We try to plan our careers; often like a ship on the open seas, the tide and wind steer us in the strangest directions. My journey so far has taught me a lot – I have had experiences that could not have been planned in my wildest dreams. Through the evolution of my career I came to understand that my personal competitive edge and innate instinct drove me to help individuals and teams strive for success and build market changing products. I have always prioritized in the following order:
- Team – found the strengths in the individuals comprising the team. Looked for people who had strengths I didn’t have. Never be afraid to build a team with people smarter and better than you. They will grow and be your supporters.
- Product – with the notion that you build great products that customers desire and eagerly anticipate.
- Everything else.
Yes, it is key to listen to the customer. Organizations tend to put the customer first in all their messaging and focus on sales as their measure of achievement. It is the basis of success, but if that is all you do then you miss the real opportunity. It is how you put the customer first. See i4cp research and predictions for 2019. The main ingredient to customer satisfaction is employees, this is a factor often missed by companies. The people who interact daily with the client need to be happy, motivated, and driven. A team like this drives performance and satisfies clients.
Like many, it was my goal to create a product and bring a new solution to market. I started a business right out of college that allowed me, through projects, to experience many different company cultures across a range of organizations and verticals. Later, after I’d had the opportunity to work for several larger companies in key roles (even a startup), I was able to experience and overcome numerous challenges and realize the root of various successes and failures. Encountering different corporate cultures and leadership styles provided me a front row view of what a successful corporation should do to foster innovation, ownership, agility, and results.
The leadership of larger organizations that achieved monumental success, focused on the team and ensured it was reflected in the associate’s interactions with customers. One leader that I observed and highly respected, initiated such a program (read more in the Service Profit Chain). His team believed satisfied employees led to satisfied customers which drove sales and profits. This leader started with a survey where associates rated the company and performance of various level of management above them. To make it actionable, the management bonus was based in part by ratings they received from their teams (based on the satisfaction levels of their employees). Then, employee bonuses were tied to customer satisfaction (employees focused on customer objectives). For this organization, the satisfaction measurement index went from 42 to 94, with 70 being a world class score. It was this unique leader’s shift and focus on employee satisfaction that led to never seen before levels of customer satisfaction which helped grow the business to over 80% market share. Truly genius. Associates projected pride, confidence, and respect that helped increase customer satisfaction and they enjoyed an outstanding reputation in the industry. It led to an organization others wanted to emulate or be a part of.
The leaderships that I observed along the way helped shape and define successive steps in my journey. It solidified my belief and approach to leading for success. Success that is achieved by prioritizing team, product, and then everything else: not revenue, not shareholders, and not the customer. If you have the foresight to truly prioritize the team and not give it lip service, you can achieve a level of greatness where customers are successful using your solutions and shareholders can reap the benefits and revenue they expect from their investment. I know it works, I proved it.
Whether it was the high emotional intelligence of one leader I admired where I learned firsthand how to prioritize the team, making it all about them… or the decisive one where I learned how to cut through all the fluff and focus on what is important for faster decision making… or the narcissist on how not to be… all helped shape and define my style… You should expect the same as you grow and mature in your journey. Don’t fight it, embrace it, learn from it and enjoy the ride.
By accident, or sheer luck, I experienced it firsthand as I naturally worked in that mode. Now, equipped with the experience and data to back it up, I know it is the only way to operate.
A more recent example, I observed a young startup in a highly competitive field break through ceilings to bring an innovative solution to market with a fraction of the investment, fraction of the team size, fraction of time and surpass other well-established companies. They did it all because the leadership prioritized the team and provided an environment conducive to collaborative success.
How often have we seen it? Once a project is identified, companies quickly start and rush to build a massive team to deliver that new market breaking product or new and vastly improved version of the company’s flagship product. Large teams and budgets are not necessarily the path to success.
Picture this, you join a company, or you are drafted to work on a project and regardless of circumstances you are surrounded by complete strangers ready to pull together and deliver. What is your first instinct?
- Show them who is in charge?
- Bring in your own team? Or
- Push by setting big audacious goals? Not so fast…
Get to know the team, identify opportunities to position every individual to succeed within the team or not, doing it with respect and humbleness. Do that and you get team members ready to go to battle and accomplish the impossible. Always start with the team! Try it out and be the innovative leader and the agent of change corporations are seeking.