Achieving Business Excellence with John Spence

The Ten Biggest Issues in Business Today

During the past 45 days I have presented workshops to more than 1,000 CEOs, business owners and senior executives in several states in the US and across New Zealand and Australia and have been amazed to see an extremely clear pattern emerge about what this widely diverse group of businesses all agree are key areas they must focus on more intently in their organizations. 

Read this list carefully and consider whether these might also be areas that you need to spend more time, effort and resources on in your business.


  1. Lack of a vivid, compelling and well-communicated a vision and strategy for growth.
  2. Lack of specific, measurable, binary metrics that support the vision and strategy.  
  3. Lack of disciplined execution / culture of high accountability.
  4. Do not truly listen to, and deeply understand, the voice of the customer (VOC).
  5. Do not understand our “Moments Of Truth” and therefore do not have processes in place to execute them flawlessly every single time, with every single customer.
  6. Do not do a superb job in talent development.
  7. Do not deal decisively with mediocrity and poor accountability.
  8. Have not invested enough time and energy in building a high-performance/winning culture. 
  9. Not focused enough on innovation.
  10. Lack of trust and true teamwork across the entire organization.

I would say that in the last year, talking to literally thousands of business owners and CEOs that nearly every one of them struggled with at least a few of the things on this list.  It would be my suggestion that you sit down with your top people and score the above items on this scale:

1 = Strongly Agree that this describes our organization.

3 = Agree Somewhat that this describes our organization.

5 = Not Sure if this describes our organization.

 7= Disagree Somewhat that this describes our organization.

10 = Strongly Disagree that this describes our organization.

Anyplace you score a 7 or less should be an area of concern and any score below a 5 should get you very worried.

As you look at this list you might think the items I’ve listed are fairly mundane –just fundamental business practices that you know are important, however there is a big difference between knowing something – and actually doing it every single day.  Most business people I talk to clearly understand that on a scale of 1 to 10 they should be a 9 or 10 on all of the items I’ve listed above, yet very few truly are.  While having lunch with a client yesterday in Auckland, he asked me why this was and I replied that from my experience is because most people are too busy putting out fires and taking care of emergencies to focus on these critical fundamentals, or they do not have the will to enforce them as non-negotiable standards of performance across every part of their business.

Look for more blogs on these topics in the coming months as I will be building several new training classes to address these issues and adding them as chapters in the new book I’m writing.  If you have any specific questions on these issues please send me a note or post it here on the blog and I will do my best to address them.

Hope you are doing fantastic — John


PS – all work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy, so I did make sure to take a few days off to go fly fishing while on the south island of NZ!! (And yes, I released it – I release ALL of the trout I catch)

John Spence


  1. John,

    I know you wrote this down under, so I read the list from the bottom up–it made more sense that way 🙂

  2. Brett Charlton says:

    Great talk last night John, sorry I had to go before the Q&A. I’ve taken from the talk some great things regarding binary and clear metrics, ambiguity creates mediocrity and I’m going to get myself in the top 5% of personal learners by reading a book a month!

    Loved it.


  3. Great looking fish John, did you apply the these principles to fishing? eg
    – clear vision required, one must ‘see’ the fish
    – metrics – you need the right kit (rod, line etc) supporting you
    – disciplined execution – fly fishing is all about discipline eg the approach and delivery
    – VOC – what is the fish interested in today, you’ve got to give him what he wants
    – moments of truth – will you endure, will you hold fast when the strike comes?
    – trust – will your partners remain silent and not disturb your area and fish?

    Now if only I could take my ‘fishing focus’ and apply it to my business. Great stuff John, keep up the good work.

  4. Chip Skinner says:

    Great post, John! This is valuable not only to private/public businesses, but also to governments, their departments and agencies. Thanks!

    P.S. You have to eat some of the trout you catch….Yummy!

  5. Bill Dellecker says:


    We’re keeping the flame lit here StateSide, wondering when you’ll return from Down Under. The Voice of the Customer is loud and clear and we are listening. Fine fish, by the way!


  6. Results coming in from the on line survey of last nights EO keynote event. So far a perfect score of 10 out of 10!!
    Thank you John and Sheila. Just watch NZ’s GDP rise as our businesses prosper and florish with success now!!

  7. Hey John

    Great to see you in Auckland at the EO Event & to come away with a refreshed focus on the strengths & what we need to improve on in our business. We certainly have a few areas we are working on mentioned in the blog & seeing them clearly in B&W keeps things pretty simple for us to focus on.

    Definately a 10/10 event in Auckland

  8. Girish H says:

    Thanks John,

    What is intresting for me is..all all the topics are HR issues! Unfortunately Leaders still dont get this right.

    Great points.

    Regards, Girish

  9. Nice catch! I mean the fish AND your post here. This is really good stuff even for a service oriented business like law.

  10. I feel like I’m in an echo chamber. How long have we been talking about these same “biggest issues?” Why are we not making progress on them? Why are we–individually, institutionally, and professionally–stuck in action that maintains these non-productive patterns? We think Adaptive Action ( can help, but as long as we keep framing the challenges in the ways we’ve always framed them, we’ll keep getting the same results we’ve always gotten. What do you see as an alternative? Thanks for all your creative work!

    • Thank you for the comments Glenda, my alternative… much as you have stated… is to stop talking and start taking action. Be creative, be innovative, be bold, but most of all – get your ass in gear and make some positive things happen. The answers to most of these issues are simple, but simply very hard to do. It takes courage, determination and focus to overcome these dysfunctional behaviors, but they must be addressed and eliminate if one hopes to build a sustainably successful organization. I appreciate your input Glenda and hope that your organization can continue to help people tackle these challenges.

  11. I would agree that people need to put more detail into their strategies, goals, and what they expect out of their work. If they don’t take the time to clearly identify these aspects of their business, they won’t even know why they aren’t getting what they want. Great article!

  12. Excellent post. I keep reading posts about the biggest issues facing business are external. regulations, global competition etc. I constantly tell my clients that everyone faces the same external issues, take care of the internal ones that you have direct control over. Most don’t have a clear strategy, or a compelling value proposition, and can’t understand why things stay the same. The question that I’d ask you is how many businesses actually realize that the issues you’ve listed are real? I find many try to treat the symptoms rather than understand the door causes.

  13. Great article. Most articles I’ve seen on the subject off top problems facing businesses are focused on external issues. I constantly tell my clients to take care of the internal things that you have control over first. everyone has the same external problems. This list closely ties to what I’ve found in my practice. The question I have is what do most businesses THINK their biggest issues are? I find they focus on symptoms and rarely understand the root causes that you have listed.