Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

The Six Fundamentals of Business Success

blog-money-1This evening I’m giving a speech to 350 CEOs of small to medium-size businesses and I’ve been asked to talk about some of the fundamental elements necessary to build and sustain a highly successful organization. After running several companies and spending the last 22 years of my life helping businesses around the world be more successful, here are a few things I think every business owner needs to focus on:

1. Start with a clear vision and purpose for why you are building the company. By the way, if the only reason you’re starting the company is to make money, there’s a good chance it will fail. Success comes from a genuine passion to help your customers, if you are focused intently on that and charge a price that allows you solid profit margin, everything should work out fine in the end.

2. Solve a real problem. You also have to make sure that your vision and purpose are focused on delivering products and services that the market eagerly wants to buy. It does not matter if you think what you sell is really cool, the only critic whose opinion counts is the customer.

3. Build a world-class team. Competitors can copy your products, beat you on price, outspend you on marketing, but one thing they cannot do easily is beat a company that truly values top talent and gets them engaged and passionate about serving their customers.

4. Extreme Customer Focus. I have said this a million times and I am more than happy to say it a million more: whoever can attract, grow and retain the best talent, and also “owns the voice of the customer,” has a huge market advantage. Fantastic employees who build great customer relationships are a key to success in every business.

5. Quality and control. This one is very fundamental, but without it the other things above can’t work. You have to have very high quality products and services, deliver consistently superior customer service and manage the financials of your business with extreme discipline. There is a reason that one of the most often used clichés in business is: Cash is King.

6. Disciplined Execution. Once you’ve got all of the above factors in place, then you must be incredibly vigilant in always focusing on the most important things in your business and making sure they get done. If you do not take the time to make these things your top priorities, then you will likely have to make time for bankruptcy court.

How To Achieve Customer Service Success

shutterstock_2246461dqs72I think pretty much every business understands that giving great customer service is important. However, it confuses me why so few businesses actually deliver consistently good (not even great – just good) customer service when they know it is critical to their success. In my opinion, I think it’s because they have skipped some of the fundamental elements of creating a culture of great service, they simply talk about how important service is, but do not do the things necessary to achieve a high level of superb customer service. Here are a few questions to get you thinking about how well you have prepared your employees to consistently deliver an absolutely delightful shopping, buying and owning experience for your customers.

  • Does your company have a written Customer Service Credo that clearly explains exactly how your business and employees should be treating customers?
  • Has everyone been thoroughly trained (with plenty of on-going training) on all of the things they need to do in order to meet or exceed your Customer Service Credo?
  • Do they have all the resources they need to deliver the level of service you have promised your customers?
  • Do you specifically hire people that enjoy giving great service?
  • Do you assess your current workers by their ability to deliver superb customer service?
  • Are people who do not deliver great service removed from your company?
  • Do you do a minimum of two customer satisfaction surveys per year?
  • Do you have an awards program for employees that deliver superior customer service?
  • Do you benchmark against other companies that are recognized for customer service excellence?
  • Has your company won any awards recognizing you for great customer service?

If you can say “yes” to all these questions, then you are likely one of the few companies that can actually claim outstanding customer service as one of your unique differentiators in the marketplace. If you answered “no” to several of these questions, you’ve got some work to do.

*** By the way, I recently wrote a short and focused e-book on how to build and sustain a winning culture. It sells for just $4.99 and is available on Amazon. Here is a link to learn more about the book: Winning Culture e-book

First Class Customer Service???

kelly-server-thousand-oaks-restaurantI have made a commitment to never use my blog to just complain. So I’m going to outline a few service failures as a lesson to all of us who understand the importance of delivering superior customer service is essential to business success.

I recently had a trip to New Zealand on business, on the way there my wife and I flew First Class with Air New Zealand and had an absolutely spectacular experience. The staff was extremely friendly, the food was excellent, great wine, laydown bed, everything you could possibly ask for on a 14-hour flight to the other side of the world. On the way back, we flew First Class on American Airlines. Once on board we noticed they were serving champagne to other folks in First Class cabin and when we asked for some they apologized and said they had just run out, catering had not put enough on board for everyone in First Class. Several hours later, I was getting ready to go to sleep and needed to take some medication so I asked the flight attendant for a bottle of water, to which she replied, “No, only one bottle of water per person, 36 people in First Class, 36 bottles of water.” I spent well over $10,000 for the ticket and American Airlines was kind enough to let me know I only got one bottle of water for the entire flight across the Pacific Ocean. Not what I would call “First Class” customer service.

During a recent trip to Idaho, I went out each morning for breakfast and had an extremely hard time finding a restaurant with any waiters or waitresses. Place after place I walked into were beautiful, well-appointed, upscale locations with signs directing you where to order, then wait to pick up your food and carry it to your table on your own. There was also a sign on my table explaining I had to clean up after myself so I could leave the table clean for the next patron. Perhaps this is a backlash from trying to set higher minimum wages, or simply a way to increase the profit of the restaurant by not having any servers, however, I will tell you every time I walked in one of those restaurants, I walked right back out to look for someplace I could sit down, get an actual live server and enjoy a relaxing breakfast while I read the news. I didn’t want self-service, I wanted First Class service.

The reason I tell you these stories is as a warning. Company after company will readily insist that delighting their customers is essential to growing and sustaining the success of their business, and yet I experience horrifically bad customer service all too often. So, before complaining about how bad the service is at other businesses, take a long hard look in the mirror and make sure you are NOT making some of the same mistakes with your customers.

Create a Customer Service Credo, develop a specific plan and set of processes for consistently exceeding your customer’s expectations, train your people like crazy to follow those processes and focus on the customer, reward employees who do a great job and remove employees that don’t. It’s just this simple, but apparently the businesses I mentioned above did not think it was important.

Loose-Tight Controls for Business Success

37827-watches_teaserI recently presented several workshops for client company with an absolutely brilliant CEO, among the best I’ve ever met. He was a new to the organization and had been brought in to turn around the company, which was facing very severe financial troubles. This was very bureaucratic organization whose main customer was the government. They were slow to make decisions, reluctant to take any risks, complacent in their attempt to grow their business and keep margins strong, which landed them to more than billion dollars in debt. The CEO gave an impassioned speech about the need to be more entrepreneurial, while still having a culture of disciplined execution around the core strategies. He described it, much like Tom Peters did in his wonderful book In Search of Excellence, saying that the company needed to have “loose-tight controls.” They need to have elements of loose  control around entrepreneurship, innovation and prudent risk-taking, while maintaining areas tight of control around their values, strategy, alignment and accountability for positive business results. He told them that in order to be successful they would have to balance a strong entrepreneurial ethic while still embracing a focused culture of discipline – and summarized his idea in the graph below.

So, where does your company sit in this matrix?

Best Managed Companies graphic

What Is Your Legacy?

 

Click HERE to listen to the interview
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Effective Followership

42BAF516-2E42-4C1D-B901-4F0B46E6DA09_t_4101-e1352134353644Earlier this year I was sitting in a restaurant in St. Louis reading an article in the Wall Street Journal and I had an epiphany. This is my 22nd year of traveling around the globe teaching a number of different business workshops including Advanced Leadership and in all that time I have never heard of a single company, nor met a single instructor, that taught a class on followership. How can this be? In order to have effective leaders you need effective followers. And everyone in the company has someone they have to follow, even the CEO has to report to the board of directors. I know that most people love to go to a leadership class because they want to think of themselves as leaders and aspire to be better leaders, but few people would get very excited about going to a followership class, even though being a good follower is a critical steppingstone to becoming a great leader. True to form, I immediately went to Amazon.com and bought every single book I could find on followership and have begun a quest to study this topic deeply so that I can create a program on how to be a superb follower. However, I decided yesterday when working with a fantastic client in Las Vegas, to test my idea. I explained to the audience of about 300 people what I have just explained above to you and heard a giant sigh from the crowd as they too realized they had never been taught how to be highly effective followers. To learn more, I broke the audience up into groups of 5 to 7 people and asked each group to develop a short list of what they felt were the most important things needed to be a great follower. I then asked several of the groups to share their list and here are some of the things they came up with:

  • Want to be there – be engaged
  • Be highly capable and competent
  • Support the vision
  • Know the vision, mission and goals of the company
  • Hold yourself highly accountable
  • Ask for help when needed
  • Work to support the leader and the team
  • Give loyalty – but not blind loyalty
  • Challenge the leader’s ideas when appropriate, but with respect
  • Be proactive, don’t wait to be told what to do
  • Have an ownership mentality

This is just a partial list of the feedback I got but it is extremely telling. Although a number of these correspond with the sort of answers I get when I ask about what it takes to be a leader that people would willingly follow, there is a portion of this list that is unique to being an excellent follower. Based on this feedback I am extremely excited to be building a new class on the elements of effective followership, and I would highly value any feedback or ideas you want to share with me as I research this topic and begin to build the new program.

What do you think it takes to be a great follower? I very much look forward to your ideas.

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The Five Keys to Business Success in 2016

year-red-white-background-d-rendered-image-36767974At the beginning of each year a lot of us look for inspiration on how to take our business to the next level over the coming 12 months. In past years I put together special videos outlining what I believed it would take to make the next year in your business one of the best years ever. This year, I simply want to reiterate what I believe are some of the most powerful business success ideas I have ever learned. Below is my video on the “The Five Fundamentals of Business Success,” this is a class I have taught all over the world to every type of business from mom-and-pop shops and startups to companies in the Fortune 10. I created this particular video in December of 2014 after a speaking tour of the Netherlands with the Entrepreneurs Organization. I truly believe that if you will watch this video and apply the ideas I share with you, it will have a dramatic positive impact on your business success in 2016.

*** If you found value in the video please send it to everyone in your network so we can help them too! Thank very, very much – John

 

 

 

The Top 4 Business Trends of 2015

Last day of 2015I have literally just walked off the stage from my last presentation/workshop for 2015. It’s been an extremely busy year with more than 200 days on the road, zigzagging across the United States and Canada and delivering programs in Australia, New Zealand and most recently Poland. As I look back over the year here are a few big takeaways that I think you might find of interest.

 

  1. Culture and talent are critical. In most of the businesses I worked in this year the single biggest place where they could reduce waste, reduce costs and increase revenues and profits was in the quality of the people on their team and the culture in the organization. I believe that companies need to put more focus on hiring, growing and retaining top talent – and building a winning culture of engaged, satisfied and loyal employees who are highly results driven, customer focused and accountable. To me, these should be major strategic objectives in almost every business.

 

  1. Lack of accountability and disciplined execution are the biggest problems I see in almost every organization worldwide. There is no shortage of bright, sharp, talented people who can develop highly innovative strategies and ideas – but there is a huge shortage of people that can take those ideas and effectively turn them into results in the marketplace. Again, another place to see major revenue growth and profitability in many companies is focusing more on execution.

 

  1. As I look at the programs I was asked to deliver, there is a clear pattern of a handful of workshops and keynote speeches that the majority of my clients asked me to focus on:
Advanced leadership, especially leading organizations through change

I delivered this program for a number of companies whose industries were undergoing massive change and were challenged to get their employees not just to embrace change, but to drive change.

Winning culture

Many of my clients requested that I help their organizations learn more about how to create higher levels of engagement, commitment, teamwork and collaboration – what I have come to call creating and “ownership mentality” throughout the organization.

Business excellence/strategic thinking

I spent a good bit of time this year helping companies take a hard look at their current operations, benchmark against best practices and fine-tune their strategies to be successful in the future.

Consultative sales

Although I started my career doing high-level sales training, I stepped away from it for a few years, but now many of my clients are asking me to help their entire organization become a sales organization focused on being trusted advisers to their customers.

My recommendation would be to look closely at your organization and make sure that none of these are areas that you are neglecting.

 

  1. Lastly, I am becoming more and more aware that building a strong network of people that want to help and support you (because you are helping and supporting them) and then using that network to generate strong positive word-of-mouth… should also be one of your major strategic objectives. It has become obvious to me that social media, combined with social proof, are the future of referrals and word-of-mouth marketing. But all effective networking and word-of-mouth marketing is based on, delivering massive value and being so incredibly remarkable at what you do…that people want to remark about you, that is, tell other people about how great you are. Just trying to build up your email list or the number of contacts you have on LinkedIn is not an effective strategy, it only works when the connections are created through trust and strongly demonstrated competence.

So those are some of the major things I noticed about 2015, which means they will probably continue to be big issues in 2016. Are you seeing anything different?

I very much look forward to your thoughts – John

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On The Intolerance Of Mediocrity

5117ec57cab7b.imageI have spent the last 20 years of my career studying excellence. I have read dozens if not hundreds of books on the topic, interviewed CEOs, Olympic gold medalists, artists, musicians and other people who have achieved preeminence in their field. I especially enjoy spending time with world-class chefs who are insanely focused on producing only the finest dishes they can humanly make. Recently I read an article from one of the top chefs in the world that discussed how he built his restaurant into one of the most revered eateries on the face of the earth.

His simple four-step formula for excellence?

  1. Strive every day to be the best in the world.
  2. Be completely intolerant of mediocrity.
  3. Constantly innovate and push the envelope.
  4. Deliver a truly world-class dining experience to every customer.

I read that list and thought to myself that you could pretty much copy it, change number four a little bit, and it would apply to being excellent in nearly any business. But I have one big problem, its number two, something I believe in very strongly, but can cause a tremendous amount of stress in your life.

For those of us who want to be highly regarded at what we do, I believe it takes a complete intolerance of mediocrity, both in yourself and in those you work with. However, taking on that attitude means that you will often be frustrated and sometimes be seen as too aggressive or even a bully. I have been mentoring a young man that wants to be one of the top 10 chefs in the world and during a recent breakfast he asked me, “If I become one of the best chefs in the world, will any of the people that work for me like me?” And I quickly answered, “No, they will think you’re an asshole.” I know it sounds harsh, but it’s the truth. In order for him to demand near perfection and be completely intolerant of anything less than excellent, he will have to step on a lot of toes and bruise a lot of egos.

Which brings me back to…me.

I struggle mightily with this idea. I coach all my clients to stop tolerating mediocrity and to remove anyone on their team that is not a solid contributor to the success of the organization. According to a recent test I took, I literally broke the scale on self-competitiveness, so I obviously have no problem (or perhaps it is a problem) in pushing myself very hard to achieve excellent results. But I will say that my focus on making myself and my company absolutely the best I possibly can does make it extremely hard on the people that work with me and the vendors we do business with. I am accused by many of being too harsh, unrealistic and overly demanding – which part of me takes is a great compliment and the other part of me feels almost embarrassed about because I know how difficult it can be to work with me.

In the end though, I know that to achieve a high level of success I must be unwilling to settle for mediocrity. On the other hand I am coming to the realization that the distance between “Mediocrity – Good – Great – World-Class” has a lot of room for delivering fantastic work, without having to be constantly stressed and frustrated over not delivering world-class work. I understand now that driving for near perfection can often times drive people into the ground, yet if I challenge them to deliver the best they possibly can a level that I can accept as really, really great work – then I don’t have to be an ass. It’s a tough lesson to learn, but one that I’m working on.

What about you?

 

*** By the way, I have written a short and focused e-book with my best ideas and tools to help you build and sustain a winning culture in your organization. It sells for just $4.99. If you’d like to learn more about the book here is a link: Winning Culture e-book

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