The days of leadership without engagement are gone. With interactive social media and video everywhere, everyone needs to feel they have a relationship with their leaders, and every brand needs leader personification for customers to relate. Soon you won’t be able to name a business as one of your favorites if you can’t personally visualize and relate to company leadership.
In the same way, great entrepreneurs and company leaders should no longer rely on faceless and nameless processes to drive business strategy and innovation to stay competitive. The old way doesn’t work and results, more than ever, in slow decision-making, lack of real connection with employees, and ignorance of what customers really want.
The new principles of engagement, as well as the dysfunctions of the old, are well illustrated in the insightful classic book, “Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami?” by Steven D. Goldstein. He speaks from a wealth of personal experience in private equity, as well as top executive positions at American Express, Sears, and Citigroup.
He found the dysfunctional engagement that sent snow blowers to his store in Miami every year. As a result of this incident and many others, he defined five key engagement principles which resonate with me as just as relevant for new business founders as mature business executives. Here is my adaptation of his engagement principles for all the aspiring entrepreneurs I advise:
- Learn to adopt an outsider’s perspective. Every entrepreneur, even though confident in his domain, needs to fight complacency in a world that changes almost daily. You need to look at everything through fresh eyes, continually ask questions not usually asked, and actively listen to contrary views. No change means you are falling behind as a leader.
- Interact with employees and customers on a regular basis. Authentic communication at all levels and encouraging feedback is how you find out what is really going on. More meetings in your conference room won’t get to the truth as well as simply talking to people who interact with customers directly. Never be too busy to talk to real customers.
- Focus on two or three pertinent metrics in any situation. Keeping it simple is the best course. No one can remember your top ten priorities and measurements. Unbundle projects into smaller elements, and personalize the top couple of metrics for each team. These simplified targets are crucial to motivating a team and getting the focus you need.
- Help people know more, so they can do their job better. Knowledge is power, and good information flow and collection tools are of the utmost importance. Information that is relevant and timely needs to be shared widely and efficiently. It’s also important to share the evaluation insights and to tie the next action steps directly to current results.
- Accept that whatever speed you are going is too slow. Time is the enemy in today’s global marketplace. Follow the guiding motto of Andy Grove at Intel, “Only the paranoid survive.” It’s vital to get quick wins, learn rapidly from failures, and get comfortable with constant change. Waiting is never an option, as competitors will always be moving.
In the same fashion, these engagement principles must be applied to customers. More and more, I see evidence that customers want to be pulled to your company by engagement, rather than feel that you are pushing yourself on them. There is a multitude of opportunities through social media to engage your customers, as well as getting out of your office into the marketplace.
Customer business leadership through brand icons, such as Ronald McDonald and Aunt Jemima, is fading fast. Customers, as well as employees, want to relate and engage with real people as leaders, and business leaders need to interact with real employees and customers to stay vital and current.
As an entrepreneur, you need to start this focus early, with the same passion you currently apply to your new idea and solution. Have you taken a hard look recently at where you are spending most of your time?