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The first job of 2017

 16 January 2017     Donald Cooper 

Managing any business today is tough and it’s getting tougher. We are all faced with more demanding customers, more and stronger competition, increased complexity and shrinking margins. On top of that, great staff members are hard to find and harder to keep. That’s another problem won’t go away any time soon.

Every industry is over-served and under-differentiated. To thrive we must create, deliver and communicate extraordinary customer value and experiences that clearly differentiate us from our competitors, make us ‘famous’ and grow our bottom line. Mediocrity is no longer an option – in fact, it’s hasn’t been for quite some time.

In spite of what anyone tells you, whether your business is large or small or just getting started, your first and most important job is creating clarity. This is something nobody talks about that. If we, as a business, don’t know clearly ‘who’ we are, where we’re going and what we stand for; how will our target customers know?  How can we be focused? How will we know what talent we need to attract, develop and retain to make it all happen?

Clarity always starts at the top so, as owners, leaders or managers, our first job is to be clear about these eight things:

Who our target customers are and what is life really like for them?

The compelling customer value and experience we commit to deliver – values and experiences that will ‘grab’ our target customers, clearly differentiate us from our competitors, make us ‘famous’ and grow our bottom line.

How we’ll communicate our compelling value story in a crowded and cynical market. There’s no point being the best if we’re also the best kept secret.

What we commit to become to be a profitable and responsible market leader in three to five years (our vision).  How will our business be different from what and who we are today?

The extraordinary bottom line we commit to generate – without a healthy bottom line, there is no business.

The specific decisions, actions and improvements we must take year by year, (our annual mission) in every part of the business to get us to our three to five year vision. How might parts of our business model have to change to keep us relevant?

The talent, team, and organizational structure we need to create – and how we must grow as leaders to make this happen.

How we commit to behave along the way (our values, ethics, culture and standards). One of the most important roles of our leaders is to guard the integrity of the business.

Most businesses lack this kind of clarity and it’s hurting them badly.

So, how do you get started on improving clarity in your business?  Clarity, commitment, urgency and accountability start with you and filter all the way down the team through communication, daily example, rewards for performance and consequences for non-performance. If you as an owner, leader or manager are not clear about each of these eight key factors, who else in the business could be?

As the business owner, leader or manager and using a scale of one to ten – with ten being ‘very clear’ – take a moment to realistically rate your personal clarity on each of these eight key success factors?  And, how clear are your management team and your front-line people?

Sit down with some of the best minds and hearts in your business, give them the list of ‘the eight clarities’ and have an open and honest conversation about what they’re clear about – and not clear about.  Finally, get agreement on what needs doing or fixing.  Specifically detail what will be done, by whom, by when, as well as how it will be measured to improve clarity, commitment, urgency and accountability throughout your business.

Forget ‘goals, targets, aims and objectives’ – talk about ‘commitments’. You’ll notice in the eight clarities listed above, I’ve used the word ‘commitments.’  I talked about what we commit to deliver, what we commit to become, the bottom line we commit to generate and how we commit to behave along the way.

Every business in the world talks about ‘goals, targets, aims and objectives’. They have efficiency goals, sales targets, profit objectives and they aim to satisfy customers. One of my recent business coaching clients proudly states on their web site, “We strive to be ethical.”  What the heck does that mean?

All of these words – goals, targets, aims and objectives – leave way too much wiggle room to not perform. We need to replace all of them with one word, ‘commitments’. There’s a big difference between a goal and a commitment. A target is something we hit sometimes and miss other times and it’s okay, it’s just a target. Goals are something we score sometimes and miss other times and that’s okay too. In business, nobody cares what we aim to do; they want to know what we commit to do. When we change our language, we change our culture. We become what we speak. Talking about ‘commitments’ helps create the culture of urgency and accountability that every business needs to thrive, or even survive.

So, for 2017 and beyond, what will you do, starting right now, to improve clarity in your business? From that clarity will come commitment, urgency and accountability.


Stearns & Foster
Phoenix AMD
This HGO article was written by:
Donald Cooper
Donald Cooper

Donald Cooper has been both a world-class manufacturer and an award-winning retailer. Now, as a business speaker and coach he helps business owners and managers throughout the world to rethink, refocus and re-energize their business to create compelling customer value, clarity of purpose and long-term profitability.


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