John Spence has spent decades helping business owners and managers cut through the clutter to determine the core ingredients for creating and sustaining a successful organization.  John is coming through Alberta this month  to present his simple but powerful message to hundreds of business owners and leaders.

In his book Awesomely Simple, Spence helps you take a hard look at your business and evaluate how it is doing in a number of critical areas that drive lasting success. Based on the author’s work with thousands of organizations (including GE, Microsoft, and Abbot Labs), every organization, no matter its size or sector, must excel in the following “Six Principles of Business Success”:

  • Vivid Vision
  • Best People
  • Robust Communication
  • Sense of Urgency
  • Disciplined Execution
  • Extreme Customer Focus

These principles may appear simple and straightforward, but applying them is not easy. They require leaders who are passionate about their business and its success, persistent in their approach, willing to practice these disciplines, and have a perspective to see patterns and trends that others do not. If you are one of these leaders, or want to be, read on.

Vivid Vision

Whether you lead two people or two thousand, it is critical that you have a clear, compelling, and extremely well-communicated vision of where the organization is headed and what it stands for. The mission (or purpose) is why the company exists, and its core values are the guidelines for behavior. The vision (BHAG*) provides a vivid description of where the company will be in the future.

The key to Mission, Values, and Vision (MVV) is not just creating them, but communicating and applying them throughout the organization. Engage as many senior leaders as possible in the initial stages of developing your MVV before rolling it out to the rest of the employee population for discussion and feedback. The concept of “Those who plan the battle, don’t battle the plan” is paramount here. Ideas for bringing your MVV to life in your organization include:

  • Ensuring that your leaders clearly understand and model the appropriate core values and behaviors. They need to be passionate about the organization’s MVV. It’s amazing how much of a positive impact this will have on existing employees.
  • Using MVV in the recruiting process by creating specific interview questions to assess alignment and guarantee a fit between the candidate and the business culture. Keep in mind that the most desirable new employees are looking to see an exciting, growth-oriented business that they can “go to the bank” on.
  • Making sure that the MVV is visible throughout the organization by putting plaques and posters in areas where both employees and customers can easily see them. Although this is an important aspect of ensuring visibility, the real value is achieved when the behaviors of everyone in the business are aligned.

Best People

The success of your business is directly tied to the quality of the people you have on your team. Many companies say, “Our people are our most important asset,” but very few have put in place a system to make talent management a key strategic advantage. With the right people in the right culture, success and profitability will result.

Attracting, developing, and retaining talent is a strategic commitment that will take time and effort. Leaders need to maintain a roster of great people for every position, whether the position is currently vacant or not. Talk to people now who may fill a job in three to five years, and spend time keeping in touch with these individuals. This is your “virtual bench.” You will rarely find the best candidates for positions in your organization through job boards and headhunters.

Hiring the best talent is not enough. Once hired, people need to be highly engaged in the organization. Engaged employees are the single greatest driver of customer satisfaction, loyalty, and overall company success. A recent Gallup survey in North America found that over 70% of employees are disengaged – how does your organization stack up?

Robust Communication

The larger the organization, the more complex the communication channels. Communication breaks down in many companies at two levels – inter-personally and organizationally.

Strong interpersonal communication involves open dialog, good rapport, active listening, awareness of body language, and a willingness to engage in constructive conflict. Constructive conflict is difficult, and it requires courage and honesty. If you are not willing to hear things that may be counter to your philosophy and approach, and then make the necessary changes, you are not ready for constructive conflict.

Robust communication at an organizational level builds from the interpersonal. Leaders must model strong interpersonal communication skills, while being authentic and brutally honest in confronting reality and communicating the decisions and strategies for moving forward. You need to create an environment where people are not afraid to voice their opinions and concerns. A weekly meeting rhythm, with a focus on priorities and metrics, will provide the platform for effective communication. In addition, team members will hold each other accountable for delivering on their promises when they are required to give progress reports on a routine basis.

Sense of Urgency

In business today, speed rules. If you cannot move quickly, the competition will – not to mention that customers hate waiting and are becoming used to instant responses. Speed often requires making decisions in an environment of imperfect information. To make good decisions, data must flow easily within the organization. There can be no hoarding of knowledge; it must move without friction.

Intended results or outcomes must be understood. Clear roles and responsibilities for each position in the organization need to be documented and agreed upon with all employees. All employees should have at least one metric that they are tracking that tells them, and other team members, whether they are succeeding in their roles.

With these components, all employees can make decisions about their priorities: deciding what to do and, more importantly, what NOT to do.

Disciplined Execution

According to Harvard Business School professor Robert Kaplan, many companies have grand ambitions, but only about 10% of businesses can effectively execute on their strategic priorities in a disciplined and thorough manner. Urgency and discipline can exist together and must be balanced.

Disciplined execution requires:

  • Systems and processes that align with strategic goals.
  • Individual objectives that tie strongly to corporate objectives.
  • Mechanisms for continuous improvement or innovation of processes.
  • Resources, tools, and training in order for people to perform well in their roles.

Think about how powerful it is when every employee in your organization has one or two priorities per week that support the strategic direction of their team or the company. It is amazing how many important business issues and opportunities can be addressed when everyone is executing effectively.

Extreme Customer Focus

At the end of the day, the only critic whose opinion counts is the customer, and the company that owns the “voice of the customer” owns the marketplace and will outpace the competition. Know the “moments of truth” for your clients – what are the key points where the customer interfaces with your company? Determine how to make each of these moments a highly satisfying interaction, and recognize that frontline employees are typically the most important element of these contacts.
Survey your customers on an ongoing basis to ensure that you are meeting or exceeding their expectations. At a minimum, show up on time, keep your promises, be extremely polite, and give a little more than is expected.

What Do You Do Now?

John Spence captured the essence of what an organization needs to focus on to drive success in his book Awesomely Simple. By implementing these Six Principles of Business Success, you will position your company for enduring success. Keep it simple and make it happen.