Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

If you want to make more money: ASK

Several years ago, one of my clients asked me to put together a special workshop to help their employees increase the quality of their customer service. I told them that the single best way to figure out what it would take to deliver consistently superior customer service was… to ask their customers!

We, of course, pursued the standard route of sending out a general customer satisfaction survey and I also interviewed a handful of their customers to get some confidential feedback, but what really helped them achieve an entire new level of customer service excellence was inviting a panel of their top customers for an open and frank discussion about how they currently viewed the service they were getting and exactly what sort of improvements they would like to see.

On the day of the event we gathered every employee in the company (60+) to listen to what the customer panel had to say. The results were amazing! As the employees sat on the edge of their seats, key decision-makers from their seven biggest customers (representing nearly 70% of their annual revenues) spent more than two hours talking about what they loved about the customer service they were receiving; what they hated about the customer service they were receiving; and precisely what they wanted changed, fixed or improved.

Imagine having your very best customers tell you exactly what you would have to do for them to give you a larger share of their business and eagerly refer you to their friends and colleagues. In nearly 25 years of running training workshops this was one of the most powerful and motivating sessions I have ever had the pleasure of leading. By the end of the day every employee that attended felt like they understood what they personally needed to do to deliver outstanding customer service Interestingly, it was just as rewarding for the customers who said it was the very first time that one of their vendors had invited them in to share these sorts of issues in open forum. A true win/win for all involved.

So now the question is: how can you apply this idea in your business? Maybe this sort of customer panel is a perfect way for you to open the lines of communication with your customers and make significant progress in deeply understanding what it will take to consistently meet and even exceed their specific customer service expectations. Maybe your company isn’t quite as big and instead you simply invite two or three of your top customers to lunch and discuss how well your company is meeting their expectations and what they feel you need to improve. It seems pretty straightforward to me, if you want to make more money, ask the people who are currently giving you money what it would take for them to give you more money. Because, as Mark Twain so beautifully put it, “The only critic whose opinion counts… is the customer.”

This Determines the Future Success of Your Business…

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As I look back across two decades of working with companies around the world, there are a few key ideas that I think are fundamental to business success, here is one of them:

 

The success of your business is directly tied to the quality of the people that you can get, grow and keep on your team – and the relationships they create with your customers.

I have yet to meet a single business leader that does not strongly agree with this idea, however I see a lot of businesses where they do not actually live this idea. Today I want to talk about the growth and development of top talent.

Once you get somebody on your team, there is absolutely no excuse for not investing time, energy and money in helping that person continuously improve.

Frankly, I believe this is the single most important investment you can make in your company, because without highly talented people who are steadily getting better and better, you have no chance of making your company better and better. I also write above that there is, “no excuse” because never in the history of humankind has there been more information available, much of it for free, to assist you in delivering world-class training to your people.

Here are just a few of the things that you should be doing:

  • Formal mentoring program
  • Creating a formal development plan for each employee
  • Creating an internal training department
  • Training classes taught by qualified outside instructors
  • Cross training
  • Benchmarking your training efforts against leading companies
  • Buying a copy of a book for each of your employees
  • Creating a lending library of top business books
  • Creating a lending library of training CDs
  • Getting your employees a membership to an audiobook service
  • Getting your employees a membership to a book summary service
  • Bringing in outside experts for a “lunch and learn”
  • Taking your employees to visit other companies
  • Sending out a newsletter with good information for your employees
  • Sending out a list of top podcasts they should be listening to
  • Sending out a list of YouTube videos they should watch
  • Investing in online/virtual training for your employees
  • Taking your employees to a major training seminar by an expert
  • Taking your employees to an industry event
  • Annual or semiannual company training conferences

These are just a few things that I came up with off the top of my head, I’m sure there are several more you could add to this list. But here is my point: if you are not doing all or most of this then you’re not truly serious about helping your people (and your company) to be as successful as possible. A good deal of what I have listed is absolutely free, much of it is very inexpensive, and only a few things require significant financial investment. But I can tell you this, not doing the things on this list is very, very expensive.

If you found value in this blog, I hope you will share it with your network.

***  I wanted to let you know about a very special event I will be participating in on March 12-14 at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel in the incredibly beautiful town of Banff, Canada. It will be an exclusive retreat for leaders of fast growth businesses who are looking to engage with other leaders in pursuit of higher levels of performance. We have done this event twice in the past and it has been a resounding success. If you’re interested, here is a link to learn more about the program, we would love to have you join us!

Click HERE to find out more

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A Perfect Breakfast Storm

240_F_90927099_z6LSkcqAbKKIpsbNmhygPROfNiNTK1x9Recently I witnessed a perfect storm of two prevalent business problems:

 Activity vs. Results and The Law of Unintended Consequences.

 

I was having breakfast at a very nice hotel. When I was seated I asked the hostess if I could have a menu but she explained to me that they only offered a buffet. So I walked over and put together a plate of food. When I returned there was a glass of water on my table, however, I really like to have iced tea with my breakfast, so I looked around to try to catch the attention of one of the servers. I was literally the only person in the restaurant, yet I couldn’t get any help. The staff was feverishly working away at folding napkins and setting tables for lunch (it was 8:40 AM), busy as could be and completely ignoring me. When I started to eat my meal, the eggs were cold, the sausage was cold and the potatoes were cold, so I decided I might as well have some yogurt, because it’s supposed to be cold. I set my plate to the side and went back to the buffet for the yogurt, upon returning my plate was still there and no iced tea. After I ate my yogurt I waited patiently for someone to come over so that I could ask for a check, and no one ever came to my table. So on my way out of the restaurant I mentioned to the hostess that no one asked me to pay for my breakfast, to which she replied, “Oh it is included in with room, you have already paid for it.”

That is when it dawned on me. Because they had no way to earn a tip, nobody put any effort into helping the customers, it was much easier to just look busy folding napkins so that their manager did not give them a hard time. Again, I tell you these sorts of stories not to complain, but to hold up a mirror and ask you: Do you ever do this in your business? Do you judge your employees by how early they get to work, how late they stay and how busy they look – not on the quality of their work or results they deliver? Is your reward and recognition system in alignment with the priorities of your business?

Are you paying your people to do what is most important and drive success, or to have nicely folded napkins?

If you would like some ideas about how to improve your culture, I wrote a short ebook with my best ideas. Here is a link to learn more:

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A Lesson About Team Culture

636103432294773262-0925-kcsp-utfl-068-asbThis is not a sports story, but it does revolve around a story about sports. I live in Gainesville, Florida which means it is mandatory for me to be a Florida Gators football fan. Last weekend we played the Tennessee Volunteers, they have not beat us in 11 years, the smartphone did not exist the last time Tennessee actually beat the Gators! However, this weekend they beat us… no, they crushed us. The final score of Tennessee 38 – Florida 28 does not come close to representing the thrashing our team took. The funny thing is, we were winning 28-3 at halftime, then Tennessee scored 35 unanswered points. By the middle of the third quarter the Gators had completely given up, they were walking with their heads down or sitting on the bench. There was an opportunity for us to come back and win in the fourth quarter, but the Gators had already decided they were going to lose. On the other side of the field, the Volunteers, even though they came into the second half needing at least five touchdowns to win, were motivated, focused and playing like a real team.

The big lesson for me came at the end of the game when Tennessee broke their decade-long losing streak and won a huge game for their school. The players had every right to dance around the field and celebrate, pumping their fists and mugging for the cameras, but instead they ran over to jump in the stands and celebrate with the other students. The head coach ran over to the sideline, climbed up on a ladder next to the conductor of the school band, and led the musicians in playing the Tennessee fight song. The attitude and conduct of the two teams during the second half of the game, and after the game, highlighted a big lesson about organizational and team culture and how, in a very large way, the leader sets the tone. One team quits halfway through the game and mopes off the field humiliated, the other team stays optimistic, cohesive, determined and then celebrates the win for everyone in the school, not just themselves.

So the question I have for you: How does the team at your company play?

 

*** If you are interested in learning more about how to build and sustain a winning culture, I have written a short and very focused e-book that outlines my very best ideas and tools. Here is a link so you can take a look: Winning Culture eBook

 

CULTURE = CASH

7564321-big-pile-of-money-stack-of-american-dollarsFor many, many businesses today the only competitive differentiator they truly have is the quality of the people that they can get, grow and keep on their team… and the relationships they create with their customers.

Competitors can copy your products, beat you on price, match all of your distribution channels, spend more money on marketing and advertising and out manuver you on social media. However, if you can attract, develop and retain top talent and then get them insanely focused on taking great care of your customers… that is not something your competition can easily copy.

So, what attracts top talent to work in a company? I was interested to know this so I did a survey of more than 10,000 high potential employees at top companies around the world and they told me there were six things they look for from an ideal employer.

  1. Fair Pay – which they defined as 10% above or below what they would make to do the same job at a different company.
  1. Challenging Work work that was engaging, meaningful and matched their skill set.
  1. Cool Colleagues – A-players only want to play on a team with other A-players.
  1. Winning Culture – a place where people smile just as much when they come to work as when they leave.
  1. Personal/Professional Growth – the chance to learn and improve every day, as well as seeing a place for themselves in the company 5 to 7 years in the future.
  1. A Boss I Respect And Admire – which was actually one of the most important things they wanted!

If you think about it, all six of these factors are actually elements of a winning culture. If you want to bring top people in your company you’ve got to do these six things exceedingly well. On the flipside, the vast majority of people that leave a company exit because they hate their boss and are disengaged by the culture. I just listened to an interview with David Burkus talk about his new book Under New Management  (which I highly recommend) where he mentioned that only two employees out of 10 are fully engaged in their work. Think of the wasted time, money, resources and opportunity. However, if you could engage another two or three people, you would likely create a company that would dominate the marketplace.

In both a positive and negative sense: CULTURE = CASH

*** If you want more specifics on exactly how to build a great company culture, I have created a very concise and focused ebook that will give you all of my best ideas, tools and advice. It is only $2.99 on Amazon and I promise it will be VERY helpful.  Click HERE to take a look

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Three Business Fears

12311745_10153134220142466_849282776_o (1)I have just returned from a trip to Kraków, Poland where I was invited by the US Consulate to be the keynote speaker at the Polish American Innovation Bridge event. I also had the opportunity to give a speech at the Polytechnic Institute. I found the Polish entrepreneurs I met to be very energetic, enthusiastic and passionate about building businesses. However, there was one theme that ran through all of the comments and questions which was, “What happens if I fail?” There seemed to be an overwhelming fear of failure across the groups I spoke with. The event organizers asked me to focus on two special areas, how to handle failure and how to successfully network with other entrepreneurs and business people. It also seems that the current Polish entrepreneurial culture does not support the idea of win/win networking. Many of the students and entrepreneurs I talked to were very worried about sharing their ideas with anyone else and did not believe that other entrepreneurs in their community would be willing to help them, so in large part they decided to go it alone.

Earlier this year I spent a good deal of time in Australia and New Zealand working with business people and entrepreneurs there. I find it fascinating that they had almost the opposite fear: the fear of success. There is a saying that they have in Australia and New Zealand, “The tall poppy syndrome.” If you, as a poppy, grow too tall compared to the rest of the poppies, they cut you down to size. In these cultures if you are too successful it agitates the people around you who are not as successful and you are put under a great deal of peer pressure to conform to the societal norms of not sticking out. The question I kept getting in Australia and New Zealand was, “How do you think so big in America?” They just couldn’t understand the idea of wanting to grow a billion-dollar company or the desire to be hugely successful, and said that in their business culture colleagues often tried to keep you in a more “reasonable” frame of mind when talking about business growth.

Let me be very clear, I was extremely impressed in Poland, Australia and New Zealand with the very bright and talented entrepreneurs I met. They were curious and wanted to find out how to improve themselves and their businesses. And not everyone I met fits in the categories I mentioned above, but I did find it interesting to see the stark differences in the different cultures. What’s even more fascinating is that I have run into all of the same issues working with entrepreneurs in America. They are fearful of failure, afraid to be too successful and reluctant to share their ideas and ask for help from the other entrepreneurs and business owners around them.

So my question to you is, do you suffer from any of these three entrepreneurial fears?

I look forward to your thoughts – John

Doing Your Job

business, job, workLet me help you understand something… doing your job gets you NO extra credit at all. Showing up on time, finishing your work, making sure your work has been done correctly, being courteous to co-workers and customers, staying until you are supposed to leave… that is what you are paid to do. I am getting tired of people who expect special recognition, an award, a big tip or raise – for simply doing their job.

It is like when the guy from the commercial cleaning crew that cleans my office tells me with great fanfare and excitement: “We wiped down all of the desks, vacuumed the floors, washed the windows, cleaned the bathroom and emptied all of the trash cans.” Then breathlessly waits for me to tell him how awesome that is. But I am thinking, “Well, no shit, that is what I hired you to do – so what?” However, if after he rattled off that list of tasks completed he said, “We also put fresh flowers on your desk and noticed that you were out of Diet Coke, so we put a 12-pack in the fridge for you.” THAT is awesome – that is special – that deserves some special recognition!

Don’t get me wrong, I am a HUGE evangelist for “creating a culture of catching people doing things right,” and I clearly understand that praise and recognition is critical to developing highly engaged and loyal employees, but I am not going to throw you a party just for having a pulse. I have been surprised lately by employees at some of my client companies that are angry and surly because they did not get  a raise or promotion when it is abundantly clear to me that they have not done anything special to earn it. They seem to believe that if they just show up and put in their time they should eventually become a Vice President. No, all that gets you is NOT fired!

I read an article about one of the top chefs in the world and they asked him his secret to success. His answer?

  1. Be completely intolerant of mediocrity.

  2. Strive every day in everything you do for true excellence.

  3. Be incredibly customer focused.

  4. Be highly innovative so you can continue to delight your customers.

That is a great list; that is how you become the best in the world at what you do. Anything less is simply doing your job.

 

Your thoughts?

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Delivering Business Excellence

11127664_10152747300417466_255902195476459028_nI recently stayed in the best Best Western in the world. I was in Hamilton Canada to give several speeches and stayed at The Best Western Premier C Hotel by Carmen’s and was absolutely delighted. As someone who spends more than 200 nights a year in hotels, I’m a very seasoned and somewhat cynical guest, to me the hotel and restaurant business just does not seem that complicated, yet so few of them seem to understand that. Here is all I really want…

Hotel: easy check-in, professional and friendly staff, clean rooms, free high-speed Wi-Fi, double pane glass so my room is quiet, and a uber-comfy bed.

Restaurant: good food, very good service, reasonable prices, exceedingly clean, quiet with a relaxed ambience.

You deliver these things and I will love you forever, and the folks at the Best Western Premier C absolutely nailed them. So here’s my question for you…

What are the handful of things that you must do consistently do to delight, enthrall, surprise and satisfy your most important customers?

Let me break that down a little bit…

Handful of things: the three, four or five Moments Of Truth that make or break your relationship with the customer. Every business has a few limited things they absolutely MUST do flawlessly to create loyal, engaged, and satisfied customers. What are they in your business?

*By the way, there are external Moments Of Truth that you must deliver your customers, but there are also internal Moments Of Truth that your staff needs to deliver to each other… in order to be able to deliver the external Moments Of Truth to your customers.

Consistently: it does no good if you only deliver the Moments Of Truth every now and then, it must be every single time for every single key customer. This is why I teach at all of my classes that: if you want repeatable success, you must have process. You have to have the systems, checklists, processes, procedures AND training to ensure that your employees know exactly how to deliver the Moments Of Truth flawlessly.

Delight, enthrall, surprised and satisfy: the goal here is to deliver what is most important to your customer in a unique and highly valued way. However, the only person who really knows what this entails… is the customer. That’s why one of my very favorite quotes is:

Whoever owns the voice of the customer, owns the marketplace.

Most important customers: not all customers are created equal. If you’re going to spend the time, energy and effort to deliver the Moments Of Truth flawlessly, you want to try to do this for all of your customers, but it is essential that you do it for your most important target customers. These are the customers that value what you deliver, are willing to pay for it, are easy to deal with and have the ability to tell lots and lots of people about how great you and your business are.

While in Hamilton I interacted with the staff from the Best Western Premier C Hotel by Carmen’s, the Baci Ristorante and the Hamilton Convention Center by Carmen’s and was truly delighted, enthralled, surprised and satisfied in all of my interactions. From front desk staff, to the servers, to the housekeeping crew… everyone was professional, extremely customer focused and had a great positive attitude. Can you say the same about everyone that works for you?

As someone who teaches business excellence for a living, it was a joy to see an organization that clearly understood how to deliver exceptional service and a wonderful guest experience. Here’s the kicker, when I talked to the manager he made it clear that the main reason for their success was to cut out all the clutter and just focus on the fundamentals. When I stepped off the elevator on the third floor to go to my room I was greeted by a giant quote painted on the wall (which just so happens to also be on the back of my business card!) that summarized their philosophy:

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci


Free eBook Link for Building and Sustaining a Winning Culture by John Spence

Three BIG Ideas On The Future Of Business

GTD_630822I am now entering my 21st year as a management thinker, author, adviser and professional speaker on the core topics around business excellence. As with nearly everyone in my line of work, I consider Peter Drucker one of the most important business thinkers of all time and have carefully studied all of his work. Each year in Vienna, Austria they host a global forum to talk about Drucker’s work and how it will impact the future of business. In a recent article on Forbes online Steve Denning (who is presenting at the Forum) wrote:

“We have arrived at a turning point,” says the launch abstract of the Global Peter Drucker Forum 2014. “Either the world will embark on a route towards long-term growth and prosperity, or we will manage our way to economic decline.” We* believe the three most important issues that the Forum should address are:

• Should firms make the shift from the goal of maximizing shareholder value as measured by the current stock price to a principal focus on adding value to those for whom the work is being done?
• Should organizations make the shift from the practices of hierarchical bureaucracy to the collaborative leadership and management practices of the Creative Economy?
• Should organizations make a shift from metrics that reflect narrow financial goals to metrics that reflect contributions to prosperity of individuals, organizations and society, for achieving both purpose and profit?
*several of the key presenters at the event

Just a few weeks ago I attended the Abundance 360 Summit in Los Angeles hosted by Peter Diamandis and featuring several dozen of the world’s top thought leaders on artificial intelligence, computer learning, the Internet of Things, robotics, augmented reality, virtual reality, and human longevity. We spent three days exploring how major innovations in these areas will change not only the business world, but the entire world. I left that meeting with my head swirling and three big ideas that captured my attention:

1. It is not a case of if these mind-blowing innovations will occur, it’s simply a matter of when, and if businesses today are even slightly prepared for how it’s going to dramatically change nearly everything about the way they do business. Seriously, this is not hyperbole, the new innovations coming in just the next few years will touch every sector of business in the world. For some businesses it will mean minor adjustments, others will have to be completely reimagined and many others…will no longer exist.

2. The future of business is Smart Machines (advanced machines, driven by self-learning computers, connected to the Internet of things through the cloud, which connects every computer on earth to every other computer on earth). So at least for the next 10 years or so, until machines take over, success in business will be determined by a company’s ability to attract, keep and grow top knowledge workers. This means that leadership, communications, culture and innovation are going to be even more critical in building the foundation of  sustainable business success.

3. As a global society we are going to be deeply challenged by some of the moral and economic issues raised by these advanced technological innovations. What do you do when entire industries disappear overnight? When millions of low level and middle-class jobs are replaced by machines? How do you feel about a world where everything is connected to the Internet, meaning that your every move, your every purchase, nearly everything you do is being tracked? What do you do when genetic coding and synthetic medicine allows people to live a healthy and productive life to age 120, 130 or more? What does that do to your workforce? How does that impact retirement? How do you manage a workforce that might span as much as five or six generations?

Some of you might feel that these questions are far-fetched, but I assure you they are not and I also assure you that if you plan to be in the workforce for the next 15 years, you are going to see some highly disruptive innovations that will significantly impact numerous industries. That also means that if you are a leader in one of those industries, you better start getting ready right now! Which brings me back to the three questions that Mark posed to the Global Peter Drucker Forum:

Should firms make the shift from the goal of maximizing shareholder value as measured by the current stock price to a principal focus on adding value to those for whom the work is being done?

YES: Short-term thinking to “maximize shareholder value” TODAY – often leads companies to make shortsighted decisions that will leave them exposed and unprepared just a few years down the road in this highly volatile and fluid business environment. It is my strong belief that successful leaders must have the ability and the courage to make strategic decisions today that may not pay off immediately, but will position their companies for success in 2025 and beyond. This is best not only for the shareholders, but for every constituency that the business serves from vendors and suppliers, to workers and managers, to the final consumer.

Should organizations make the shift from the practices of hierarchical bureaucracy to the collaborative leadership and management practices of the Creative Economy?

YES: The truth of the matter is they have no choice, the Millennial’s and the next generation after them (Generation Z? Generation C? The iGeneration?), disdain hierarchy and do not work well in a command-and-control culture. They crave independence, respect, personal and professional growth, a highly engaging culture, cool colleagues and meaningful, challenging work. You give them all of these things and fair pay (10% above or below what they would make to do the same job anyplace else) and you can absolutely attract and keep the top creative knowledge workers.

Should organizations make a shift from metrics that reflect narrow financial goals to metrics that reflect contributions to prosperity of individuals, organizations and society, for achieving both purpose and profit?

YES: I recently did a research study of 10,000 high performing employees at top companies around the world asking them what they look for in a leader they respect and would willingly follow. One of the seven core factors they identified was…Contribution. They wanted to work in an organization where the leader’s used their power, influence and access to resources to impact their community and the world in a positive way. For them the company values were as important as the company’s stock value. I also believe that as more and more company’s products become indistinguishable, many consumers are going to look to this metric (what many people call the triple bottom line) as the main reason they choose to do business with an organization.

I have been deeply honored in the last few years to be named as one of America’s Top Business Thought Leaders, but honestly I didn’t think that I was thinking anything all that special. I’m not really sure that I have added any significant thoughts to this topic, but what I will tell you is that all of us who are in business today need to spend some serious time thinking and acting on these critically important issues…they are going to be here must faster than you realize.

I’ll keep thinking and sharing my ideas – you do the same. Hope you found this helpful and if you did please share with your network – thanks – John


Free eBook Link for Building and Sustaining a Winning Culture by John Spence