Call Me Ishmael

“Call me Ishmael.”  “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…”  These are two of the greatest opening lines in literature, but my personal favorite opening line is this one, “It’s not about you.”  This is the opening line from the book A Purpose Driven Life by Rich Warren.  I like it because I can’t forget it and I think it has powerful resonance in our “me, me, me” world.

If you have been living under a rock and haven’t noticed, we are in the midst of one of the most self-centered times in history.  You can see this focus on self-importance all around but none is more grossly apparent than the famous pop-singer Ariana Grande who demands that she be carried like a baby when she is too tired.  Can you imagine this?  “I’m tired, carry me.”  She’s not a child (at least in age), she just thinks she’s entitled because she’s a …twinkle, twinkle…“Star.”

Now, why am I going on so?  Well, I believe a focus on self can be a very damaging thing. Think about sports teams.  How many times have you watched young kids playing some sport and one kid hogs the ball?  What happens?  The defending team begins to crowd multiple players around this ball hog because they know a ball hog will not pass the ball.  With multiple players covering, the defending team is almost assured of getting the ball back and potentially scoring.

The lesson here is that passing the ball and being a team is much more effective.  In less subtle language, an assist is as valuable as a goal in the long run.

So how does this matter in a business context?  Well, it’s obvious that a team approach in business is as effective as a team approach in sports so I won’t belabor that.  What I do want to talk about is whether your business is self-centered or not because, as I’ve illustrated, thinking of yourself first can be damaging in both sports and business.

Is your company about itself or is it about your customers?  Now, you might sit back and say, “of course we’re about the customer, without customers we wouldn’t exist.”  Nice sentiment, but are you really focused on the customer?  In other words, are you hogging the ball for your own reward (the cheers of the crowd, or in business terms, a big whopping profit) or are you passing the ball for the glory of the team (i.e. you AND the customer)?

Here are some easy tests to determine if you’re a team playing company (focused on the customer) or a ball-hogging company (only concerned with what benefits you).  Answer the following:

  1. The first agenda item in most of our meeting is customer related, yes or no.
  2. When discussing new processes or systems, we always ask how this will affect customers, yes or no.
  3. We have an executive-level position focused on customer service and customer advocacy, yes or no.
  4. We empower our employees to make decisions in favor of customers, yes or no.
  5. Our employees are encouraged to take their time with customers, yes or no.
  6. If we do not have what our customer needs, we do our best to direct them somewhere else, even a competitor, yes or no.
  7. Employees are instructed to be flexible with policies depending on the needs of each customer, yes or no.
  8. We regularly engage our customers when decisions need to be made regarding their experience or our products, yes or no.
  9. We hold regular team meetings where employees are free to speak without fear or reprisal about problems, issues, and new ideas, yes or no.
  10. Our sales strategy is based on customer priorities before our company’s priorities, yes or no.

How did you do?  If you said no to the majority of these, you’re a ball hog.

Ultimately, the real question is,” why is your business in business, is it for you or is it for making life better for others?”  If it’s for your reward and benefit, heed these words…”IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU!”

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