By Marc Cox- Over the years I have become increasingly interested in company culture and 12 years ago I founded The Company Spirit. Nowadays I get hired by CEO’s and Leadership Teams from all around the world, including the USA, to help them understand what their company stands for and what makes it different. To do this I help them create an authentic set of values, sense of purpose and beliefs which their employees get, and customers feel. This is what I call the Company Spirit.
When I started my company, part of what made my approach different was the use of the word love. It was very polarizing with a lot of senior people seeing it as a very soft and fluffy idea and nothing to do with business. So to help me overcome these objections, I set about creating a business case for why love was important. I have now used this with my clients over the last decade and ultimately led me to the writing of my book. Visit https://www.thecompanyspirit.com/ for more information.
My start point was my own experiences and observations. Which companies did I love and why? The more I looked into this, the more it seemed to me that these companies, both big and small, and regardless of category, behaved in a different way. They worked hard with their employees to engage them around a clear sense of purpose and company culture. They were proud and confident of what made the company different and they all had the mindset of wanting to create a memorable customer experience. These companies seemed to have a winning approach and right for the times we lived in post 2008, whilst many others were losing their appeal.
In simple terms it became clear to me that if a company wants to have a strong and emotional relationship with their customers it needs to do the same with their employees. When this happens employees who love what they do, normally care more and are more productive. Whilst customers who really do love the experience are more than happy to tell others. The company gets bragged about and their business grows in a sustainable way.
This is what I mean by the business case for love.
So why does love matter in business, and why will this be even more important as a consequence of Covid-19?
In my work, I always start by asking people to talk about a customer experience they love and why? Over the years 100’s if not thousands of people from a variety of countries , companies, jobs and ages have given their own answer. The types of companies and experiences mentioned varied greatly. Everything from major global brands to the local independent store, the latest app, restaurant or even favorite sports team.
The reasons given are always a mixture of what I call ‘Heart and Head’. A strong emotional connection balanced with practicality, such as ease of use or a consistent experience every time.
What has become more pronounced over the years is that as customers we want the companies we are loyal to, and spend money with, to have a clear set of values, which are lived by the employees. After all why spend money or do business with a company where the staff do not care or believe in the company they work for?
In parallel to this, something else has changed.
Partly as a consequence of the breakdown in trust in many of our well known companies, particularly banks and other financial organizations since the Financial Armageddon of 2008. Partly as a result of the frequent appearance on the ‘front pages’ of our media by Business and CEO’s for bad, sometimes criminal behavior.
Today, the vast majority of employees I have come across, wherever they are in the world, really want to feel proud of the company they work for. They want it to have a clear set of ethics and a strong authentic company culture. They want to trust what it does and says. They increasingly reject working in a toxic culture with narcissistic leadership. An attitude that is particularly strongly felt amongst millennials and even more so amongst Generation Z.
What has also struck me is that these very same companies who are loved almost always aspire to behave as ‘best in class’ Company. To be the best at what they do. Yet, the majority of companies do not have the same level of ambition. Instead they become obsessed by being ‘best in category’ and spend all of their time comparing themselves with how they are doing vs their immediate competition.
Knowing what your competitors are up to is good, but if that is all the company does it creates a very narrow frame of reference. It breeds complacency, a lack of ambition and little to no innovation. Perhaps that is why so many customer experiences feel the same.?
The trouble is, as customers we do not think like that. We have this Rolodex of experiences in our head and judge what we feel and what we think against that. Back in the day when we were allowed to fly in Europe we would judge that experience not just against other airlines but how it fared vs the last trip to the Apple store, the on-line chat with the energy supplier or the ease of use of our favorite shopping app.
So what does it take to be a ‘best in class’ company?
Through a combination of my own experiences as a customer, observations about how winning companies behave and, most importantly listening to the comments and opinions of the hundreds of people I have worked with, I have come to the conclusion there are six. I write about each one in some depth within my book and here is the headline summary.
(Get really clear on what the company stands for and what makes it different. Then say what you do and do what you say)
(Get out from behind the desk and be out: not in. Be curious, talk listen and understand what people are thinking and how people live their lives)
(the confidence to have new ideas but the discipline to make sure what the company does fits with what the company stands for)
(the more people listen, the more insights they will get and the more ideas they will have. Bring them to life)
(start with the customer experience you want to create and work backwards to the product offer)
(recruit for cultural fit, not just skills)
None of these six are difficult to do. They apply to any company and any category. They are, after all, largely a mindset.
In normal times all are important in helping a company be loved by its employees and customers.
In the time of the Covid-19 they are crucial in helping a company navigate through this pandemic and be seen as a ‘hero’ not a ‘villain’ or a “predator’.
They are fundamental to helping a company get bragged about today.