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The day you became a better organization

Our world is full of organizations, for-profit and nonprofit, providing a broad array of products and services. When I notice how product/service-centric their focus often is it this leads me to classify them as vendors: a person or company offering something for sale. They provide a product or service to a group of people to satisfy a need or craving. The thing about a product-centric focus is it by default begins and ends with a transaction: purchasing the cup of coffee, downloading and using a piece of software or fulfilling a request a client makes of you. In his book Setting the Table, Danny Meyer talks about the distinction between service and hospitality through the restaurant industry,

“Service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes its recipient feel… When you are seated at the precise time of your reservation at the exact table and with the waiter you requested, that is a reflection of good service. When the right food is delivered to the right person at the right table at the right temperature at the right time - that's service… But hospitality, which distinguishes our restaurants is the sum of all the thoughtful, caring, gracious things our staff does to make you feel we are on your side when you are dining with us."

In business we can become so focused on performing the operation, we can lose sight of whowe are doing it for and why we are doing it in the first place. In Meyer's restaurant world, the peril of maintaining a service-centric approach is at some point someone else is bound to at least briefly win a client’s attention based on a novel offering or better price. This has always been the case but our connected economy means one thing for vendors, a replacement or substitute is almost always an internet search or friend recommendation away. As a vendor, your focus is on keeping the product top-of-mind and in tip-top shape. While this is important in business, there is a whole other level this can miss as is pointed out in The Trusted Advisor, “while most providers sell on the basis of technical competence, most buyers buy on the basis of emotion.” We can lose sight of the fact that the client doesn’t just want a great tasting meal, they want a satisfying experience.

How do you begin to cross the chasm from technical service provider to rich emotional experience provider? What if you could transition from vendor into a tribe (TED link)? When this happens, you transform from an organization that people buy from into one that people also buy-into?

The day you became a better organization is the one in which your values transitioned from statements on a wall or Powerpoint into the way you practice business on the front lines and in the back office. When your values inform your company’s direction rather than occasionally get in the way of how you operate.

Over and over again I reflect on the words a friend once said to me, “business has never changed this fast and it will never be this slow again.” In this connected era our business offerings at time have to be able to change quickly but in the process of changing quickly, if we are grounded in our values, it helps ground us in what we stand for, how we operate and serve as a litmus test to ensure we are not simply changing for change sake. As the Society for Human Resource Management says, "Strongly held value-systems rarely change yet remain flexible to handle changes in strategy or outside influences such as competition or the economy. A strongly held values-based culture or purpose will remain more stable over time characterized by productivity and employee commitment."

The day you became a better organization is one in which you saw beyond your product and stepped into purpose. This is a vulnerable space because most businesses tend not to speak about why they do things in convicted, fervent terms. But if you step back for a minute and think about people and organizations you admire, chances are you’re thinking about them this manner.

In her New York Times best selling book Dare to Lead, Brené Brown speaks of her experience working with organizations all around the world saying, “only about 10% of organizations have operationalized their values into teachable and observable behaviors that are used to train their employees and hold them accountable”. If you are looking for a way to become a better (and different) organization from your competition, activating your values is a key and courageous way to do so.

Go Forth Boldly

p.s. A hat tip to Scott Adams for his piece, “The day you became a better writer”, which served as a template for this and motivates me as a writer.

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