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. 

Coherence

Rick was kind enough to send me a copy of his excellent book, Coherence, at a time that we were exploring a partnership. Coherence is such a rich way to think about marketing and Rick employs the word masterfully. In a world of so much formulaic communication, Rick issues a clarion call to the truth that comes through coherence.

Anyone in higher education should read this book, but anyone outside education (like me) can still benefit. My favorite section was the three Satellites that any organization can use to build a coherent communication plan. I recognized much that I have already incorporated in our approach to defining the culture of the organizations we work with and picked up a couple of new tips.

This updated edition was written early in the COVID-19 pandemic and has some useful thoughts for how Rick’s constituents can respond. Now that we’re nearly a year into the pandemic, it’s easy to see that he was right: there will be no return to normal. And in the new normal, one expects that Coherence will be even more important.

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.

What is FiveFour?

One of the most frequent questions I get about my new(ish) company, FiveFour is: What is FiveFour? We’re launching a new email series to answer that question, so I thought I would share it here.

FiveFour specializes in transforming businesses.

Which raises the obvious next question: “What kind of transformation are we talking about?”

Let me explain:

We help successful companies that have seen their growth start to stall or not go as fast as they would like it to. Companies who have started to see a few more disengaged employees and disgruntled customers than they are comfortable with. You know, those problems they didn’t have to worry about when the were small, and the leader wasn’t far removed from every team meeting and every customer interaction.

But you can’t just go back to the way you were doing things before. You’re a different business now and you need to create remarkable experiences for the team and the customers you have today. You need to transform your team and customer experience. That is the transformation we’re talking about.

Business today is far more than just its products and services. Increasingly, successful companies understand that their customers are looking for more than things. People value connection and personalization. We want to spend our time – and our money – on experiences, not things.

The businesses that figure this out are the ones we recommend to our family and friends. The ones we return to again and again.

Isn’t that what you want for your business? The unmatchable value of raving fans.

It isn’t easy or simple.

At FiveFour, that’s what we do.

We guide companies as they transform their culture into one committed to customer success. We get your team re-engaged so that they better engage with your customers. We get you back to growing again.

If you want to learn how your business can transform into an organization focused on customer success, sign up for our email list to ensure you don’t miss any of our important communications.

What we’re talking about takes reflection, assessment, adjustment and commitment, but only if you want to drive measurable results.

Think of us as the guides along your journey of business transformation.

P.S.: Get fresh perspective on your business with our Experience Gap Analysis. This deep dive into your employee and customer experience includes a 45-minute presentation of opportunities from one of our transformational guides. This service is normally $1,000 but are making it available to you at no charge as an introduction to FiveFour.

P.S.S: You’re probably wondering about our company name. In antiquity, the Quinquatrus (or “FiveFour”) was a celebration of the Spring Equinox – of new life and the birth of a new season of growth. The five-day celebration began with one day of festival, followed by four days of gladiator battle in the arena. This model – one-part preparation, four parts hard work – is the guiding idea behind FiveFour. We are the one day of preparation – getting you ready for the “hard work” that awaits you in the business arena.

Asking (and answering) the Ultimate Question

In the Ultimate Question, Fred Reichheld tells the story of Intuit, describing a problem that FiveFour regularly helps businesses solve. Co-founder Scott Cook had built a successful company on the mission “To make the customer feel so good about the product they’ll go and tell five friends to buy it.”

When the company was in the start-up phase, the employees learned how to fulfill that mission by observing Cook’s passion for taking care of the customer. “They could all hear him working the service phones himself, talking to customers. They could see him taking part in Intuit’s famous “follow-me-home” program, where employees asked customers if they could watch them set up the software in order to note any problems.”

But growth in the number of employees and locations made learning by following the leader impossible and “Cook was hearing more complaints [from customers] than in the past. Some market-share numbers were slipping. For lack of a good system of measurement and for the lack of the accountability that accurate measurement creates – the company seemed to be losing sight of exactly what had made it great: its relationships with its customers.”

To solve the problem, Cook started measuring customer loyalty through our favorite measurement tool: the Net Promoter Score (NPS), which asks the Ultimate Question: “How likely is it that you would recommend Company X to a friend or colleague?” Respondents score their likelihood on a scale from 1-10, with those answering 9-10 classified as promoters, 7 or 8 passives and 6 or less detractors. Your NPS is calculated by subtracting the percentage of detractors from your percentage of supporters. A positive number means you have more supporters than detractors.

While measurement is an important first step, measurement alone won’t solve the problem that Cook faced at Intuit. The challenge that leaders of growing companies face is how to scale the culture and customer experience that led to the growth to begin with.

That’s what FiveFour calls the battle for better business. We help companies capture that original vision for their culture and how the customer is cared for. But the next step is maybe the most important and what really differentiates FiveFour: we create a customized, ongoing system of learning and development that, over time, transforms the business through increased employee engagement and continuous learning.

Do you resonate with that description of Intuit? Are you noticing more customer complaints and employee disengagement? Take our assessment of your customer experience and we’ll give you some tips you can use to improve your employee and customer experience.

Want to get started measuring your NPS and eNPS (Employee Net Promoter Score)? Just email me and I will give you access to our free, online course showing you how to implement both.

Intuit was profitable and growing at the time they addressed these flaws in their employee and customer experience. But they saw that those flaws were starting to impact their growth. What happened after they addressed them? They now have an NPS of 45 and a market cap of $82 billion, which isn’t bad.

Passing the $10 million plateau

Ready, Fire, Aim started as a retreat serial entrepreneur Michael Masterson led for other entrepreneurs. He wanted to impart the lessons he had learned from a 30-year career starting and running several multi-million-dollar businesses. Later developed and expanded as a book, the subtitle states his objective; teaching the reader to take a business from “Zero to $100 Million in No Time Flat.”

The two biggest ideas in the book are the importance of action (thus, the book title) and that going from zero to $100 million encompasses four distinct stages in the life of a company. Having read the Five Second Rule, 10X, and many other books, I knew the first point well. It’s the second that I will focus on.

According to Masterson, each of the four stages of a business has different problems, challenges, and opportunities and requires different skills from the entrepreneur running the company. The stages are:

  1. Infancy ($0-1 million in revenue)
  2. Childhood ($1-10 million)
  3. Adolescence ($10 million to $50 million)
  4. Adulthood ($50 million to $100 million and beyond)

The stage that was the most interesting to me (because it faces many of the challenges my company, FiveFour, solves for business leaders at this level) is adolescence. Once a company grows to or near $10 million, the growth almost always comes with a new set of challenges.

At this size, there is at least one or two levels of management between the founder/CEO and the front-line workers who engage with the company’s customers. Those employees do not have the benefit that existed in the first two phases of business growth – proximity to the founder/CEO. Companies that reach $10 million in revenue usually do so because the founder/CEO built a culture around taking care of the customer. With multiple levels of management, they no longer talk directly to every employee and are unable to directly impart their culture and expectations of how the customer should be cared for.

The way this usually shows up in a company is through disgruntled customers. Masterson writes: “The most important disconnect has to do with the priority you had established to make sure every customer would be handled with the utmost of care and consideration.” The business is in need of a transformation. A transformation from focusing almost exclusively on customer acquisition to one that now focuses equally on customer retention. Masterson calls it customer service, but were he writing today rather than the mid-2000’s, he would likely recognize that the customer experience is even more important.

The leader accomplishes this transformation by a focus on operations and training, communicating the vision, joint ventures and hiring stars and superstars. He’s dead-on with that list, but a few of his methods are decidedly lacking. For example, to communicate the vision he advocates writing a monthly memo. To solve this communication gap that he has so accurately identified takes much more than a written letter once a month.

And it’s behind that small defect that my larger problem with the book arises. Those memos worked for him and a client of his. That’s 98% of what you get in this book: his personal experience as an entrepreneur. Masterson has no time for theory. The only time I can remember him quoting an organizational theorist was to disagree with him.

That’s not a debilitating problem and it doesn’t erase the good that comes from the book. After all, Masterson wrote it to impart what he learned from his entrepreneurial journey. But it is a limitation that the reader should be aware of. This book is just one source – a good one, but just one – and will need to be supplemented with other resources especially the further we get from the day it was written.

Measuring Human Impressions

My recent post Elephants Don’t Bite was about companies focusing on big things, like the strategic plan or the latest marketing campaign (the elephants), came at expense of the little things, like answering the phone or greeting the customer at the front desk (the mosquitoes) and it’s the latter that can kill you.

In Marketing Rebellion, Mark Schaefer explains why that happens:

We see our foundations of command and control marketing collapsing before our eyes. There are no more lies. There are no more secrets. There is no more control. For more than a century, we’ve built our greatest brands – like Ivory – through an accumulation of advertising impressions. But to survive this final rebellion, companies and brands must be built through an accumulation of human impressions. That is the only thing we trust. That is the only thing that matters.

That’s why the subtitle of Schaefer’s book is “The Most Human Company Wins.” This is also why my company, FiveFour, helps our clients get their customer experience right before we start marketing. The job of marketing is to get a logical prospect to try your company once. It’s the job of your customer experience to get them to come back.

But even marketing is becoming mostly about your customer experience. Writes Schaefer:

Two thirds of the touch points during the evaluation phase of a purchase involve human-driven marketing activities like internet reviews, social media conversations and word-of-mouth recommendations from friends, family and online experts…Two thirds of your marketing is not your marketing.

If human impressions are the most relevant advertising metric, how are yours? Do they create and keep customers? Do you measure them with something like the Net Promoter Score?

Who am I? Why am I here?

It’s that line, spoken in the 1992 Vice Presidential Debate, that made Admiral James Stockdale, famous. But it’s an obvious question. What am I planning to do here on this site? Why start a blog in 2020. I thought those were so 2002?

Nathan Schock preparing to teach Sunday School
Nathan preparing to teach Sunday School

If you know me, you know that I’m a life-long learner. In fact, that’s an understatement. I’m President & COO of FiveFour, a training company where I’m constantly learning, teaching and creating training content for the development of our many clients.

But learning is more than just my occupation. It’s part of my faith (the picture here is of me preparing to teach Sunday school) and my hobby. I also read novels at night in an (often futile) attempt to settle my brain for sleep.

For the past seven years, I’ve read at least a book a week. Two years ago, I increased that to two books per week and last year it was three. If you want to know what I’m reading, check my out on Goodreads.

Those books, along with the many articles and podcasts I consume on a regular basis, and the things I learn running two companies, will form the cornerstone of the content I post here. If you love to learn, you’ve come to the right place. I hope you’ll hang out for a while. And come back.