When you first started your small business, you may have had few to no employees and a limited product line. While no one wants to stay in startup mode forever, it can be easier to maintain a focused company during those early stages of development.
But as your business grows, keeping that focus can become increasingly difficult. Now, you may have multiple employees or even multiple teams. There’s a good chance that your products and services will have slowly expanded over time. And you may even have multiple locations.
All of that growth can be exciting. But it can also lead to complexity and a lack of clarity. Perhaps you feel like you’re endlessly running in “putting out fires” mode, which prevents you (and your team) from focusing on bigger picture issues.
Overcome these growing pains by defining your company mission and values, aligning your product with the mission, treating your employees well, and encouraging collaboration. These steps lead down the path to a focused company.
1. Define Your Company’s Mission, Vision, And Core Values
Building a focused company starts with giving you and your employees something to focus on in the first place. That’s why clearly defining your company’s mission, vision, and core values is so important.
The terms “mission,” “vision,” and “core values” are sometimes used interchangeably, but they each have slightly different meanings.
- Mission: The core reason why your business exists.
- Vision: What you hope your business will become.
- Core Values: The key principles that guide your small business.
Businesses are free to give these things different names. For example, Ford refers to its mission as its “purpose,” its vision as its “aspiration” and core values as “truths.” But, however, you name them, you need all three. For example, here are the statements that Ford uses to bring focus to its business.
Our purpose: To drive human progress through freedom of movement
Our aspiration: To become the world’s most trusted company
- Put people first
- Do the right thing
- Be curious
- Create tomorrow
- Built Ford tough
- Play to win
- One Ford
What I love about Ford’s mission and vision statements is that they’re short and easy to memorize. And they include just enough core values to thoroughly define their corporate culture, without getting wordy and hard to remember.
Once you’ve defined your mission, vision, and core values, communicate them often. Consider displaying them prominently within your company facilities. Do whatever you can to make it clear that these aren’t just “words.” This is what your company is all about through and through.
2. Align Your Products And Policies With Your Mission, Vision, And Values
Now that you’ve defined your company’s focus, you need to carefully examine all your products and services to make sure they fit the kind of business you hope to build. For example, if you’re in retail business and you set “Do the right thing” as one of your company’s core values, it would probably be a good idea to have a very generous product return policy.
Your company values can also help you decide which policies or products to stay away from or eliminate. For example, one of Aldi’s core values is “simplicity.” That core value has led them to offer only one to two brands per grocery item and to run scaled-down staff. This completely fits with their brand and allows them to offer some of the lowest prices available on many grocery items.
Publix, on the other hand, says that its mission is to be the “premier food quality retailer in the world.” They’ve built a tremendous reputation for going above and beyond to provide fantastic customer service. So Publix’s leadership would be unwise to follow some of Aldi’s “simple” practices. It just doesn’t fit who they are and what they’re all about.
3. Treat Your Employees the Way You Want Them To Treat Your Customers
Recently Away Luggage was the focus of an investigation and scandal conducted by The Verge in cooperation with several Away employees.
What The Verge uncovered was rampant employee abuse, especially from Away’s CEO Steph Korey.
Korey would relentlessly berate employees for how they handled customer service interactions, would refuse to grant time off and would require that employees come into the office during holidays.
But the irony of it all was that Korey constantly defended her unreasonable expectations and employee treatment by reminding employees of Away’s core values: thoughtful, customer-obsessed, iterative, empowered, accessible, in it together.
In other words, because Away promised to be “thoughtful” and “customer-obsessed,” it made it ok for her to treat her employees with disrespect and a complete lack of thoughtfulness. Do you see the disconnect? Yeah, the employees did too. This led to a completely toxic work environment.
Lead By Example
Yet while it’s easy to criticize an easy target like Korey, we can all find ourselves guilty of workplace hypocrisy. But if you want your employees to treat your customers with respect, that’s exactly how you need to treat your employees.
The experience employees have with your company is a large factor in how they perceive the value you, as the owner, intend for your company to provide. It is difficult to convince your employees that your company provides the “premier” experience for your market when they are using inadequate equipment to complete their work.
Teach your employees to recognize opportunities to improve the experience for customers by making improvements to their overall employee experience. When your employees expect a great experience, they become more aware of when your company fails to meet that bar.
Check out what the online mattress retailer Tuft & Needle had to say to Forrester about how they create a Customer Experience focused culture:
4. Encourage Collaboration Rather Than Competition Within Your Team
In my town, there’s a mom-and-pop Chinese restaurant that does absolutely killer business. Even with a less-than-ideal location, they’re always packed and there’s usually a wait.
And in addition to having amazing food, they’re known for having an incredibly attentive waiting staff. But what’s so interesting is that waiters aren’t assigned to one particular table. Instead, the entire wait staff works as a team and they all share the tips at the end of the day.
The result? Blazing fast service! As soon as you finish the last sip of your drink, someone is rushing over to refill it. When you need something? All you need to do is flag down the nearest employee. No need to wait for your waiter or waitress to emerge from the kitchen. The customer experience is fantastic.
So what that Chinese restaurant has done is take a traditionally individual task and turned into a collaborative, team-oriented task. Everyone is incentivized to work together to provide great service because it will impact all of their bottom lines. Could you come up with similar ideas for your own business?
Most businesses struggle woefully in this area by tying pay and bonuses to individual performances. But small business owners would be wise to take a different approach. In a recent study of over 1,100 companies by i4CP, it was found that high-performing companies were 5.5 times more likely to incentivize collaboration.
How you decide to incentive your employees to collaborate is completely up to you. In a recent Forbes article, it was shown that Pepsi bases 40% of an employee’s annual bonus on how they’ve helped fellow employees. But DigitalOcean chooses to give employees non-monetary gifts like Kindles instead. Feel free to get creative with the incentives that you choose!
Fighting Against “Island” Mentalities
As your team starts to grow, one of the things you’ll need to combat against is your various teams becoming “silos” or “islands.”
When this happens, teams become insular, each having their own unconnected tasks and goals. At times, the members of one team don’t even know what the others are working on. And teams can become territorial, even sabotaging the work of other teams in order to make their own team look better.
These kinds of attitudes and behaviors are absolutely cancerous to a team! To avoid these kinds of situations, periodically hold “all-hands” meetings, where everyone can get on the same page. And try to tie compensation and bonus packages to the overall growth of the business whenever possible.
5. Ask For Customer And Employee Feedback
I can guarantee that your customers and employees have opinions about your business. But most people won’t share those opinions unless you ask for them.
How To Get Quality Customer Feedback
It’s important to create systems that make it easy to receive regular feedback from your customers. Here are three ideas:
- Email Surveys: Periodically send out a quick survey to your customers to find out what they love (and don’t love) about your service.
- Social Media Polls: Struggling between two product ideas and not sure which one to choose? Why not put up a poll on Facebook or Twitter that gives your customers an opportunity to weigh in?
- Business Listings on Review Sites: Create a Google My Business account so that your customers can leave their opinions and reviews about your business. And, depending on your business type, you may want to create Yelp and TripAdvisor business listings as well.
Once you’ve created the channels to receive customer feedback, be sure to monitor those channels on a regular basis. And if multiple customers bring up the same issue, work quickly to find a solution. Some of your best product improvements or new services may come as a result of customer feedback.
How To Get Quality Employee Feedback
When it comes to your team, it’s not enough to just ask for feedback. Your teams need to really believe that you care about their thoughts and opinions. If your employees know that any time they mention an idea, you just ignore it (or spend ten minutes explaining how they’re wrong), they’ll eventually just stop sharing.
It’s also important to point out that even if you have a reputation for welcoming feedback, some employees may still be too nervous to share their true opinions. That’s why you may want to consider sending out anonymous surveys to your team once or twice per year.
As a small business owner, it’s easy to get so busy with top-level issues that you don’t know what’s really happening “in the trenches” of your company. But honest feedback from your team can help you identify your blind spots and work to address them.
6. Leverage Accounting Tools To Discover Trends And Opportunities
While customer feedback and employee feedback are both important, there comes a point where the “proof is in the pudding.” Your customers may “say” they love a product. But if it’s not selling, then your customers are indirectly telling how they really feel about it.
You may think that a product or service ties in perfectly to your vision. But if your accounting tools shows that it’s not working, then one of three things needs to happen.
- The products or service needs to be improved, OR
- It needs to be marketed more effectively, OR
- It needs to be eliminated.
Your accounting tools can also show you areas that deserve more attention and capital. For instance, if one product or service has had increased sales for 3 months in a row, then that could be a sign that there’s a market trend brewing. And by paying close attention to your financials, you can react quickly to the opportunity.
Focusing on the bottom line may sound a bit ruthless. But remember, when your products and services are doing well, everyone wins–you, the customer, and your employees. So keep a close eye on the financial performance of each area of your business and stay nimble enough to react quickly to marketplace trends.
Wrapping It Up
You can keep a focused company, even as your products, services, and team grows. But it starts with a top-down focus on what really matters to your business and truly valuing the input of your customers and employees.