Start with WHY

When we started FiveFour in early 2018, the vision of the founders was to teach everyone what had made our individual businesses successful: a remarkable customer experience.

But what we discovered is that, with our customers, most needed a step before that. They needed to start with WHY.

I was reminded of this while listening to Simon Sinek’s book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Sinek writes:

It all starts with clarity. You have to know why you do what you do. If people don’t buy what you do, the buy why you do it, so it follows that if you don’t know why you do what you do, how will anyone else?  If the leader of an organization can’t clearly articulate why they organization exists in terms beyond it’s products or services, then how does he expect the employees to know why to come to work?

If a team doesn’t know WHY it’s important to have a great experience for their customers, teaching them WHAT to do has far less of an impact.

That’s why the Define the Culture is the first of the four steps in my 4D Transformation Method and Design the Experience is the second. We have to start with WHY.

Sinek perfectly describes the type of business we most frequently deal with:

When organizations are small, WHAT they do and WHY they do it are in close parallel. Born out of the personality of the founder, it is relatively easy for early employees to “get it.“ Clarity of why is understood because the source of passion is near – in fact it’s physically comes to work every day. In most small businesses all the employees are all crammed into the same room and socialize together. Simply being around a charismatic founder allows that feeling of being a part of something special to flourish.

But, as Sinek writes, For companies of any size, success is the greatest challenge. When businesses grow and employees are no longer around the leader all day, every day, the WHY can get fuzzy and disengagement creeps in.

The answer is almost always to rearticulate the WHY. Sinek writes:

Finding WHY is a process of discovery, not invention…the WHY from every individual or organization comes from the past. It is born out of the upbringing or experience of an individual or small group.

And in our experience, that rediscovered WHY always includes something that was done for the customer, which perfectly sets the stage for focusing on customer experience.

How’s the WHY of your business? Has it gotten a little fuzzy? Take my assessment to find out and then chat with me about how to rediscover your WHY.

“We have three cultures”

I was talking to the CEO of a bank with more than a dozen branches when he said, “We don’t have a culture at our bank. We have three cultures and which one you encounter depends on which branch you’re at.”

What’s more, the CEO said, “You can tell when you’re in a branch that doesn’t have a healthy culture. You can just feel it.”

This is more common than you might think. It’s easy to maintain a cohesive culture when you’re a small team at a single location. But growth can change all of that in a hurry, especially when growth leads to multiple locations.

That geographic distance doesn’t make it impossible to maintain a healthy culture – far from it. But it does make it more challenging.

There are three things that CEO could have done to create a consistent, healthy culture. You can do them to.

  1. Be really clear about what you want your culture to be. What are you trying to accomplish? What are the expected behaviors? What is out-of-bounds? Defining your culture is the first step.
  2. Have a consistent communication plan. The leader must talk about the culture until they’re sick of talking about it…and then talk about it some more. They must be what Pat Lencioni calls the CRO: Chief Reminding Officer.
  3. Get regular feedback from the front lines. Your communication on culture (or anything for that matter) can’t be one way.

Without taking these steps, you’re leaving the culture up to each individual manager of each individual location (or team, division, etc.) and multiple cultures is the inevitable outcome.

That’s one of the issues I help owner-operators solve in the first step of my 4D Transformation Method, Define the Culture. I explain it in this video:

Have you left your culture up to chance – or to each employee’s interpretation? Can you feel an unhealthy culture in part’s of your organization?

The first step for you might be just getting a handle on the state of your culture. Let me help you with our free assessment. Take a few minutes, answer a few questions and then jump on a call with me to strategize ways to improve your culture.

Do it before it doesn’t feel good walking into one of your offices.

Aligning the two kinds of Purpose

One of the best books I’ve ever read on motivation was Drive by Daniel Pink, where he examines the science around the three pillars of motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Purpose is what I dig in on with my clients in the first phase of my 4D Transformation Method: Define the Culture. Pink makes a helpful distinction between the two different kinds of purpose.

The first one, which he calls “Big P Purpose” is about the difference you make in the world. It’s solving world hunger, revolutionizing technology, things like that.

The second one – Small P Purpose – is about contribution. It’s knowing that the work we do makes a difference for someone.

But you don’t have to choose between the two kinds of purpose – they are most powerful when aligned.

What does that look like? In this video, I give two examples: a janitor and a bricklayer.

Did you watch it? You might be thinking, that’s great for NASA and the church, but what about my business? Can connection to purpose really drive results in my business?

Meet Pat Swyter, the owner-operator of Four Way Insulation. He said that working with FiveFour to define his culture was part of the reason he had a 20% revenue increase after several years without growth:

Do you feel as if the people in your business are lacking either kind of purpose? To find out, take this short assessment and then get a strategy session with me where you’ll get clarity and focus on your purpose.

It could be the most important strategy session you’ve ever had.

“Early on, my culture was rock solid.”

That was what this former CEO said when I shared my 4D Transformation Method with him recently.

“Up until we had about 35 people,” he said, “everyone was on the same page. I never had to let anyone go because the few times we didn’t hire the right person, the culture quickly pushed them out when it became clear they weren’t a fit.”

But the rapid growth that followed the early success led to the need for more people, which led to hastier hiring decisions and team members who weren’t aligned with the company values.

To make matters worse, as a company grows, the newest people are typically the furthest removed from the leadership and have the least opportunity to soak in the founding culture.

Because this owner operator never took the time to document their culture and didn’t have a plan to maintain it, they lost the thing that most directly contributed to their success.

Then, a market downturn came, things unraveled quickly, and the company didn’t survive.

I could hear the remorse in this former CEO as he talked about his business. “We had such a good thing,” he said. “The market had never seen anything like it.”

It didn’t have to be that way. That’s what my 4D Transformation Method is designed to address. Culture is the first of the four phases and I talk more about it in this video:

If you’re operating a growing business and feel like your culture isn’t what it used to be, don’t wait too long like this CEO did.

The first step is easy. Just take my assessment to see if we can help you define your culture and get your business growing from the inside out. At the end of the assessment, you’ll have the opportunity to book a video call with me to learn the next steps. Steps that – if you take them – will get you growing from the inside out.

Does this vision statement mean anything to anyone else?

That was the question asked by the leadership team of one of my clients this week as we were discussing their vision.

They just had the best year in the company’s 30-year history, but they’re hungry for more. Why? Because they have a big vision that hasn’t yet been fully realized.

But they’re not sure if their current vision statement accurately communicates that big vision. They’re not sure if it’s recruiting anyone to their cause.

And that, after all, is the purpose of a vision statement. Because the only vision that doesn’t require the help of others to achieve it is a small one.

A good vision statement must memorable and motivational if its going to serve its function as a memory-enhancing device that points to your broader vision.

That’s why their question was such a good one. That’s exactly the question that you should ask about your vision statement. But then, be careful how you answer. You might be tempted to go with your gut instinct (I think it connects), or personal preference (It means something to me!), but this is too important to leave to either method. You must ask the right questions of the right people to know if it connects.

Only then will you know for certain whether you need to craft something more memorable and motivational to point to your vision.

Why spend all of this time on vision statements? On defining the culture of your business? You already have monthly revenue targets…quarterly rocks…wildly important goals. Why not just focus on those? I talk about that – and why defining the culture is the first step in my 4D Transformation Method in this video:

Does your vision mean anything to anyone else? Are you living it? Instead of guessing, would you like to assess the culture of your business? Just take our assessment and then book a free strategy session with me. It’s the first step to get your business growing from the inside out.

Should we slow down?

That was the question posed by the leadership of a highly successful business that I recently started consulting with. 

They had recently come through a period of rapid growth. 

And that growth exposed some missing systems. A few client engagements had gone off the rails. Salespeople were chasing the wrong deals. 

And the leadership team was spending a lot of time putting out fires. We’ve all been there. 

The fires started the way fires do. Not enough clarity. Lack of accountability. Poor communication brought on by different behavioral styles. 

They were particularly disturbed by the misfires with clients. The business had exploded because of what they accomplished for their customers. They took pride in their customer experience. 

It was in that context that the question surfaced, “Should we slow down?” 

They wanted to know if a pause – to let systems and people catch up – was a good idea. 

I understand where that question comes from. Many of the owner-operators I work with run back and forth between sales and fulfillment.  

Revenue’s down? Go sell.  

Sales growth hurts the customer experience? Jump into fulfillment. 

Business starts to feel like a teeter-totter. In that environment, a slowdown can sound like a great idea. 

In some circumstances, a pause may be necessary. But I don’t believe you have to stop growing to build your systems. 

It’s what I call, ‘Growing from the inside out.’ 

It starts with the culture. That’s what I talked about last week in this video.  

When a business is small, everyone can pick up the culture just by hanging around the leadersThat closeness disappears once the business starts rapidly expanding. That’s when maintaining culture requires a new level of intention. 

After the culture, the next thing you must get right to grow from the inside out is the customer experience. 

Again, when a business is small, and the owner-operator is highly involved with every customer, you can grow without defining every step of the fulfillment process. 

But without that defined process, the customer experience will suffer once you grow beyond the leader’s capacity to be involved in every step. 

Growth from the inside out requires a world-class customer experience. That’s what I talk about in this video: 

What’s the experience like for those who do business with you? Find out by taking my customer experience assessment. At the end, you’ll be able to book a strategy session with me where we will discuss the results of your assessment and the biggest opportunities for improvement. 

Your customer experience may be great today, but if that’s because you’re involved in every interaction, it will become a barrier to growth. Position your business for growth from the inside out by taking this assessment today. 

Don’t let your vision get blurry

Culture.

Think about that word for a moment. We put a lot of stock in that word, from world politics to your back door.

Yet, it’s unspecific. When it comes to your culture — that collection of relationships and policies and rules and habits and norms that are your business — we need more guidance.

What is your culture and how do you define it?

At FiveFour, we think it starts with a basic idea. What is your vision? What is that big idea that defines who you are and who you hope to be? If you can’t express a vision in a concise phrase, how can you expect your employees to understand it?

That’s just one of the aspects of your business we’ll explore in our Experience Gap Analysis, which you can take here.

We find that as companies grow, the early passion and vision of the founders frequently gets blurred. It’s no longer being communicated to the teammates on the front lines. Communication is filtered through layers of management. The byproduct is often disengaged employees, disgruntled customers and stalled growth.

Culture is where we started with A&B Business Solutions, an equipment, service and supply company that has grown to 120 employees spread over 15 locations in five midwestern states. They wanted to improve employee engagement and customer loyalty.

FiveFour was the ideal partner to achieve those goals, says Amanda Odegaard, the company’s vice president of operations and human resources.

“FiveFour’s partnership in defining our culture and communicating our message throughout the organization was superb. It is refreshing to see the results with clear expectations in how we work together and with our customers.”

Improving communication has improved the employee connection to the vision and goals of A&B Business.

“The shift of the attitude of the people internally, I would say has been the biggest change,” says Odegaard. “With that change in attitude there are more positive conversations happening. That’s the biggest transformation that has occurred and that’s across the company not just in small groups.”

The great companies in our world have great vision statements.

Apple: Make a dent in the universe.

Coca Cola: Refresh the world.

Instagram: Capture and Share the World’s Moments.

It’s tempting to say, they’re just a few words. But it’s the intention behind them, the drive and the desire that make them great. They are guiding statements that transcend goals and quarterly reports and keep purpose in focus.

And this is important: They are succinct. You can remember them.

Our vision at FiveFour is, “The Battle for Better Business.”

We live it every day. Because business is a battle. Somebody is always trying to tempt your customers and cut your market share. To win the battle, you must have great troops. These are the people who will go into that battle with you every day and give their best.

That’s a culture of success.

Which brings us back to the word again – the amorphous culture.

Maybe this is true, it’s up to you to define it. We helped A&B Business and we would love to see if we can help you. The first step is to take our assessment and find out.

Note: this is the second of five posts talking about what we do at FiveFour. You can read the first one here. Stay tuned for the other three.

The 4 Components of a Compelling Vision

In his book Visioneering, Andy Stanley identified four components of a compelling vision. Before you go public and start casting your vision, you must be able to articulate these four things:

  1. The problem. Your vision isn’t a problem, but it always addresses a problem (see #2). Without this villain in the story, as Donald Miller puts it, no one is going to find your vision compelling.
  2. The solution. Just identifying a problem doesn’t get anyone excited. They can see problems every day on the news. Your vision is the solution to the problem you identified. It’s a picture of the future with that problem solved.
  3. The reason something must be done. Just because something can be done, doesn’t necessarily mean it should be done. A vision calls people to change something and change is scary. Casting a compelling vision must convince people to act now for a better future.
  4. The reason something must be done now. There are lots of demands on our lives. Why should I help attack your vision right now? Does it rank higher than my other priorities? If I do nothing, will time or someone else solve it? A compelling vision calls people to action now.

What vision are you building? Does it address these four questions from Stanley? If not, you may need to keep working on it.