By: Stan Walz, Chief Executive Officer
One of the simplest and most important things business leaders can do is to genuinely, and intensely, focus on the missions of their clients. It may be obvious that part of the requirement to fulfill any service support contract is to respond to the mission support needs of the client…but that is not the same thing as creating an atmosphere of dedication to their mission success. Creating this atmosphere starts at the very top of the organization and should permeate all levels and be palpable as part of the company’s culture or ethos. Here are some of the reasons why focusing on your client’s mission is a key to success:
With no additional cost. It is an amazing fact that by energizing your team and staff to actually deeply care about the mission of the client, you can establish a key discriminator by regularly and routinely exceeding client expectations. The “secret sauce,” simply stated, is individual and team motivation. Creating the desire within individuals on the team to really care about their client, rather than simply going through the motions and delivering baseline requirements, involves constant attention by senior leadership and middle management. It must be obvious to everyone in the firm that this aspect of delivery (laser focus on the client’s mission) is “who we are.” Leaders at all levels, especially those closest to the point of delivery to the client, must know that this is what is valued most. It’s challenging but very rewarding.
Become Part of the Client’s Team
It becomes quickly obvious to clients when a support contractor is really an intrinsic part of their organization and contributing to their mission success; of course, the opposite is true as well. So, by creating a culture of “mission focus” at all levels you actually create a brand as a high-performing delivery organization. This is every bit as important inside your organization as it is externally for your clients. Your staff and teammates need to observe genuine zeal on the part of leadership, which then flows vertically and horizontally across the firm. An important feature of creating this culture is that it can’t be faked. Your clients will see the dedication and focus when it is really there and it’s obvious that your team cares about their mission; and they’ll see feigned interest just as clearly.
Subtle “Thought Leadership” Engagement
Once your team is really part of their team, it will often happen that because of your technical expertise and genuine interest in helping your client, you will have ideas for mission delivery improvement that go beyond the basic contract requirements. Working as part of the larger team, these ideas and opportunities can become part of an expanded solution set, especially when they are coaxed out of the team (both client and contractor).
In essence, you’ll be providing thought leadership that will be embraced by your client because it’s theirs as well as yours. It’s my experience that no one likes the “pros from Dover.” I recently saw a comic strip on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal that went like this: Two executives, suited up, are standing in the board room…one says to the other, “Should we just flip a coin, or should we hire some consultants and have them flip a coin.” When you call out thought leadership as part of your offerings, it may not be well received…just flip a coin. On the other hand, if your client notes that you have helped them with thought leadership…well, then you won’t need the coin.
It turns out that the vast majority of employees prefer meaningful work. They spend countless hours at work, and if the time spent is focused on the mission, then they are participating in something larger than themselves, and they get to feel very good about their participation. Making it clear during the early interview stages while recruiting new staff that the company culture is steeped in the mission focus of your clients provides direct benefits to the enterprise.
First, if there is a less-than-enthusiastic response to this idea, then you have an early warning of potential misalignment. On the other hand, if you observe quick, genuine, passionate interest, you may use this opportunity to cajole recruits in your direction, even when the competition is offering better compensation packages. It’s important to note that job satisfaction associated with meaningful work and being associated with a winning team supporting the client’s mission success, is a part of the compensation package. Happiness and job satisfaction have an awful lot to do with how people feel about themselves.
Create High Performing Teams
The more employees are seriously focused on the client’s mission, the more likely and willing they are to add value to the overall team. This means being part of the client’s team and a key part of their organization, while at the same time providing enhanced cooperation and support to the company’s staff. The investment on the part of the company’s leadership to make this a reality is less about dollars and more about taking the time and energy to create the culture. All cultures involve a set of collective traits that are, in essence, believed to be true by those within the culture.
To motivate staff to believe that the culture being aspired to is “true,” it needs to be actually and observably being lived within that culture. That’s at all levels. Again, it can’t be faked, it has to be easily observable to all. Focusing on the company’s culture at leadership offsite events is a great way to ensure that the company’s leadership team understands how critical the mission focus ethos is to the firm. Working the message down and across the organization should be part of everyday management.
The Return on Investment
What you’ll be investing is mostly time, energy, enthusiasm, and dedication to your client’s mission, which must then reverberate throughout your organization. What you’ll get in return are clients that value your contribution and see your dedication to their mission success as a discriminator in future competitions. Your current employees will enjoy much more meaningful work and “make a difference while they’re making a living.” You will likely enjoy increased staff retention. Your ability to recruit dedicated employees and teammates will be enhanced.
Note that many people value the quality of the job every bit as much as the quality/quantity of the compensation package. You and your direct reports will get to feel good about what you do. You’ll be able to work with your leadership team through both the tough and flush times. You’ll get to feel good about what you do and how you do it. An incredibly high ROI.