are the beliefs that are intrinsic, fundamental to the way you and your company behave and operate? These aren’t good or bad characteristics, and they’re not aspirational. They simply are. They’re the things that your team goes back to when they’re proactively making decisions without you, that you use when you need to make trade-off decisions about everything from product features to your employee benefits. They’re a guide for how you hire and reward your people, and for how you ensure your teammates are a good cultural fit. Know yourself and declare it unapologetically to your people and your customers.
2. Know what you need to achieve in the next 12 months – and in the next quarter.
- Working with your leadership team, think across every workstream you have. Where do you want these things to be in 12 months?
- Decide on your top three priorities. It’s important to keep this list short. In order to execute well, your team needs to be aligned and focused on the narrowest number of things to ensure the greatest chance of success. Avoid the temptation of expanding to more than five as it will significantly reduce your ability to accomplish any of them well.
- Once you do this for the company, each of your leaders should do the same for their specific area of accountability.
- Now do the same thing for the upcoming quarter. Chunking it out into quarters ensures a constant focus and makes your goals feel more manageable to achieve
3. Establish meeting routines that support it.
- Meetings can be a double-edged sword. Too many of them and they’ll kill productivity. Not enough decisions coming out of them and they’ll kill morale.
- I’ll get into meeting routines in detail in another post. For now, keep in mind that the right ones, used deliberately and consistently, will make all the difference in keeping your people aligned and your business growing.
4. Communicate communicate communicate.
- Once you’ve gotten to this point, your next priority is to communicate these things thoroughly, regularly and consistently. All the work you put into the other stuff will be worthless if the only people who know about them is you and your leadership team.
- This is the most crucial step if you want your teammates to deliver on the unique value proposition that you’ve created. It’s where a Core Value like “Keep it Simple” comes to life and becomes the decision criteria for your product roadmap, or the key message for your Customer Support team when they’re trying to win over new customers. The more you can connect your people to your strategy, vision, Core Values, and key priorities, the more they will deliver that value to your customers. Communicate this stuff many times, in many different ways. Stories are an incredibly powerful way to make these connections.
- In addition to the value this creates for your company and your customers, don’t underestimate how important this stuff is for your people, especially your highest performers. Like your customers, your teammates need to be emotionally connected to the bigger picture to give the kind of discretionary effort that leads to exceptional business results.
If a business is really thriving, founders will naturally reach the point where trusting their “gut” reaches its limit and inefficiency and misalignment begin to creep into their business.
The good news is that this is a totally normal stage for fast-growing companies. The bad news is that if left unchecked, you will lose control over your time, your work and your team’s performance. And your ability to get your customers to buy your unique value proposition will be seriously affected.
Instead of pretending that your company is still the same as it was when you were a seedling of a startup, embrace that it’s changing in necessary ways to get ready for even greater things to come.
Don’t give someone else on your team the responsibility to make this shift. Only you can own it. And when you’re deliberate about executing on it, you’ll be the first to see how much better your team performs and the profits that go along with it.
So you can get back to the things you most love to do.