When you look at the structure of a typical business (oxymoron) – as all businesses are inherently unique – we often see an owner’s office or executive suite and the balance of the company organized into functional areas, such as operations, marketing, sales, human resources and accounting. Some companies have fewer departments and others have more. Further, there is usually a hierarchical structure that can be one layer or many depending upon the size and complexity of the business.

Ideally, each department and every employee therein has a mix of capabilities, functions and a set of defined responsibilities. As employees communicate (engagement) internally and externally with their customers, and as their responsibilities are accomplished (performance) the company’s mission is being accomplished and the customer is served (ideally, they are thrilled). Products and services are delivered to multiple customers, value is transferred and a payment is exchanged – a classic debit and credit transaction. The companies that engage and perform to or above market benchmarks – that do “it” better – grow and prosper, while their competitors struggle and may eventually fail.

Practically, the level of individual, departmental and total company performance varies significantly (gap). A failure to fully understand customer needs can result in a misalignment of value being transferred, providing an opportunity for competitors to gain traction. Gaps in desired engagement and performance – individual and company – can diminish the value transferred to those customers, also providing a competitor an opportunity to secure the business.

Incredibly few businesses consistently perform at high levels of performance; misalignment and gaps abound in every business and with their customers. If then, so what? Broadly speaking, the customer’s needs and expectations are not being met due to some combination of weak strategic or tactical plans, or managers or other employees are underperforming. Resolving strategic and tactical weaknesses AND elevating engagement and performance are critical to business success, which is always a long-term and dynamic undertaking. The “hard stuff” of business is important, but so is the “soft stuff” of business, the behavioral elements.

The good news is that small improvements in one area of the company begin to cascade throughout the organization. Step-by-step, the total performance profile of each employee, each department and the entire company is improved. Customers are happier, maybe even thrilled – which is a critical benchmark.

What’s keeping you from taking that first step?

Ancient Rock

greece_photoMy wife and I were fortunate enough to vacation in Greece, taking in the island of Crete for 5 days and enjoying the area around Athens for 3 days. The entire time in Greece was amazing and punctuated again and again with history and warm, welcoming Greeks. The Greeks were consistently so friendly it was striking. It was an exceptional experience – with exceptional customer experiences around every corner!

We rented a car in Crete and visited multiple cities and small villages along the north shore, from Agios Nicholaus in the northeast to Chania in the northwest. Unlike most tourists, we also ventured into many smaller villages in the interior mountains and on the southern shore. Oh so many vistas were remarkable, with roads shifting from modern to narrow and twisting in tight switchbacks on the sides of the mountains, leading to charming orchards, vineyards and vibrant, small town squares. The smaller villages were classically picturesque, with almost unfathomable streets to navigate and a no-holds-barred maze of parked cars and motorcycles that made moving through the villages like “threading the needle.” We visited museums and seaside fortresses, ate amazing traditional Greek food in countless tavernas and visited the historical sites of Aptera, Knosos and many other places of historical significance, all with a sense of awe.

Greater Athens – known as Athina to the locals – was much the same, yet far more urban and exceedingly alive. We had the great fortune to visit the Parthenon and other temples near the Acropolis, the Temple of Poseidon in Sounion, the Acropolis Museum and the National Archeological Museum (both world class) , and the shopping areas of Plaka, Monastrki and Kolonaki. Our hotel afforded us the view of the Acropolis, lit up at night and on the final night, a full moon over it. We highly recommend Greece to all.

As to the business-side of this blog, again, my wife and I were struck with the friendliness of the Cretans and Athenians. Almost without exception, but especially in the various tavernas and local businesses, we were greeted with smiles and amazing personal warmth. Yes, there was an old-world charm and we were tourists there spending Euros, but it was more. There was a friendliness that spoke to a type of customer service that was exceptionally genuine.

For example, after every meal almost every taverna in Crete brought us a parting gift of a dessert and a small bottle of a local, often homemade liquor called “raki.” Similar to Ouso, each taverna exhibited pride in their version of raki. We came to realize that asking for the check didn’t conclude the meal; it became a highpoint with us wondering what we would have served to us. It was delightful.

A taverna owner in Lerapetra on the southern coast of Crete – after we had commented that his version was the very best and after our bill was paid, knowing that we would be moving on – presented us with a half-liter bottle of raki. Businesses in the United States and around the world could emulate the people we met in those shops. Each business that mirrored those in Greece would undoubtedly prosper even more.

As a final comment, we overheard a student from Texas utter the following words as he and his companions were walking up to the base of the Temple of Poseidon – “Well, I guess it is time once again to take pictures of more ‘ancient rock.’” Indeed.

Discipline is a Core Business Attribute

I recall listening in mid-December to the memorial words of Cape Town, South Africa’s emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as he eulogized Nelson Mandela. He spoke of the incredible discipline epitomized by Nelson Mandela in his life, and the need for all people to capture that same discipline in their lives. Archbishop Tutu’s focus was on the discipline required to seek peace and reconciliation in the face of hate, bigotry and injustice, but I believe that same discipline is a core attribute that can and should be embraced in business practices and everyday life.

Businesses are successful, in no small measure, when they are consistently engaged in performing to the needs of their customers, providing products and services in a “disciplined” way (standardized processes and business practices that are metrics-based, accountable and predictable) that brings value in a reliable manner – meeting or exceeding customer expectations. Whether your business is small or large and regardless of the customers it serves, it cannot be successful if the needs of the clients are not being met consistently. Meeting those needs requires discipline and commitment. From time management to literally hundreds of individual behaviors that comprise the work product of a business,  owners, managers and all employees must be strategic, engaged and collaborative, to act in a disciplined manner that supports customer needs.

As each of us go to work and witness the myriad of activities that are required to deliver a value to a client, take a moment and consider whether or not those activities are consistently delivered in a manner that meets the needs of each client and supports the growth of your brand and your company. If not, maybe a new measure of discipline is required. With heightened levels of discipline consistently evident throughout a company, I suspect that total company performance will be significantly improved.