Business Owners . . . Know Your Excellence!

Selling your why is really about selling your excellence.   The sale of your unique IP.   The zing that makes you different.   Your excellence is the reason people keep coming back.

So the poignant question in any business operation, whether small or large, is what makes it excellent?

Can the business with absolute clarity determine the elements that separate it from its competitors?   Can management codify those very elements that take the business from being ordinary to extraordinary?

Let’s look at Apple as an example.   When Steve Jobs returned as CEO in 1997, he addressed all members of his senior management to rectify the consecutive monthly losses that Apple was enduring at the time of his return[i].

Jobs was determined to ensure that the public understood what Apple stood for.   It was his goal to re-instate in the mind of his senior executive team the essence of Apple’s excellence.    In that meeting, he emphasised that Apple was not about making boxes to get people’s jobs done.   In quick summary, Jobs’ thesis was as follows:

We have to be really clear on what we want people to know about us.  

Our customers want to know who is Apple and where we fit in this world.

Apple’s core value is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better.   

Those people crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do.  

In the above statements, there is no mention of high tech computing.   There is only discussion about creating great change.   There is an acknowledgement that crazy people have an ability to change things for the better.   Jobs cleverly peeled the brand back to its fundamentals – to its why.   And we know it worked – history has shown us that he brought Apple back from the brink of bankruptcy to a company today with massive cash reserves[ii].

To better understand the comments made by Jobs, let’s look at them through the eyes of a business owner under the following scenario:

Take a step back.   Pretend for a moment that you have been away from your company for years.   You have been called back in to save it from a disastrous end.  

You look across the wreck that was once a thriving business enterprise.   And you wonder how it all went so terribly wrong.   Where and how did it lose its way?  

On your shoulders, under your command, the business was reaching for the stars.   You realise that it was your vision, your leadership, your IP that allowed the business to navigate its way to extraordinary success.   

It was after your departure that saw things change for the worse.   At first its decline was slow.   As time went by, without you at the helm, the ship lost its course, bobbing like a cork in the ocean without a compass, mast or lifeboat.   

You now know that in your absence the business focused on its what.   Further examination reveals that the business placed great emphasis on its how.   Little to no time was placed on its why.  

Your salvage team reports that no attention was given to customer feedback.   Balance sheets were the key driver.   Management paid great attention to the bottom line and little attention to the relationship that the business shared with its market.  

In your examination of the wreck, you realise that at the beginning you and your team grounded the business on a sound yet simple philosophy.    The philosophy was based on a customer centric approach.   In previous roles before starting the business you had realised that your market space paid little attention to the demands of the ultimate consumer.   

It was your aim, it was your aspiration to build a company that gave the customer a voice amongst the noise and chaos of what was a crowded market place.  The practise of this aim gave you great speed, speed that saw you adopt practises that provided exceptional service to the customer.

Your willingness to listen to your customers, your ability to incorporate their needs into your products gave you an advantage that saw your competitors unable to compete.  You became the market leader.   You left and the company became complacent.

Management stopped engaging with the customer.   The customer relationship team, a crucial instrument in your success was axed from the company only months after your departure.   It was said that the bottom line looked more favourable and appealing to shareholders with its axing.   In this one act, management lost its eyes and ears.   It could no longer hear, see and appreciate the requirements of the customer.   It was then only a matter of time before the ship started to sink. 

You understand that it is important to never lose sight of the why.   By exposing the why to senior management, you are able to provide an outline of the core values of the business.   They nod and utter agreement with your words and welcome you back.   They see that their fortunes will be changing for the better with their newfound enlightenment.

Excellence is found in the core values of any business enterprise.   These core values represent the unique IP of the business.

Each staff member, on his or her induction should be lectured and educated on these values.   Existing staff members should reminded of them and all staff members should implement them on a daily basis.   Core values underpin your brand.   They dictate why you do what you do and they must govern your day to day interaction with your customers.

So take a step back.  Think about your core values.  Think about why you started your business and set about developing a set of core values that represent your WHY!   Your excellence as a business will reveal itself in the process and it will no longer be hidden from those who need to see and understand it most – your employees!


[i] In 1997, Apple shares traded for barely a couple of dollars.  Today, Apple stock is over $430 a share.

[ii] Apple today remains one of the most valuable companies in the US with a market value of over $400bn.   Exxon Mobil Corp recently overtook Apple in the most valuable stake in January 2013.  Exxon became the most valuable US company with a value of over $410bn.