I first learned about business strategy while in college a very long time ago. If memory serves me well then the definition goes something like this: the direction and scope of an organization over the long term that produces advantage for said organization through its allocation of resources to meet the needs of markets and to fulfill stockholder expectations.
In layman’s terms, strategy is about:
- Direction: Where is the business trying to go in the long term?
- Scope: Which markets should a business compete in and what activities are involved in such markets?
- Advantage: How can the business perform better than the competition in those markets?
- Resources: What is required (finance, management, relationships, technical competence, and facilities) in order to be able to compete?
- Stockholders: What are the values and expectations of those who have power inside and outside the business?
I believe that the number one strategic strength of any firm/organization is superiority in talent and the overwhelming desire of said superior talent to pursue excellence. Therefore, with respect to my b-school faculty, I offer the following 14 irrefutable truths that will create a winning strategy that is achievable and sustainable.
- Say thank you a minimum of several times a day to coworkers, associates, clients, customers, etc., and measure it. Recognition for contributions or support is of inestimable value in fortifying relationships, inducing future business and word-of-mouth support. There are no small acts of support and contributions. Remember: the deepest human need is the need to be appreciated.
- Smile often. Smiles can change the world—think Nelson Mandela, Mona Lisa, etc. Mandela’s smile defeated hatred and apartheid. Smiles are also key to customer retention, as companies like Starbucks and Chick-fil-A have proven.
- Apologize. Set aside time each week to apologize. Apologize if you are only partially to blame, especially when it hurts and even if the person you are apologizing to is a foe. Think about how positive you feel when someone apologizes to you. Consider how many ruptured relationships could have been cured by a mere two-minute apology.
- Hire enthusiastic and optimistic individuals. Nothing is more contagious and overflowing than enthusiasm and a positive attitude towards life. Take these traits into serious consideration when hiring and promoting.
- Perception is reality. When considering this point, keep these famous words in mind: “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.When hospital patients were asked about their satisfaction in one particular study, none of the top 10 responses were related to their health outcomes. Instead, the top two factors were staff interaction and hospital employee satisfaction. The implication is clear: An obsession with simple human factors pays off handsomely for any business or individual.
- Call a customer. Set daily and weekly call goals. This strategy is a no brainer and will pay immediate dividends. If you have to, stop reading this and go call a customer!
- Work on everyone’s listening skills. Listening takes practice, and while it’s hardly news that effective listening is near the top of everyone’s wishful skill set, why are most of us such poor listeners? Most of us have no idea how often we interrupt others. Listening is a learnable skill that takes commitment and desire.
- Master first and last impressions. Beginnings and endings play a huge role in our perception of a product or service. Think of professional services firms and consider why the reception area and the receptionists are of immense importance. Life is a theater, the entire world is a stage and every one of us is an actor. As in theater and in life, the beginning and the ending leave the lasting impression. Win the first quarter and win the fourth quarter and you will win the game.
- Simplify everything. Enough said.
- We all need a blunt foil. This is true of the president, the manager and also the 30-year-old supervisor at your company. We all need someone that will tell it like it is. President Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet was comprised of fierce rivals to encourage frank and blunt dialogue. Keep in mind that sycophants do not improve, they only state the obvious.
- Banish the blame game. Jump all over those who play the blame game, and if they can’t let it go, then let them go. The blame game slows things down, destroys cooperation and can poison an entire organization. Forget all the excuses—reward people that acknowledge a misstep. We all need to look in the mirror frequently and blame no one, take responsibility and do something.
- Hiring: job number one. Spend the money and time to get the right people in the door. Hiring the right people must become a priority and an obsession. Development, training and time can help good people become better and great people to become magnificent. Make the investment.
- Study yourself. Don’t become self-absorbed. Instead, be aware of yourself and how you affect everyone around you. What is your reputation? How are you perceived? What is your personal brand? Is it bad, good or ugly? Developing others begins with you. We all need help and can set out on a journey of self-improvement. Bosses in particular tend to be ignorant about how they come across to others. Don’t agree? Take a moment to think about a current or past boss and you’ll see what I mean.
- Excellence in everything. I know this is similar to Infiniti’s brand message: the relentless pursuit of excellence. But if you’re not going to shoot for excellence in all you do regardless of the task, then why even do it? Excellence now should mean excellence forever.