Insights for Leaders

The Culture Game

“Culture drives great results.” — Jack Welch

Lou Gerstner, who orchestrated the turnaround at IBM as CEO from 1993-2002 writes: “I came to see, in my decade at IBM, the culture isn’t just one aspect of the game — it is the game.”

Tony Hsieh, CEO of internet shopping website, who is credited with building an exemplary employee culture that consistently delivers exceptional service experiences observes: “Businesses often forget about the culture, and ultimately, they suffer for it because you can’t deliver good service from unhappy employees.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders intentionally build their culture knowing it will ultimately drive results.

Why Employees Come First

“The way management treats their associates is exactly how the associates will treat the customers.” — Sam Walton

According to genius Albert Einstein: “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means.”

Herb Kelleher, Founder and CEO of Southwest Airlines, believes: “If the employees come first, then they’re happy….A motivated employee treats the customer well.  The customer is happy so they keep coming back, which pleases the shareholders…it is just the way it works.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders put employees first to create happy employees, and, to set an example how to treat customers.

What Customers Don’t Know

“If I’d ask my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.” — Henry Ford

Innovator extraordinaire, Steve Jobs believed: “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups.  A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz observed: “Customers don’t always know what they want. The decline in coffee-drinking was due to the fact that most of the coffee people bought was stale and they weren’t enjoying it.  Once they tasted ours and experienced what we call “the third place” – a gathering place between home and work where they were treated with respect – they found we were filling a need they didn’t know they had.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders realize when innovating, there is a time when it is best NOT to ask for their customer’s opinion.

Managing Expectations

“Never try to impress a woman, because if you do she’ll expect you to keep up the standard for the rest of your life.” — W.C. Fields

Mr. Fields may have overstated his point; but, he hits on a big idea that Ken Blanchard unpacks in Raving Fans: “Exceeding expectations is important but it’s even more important to consistently meet expectations. Meet first. Exceed second. It should be tattooed on the inside eyelids of every manager. The worst thing you can do is meet expectations one time, fall short another, and exceed now and then.”

Mr. Blanchard explains the way to ensure consistency is to have systems and a training program to inculcate these systems into the organization.

The Bottom Line: Leaders strive for consistency in meeting customer expectations and achieve this with well conceived systems and training.

Quality Obsession

“I consider a bad bottle of Heineken to be a personal insult to me.” — Freddy Heineken, founder of Dutch beer giant

A key to creating a strong brand is an obsession with delivering a quality product. Milton Hershey, founder of Hershey Chocolate said, “Give them quality. That’s the best kind of advertising in the world.”

Howard Schultz, founder and CEO of Starbucks writes, “The taste of our coffee has created such a quality experience that we’ve been able to convince people over the last 20 years that it’s still a very good value even though it’s more expensive than traditional coffee you can find at a diner.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders consistently deliver a quality product knowing that higher quality creates higher value which in turn influences sales.

Customers First

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” — Jeff Bezos, founder

Entrepreneurs Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, founders of YouTube, built the business on a breakthrough observation about their customers: “What our users want to watch is themselves. They don’t want to watch professionally produced content.”

Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, writes: “Unless we’re in touch with our customers, our model of the world can diverge from reality. There’s no substitute for innovation, of course, but innovation is no substitute for being in touch, either.”

The Bottom Line: Leaders put their customers first, take time to understand their customers’ needs and design their products accordingly.

Strategic Learning

“Learning is not compulsory…neither is survival.” — Dr. Edward Deming

CEO Jack Welch put a high premium on learning in his tenure at GE, observing, “An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.” 

Ironically, some of your most strategic learning can be found with the people you least want to engage — your unsatisfied customers. According to Bill Gates, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” 

The Bottom LineLeaders develop learning cultures, addressing the hard issues and then taking action to create greater advantage.