What do you mean “Add Value?” Either you’re valuable or you’re not.

The question of value comes up often in business and I believe it creates much confusion because it is usually put in terms of the phrase “value add.”

What exactly does “value add” mean?  Typically the answer to that makes reference, in one way or another, to doing something extra, and while I would never say that’s a bad idea, I don’t think that gets to the crux of value.  I think understanding value means understanding what it is to be valuable.

Think about it, what makes something valuable to you?  What makes a thing or a person so important that you would miss it or them if they were gone?  I believe it is a collection of attributes that makes that thing or person irreplaceable or missed if gone. So, unlike many business experts, I’m not a big supporter of “value add,” I am, however, a proponent of being valuable from the start. In other words, you are either valuable to people or you are not, it’s not something you add except where you have a unique opportunity to do something special.  So the real question is, what is valuable to people and how can your business become valuable (i.e. missed if it was gone)?

In my experience, there are three reasons people value a business:

  • Knowledge: Employees know things customers do not.
  • Skill: Employees can do things customers cannot do.
  • Product: The business has things (products and services) customers do not have.

What exactly does this mean to you?  It means asking some questions of yourself and your business and finding answers in order to become valuable and ultimately irreplaceable.

  • What knowledge do you and your employees have that the customer does not? What unique experience, creative idea, or knowledge is possessed that can save the customer time and effort as well as provide them with the information necessary to make good decisions?
  • What skills do you and your employees have that the customer does not? What are things you and your employees do each day that customers do not know how to do and thus need someone to do in order to be successful?
  • What products or services does your business have that customers don’t?  What is it you have that customers need to solve their problems?

Equipped with this understanding of what makes you valuable to customers, you must answer a critical question, how will you and your employees consistently demonstrate the unique knowledge, skill, and products or services on offer?  If you want your business to be seen as valuable and ultimately irreplaceable by your customers, this must be answered by every team member that is part of your team or business and demonstrated with every customer in every interaction.  While adding some special extras is nice, the unique knowledge, skill, and product or service you offer over and over are what make customers shudder at the thought of you fading away.

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Victory at Trafalgar, a Lesson for Today

Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar, the triumph of Admiral Viscount Lord Horatio Nelson, is the culmination of a leadership style that we can all take as a lesson today.

In a time where leadership was largely of the command and demand variety, Nelson spent his time developing the ship’s captains under his command to make decisions as he would.  He met with them regularly to teach them his fighting philosophy.  He brought them together at dinners to encourage teamwork and build strong bonds.  And in battle, in one of his biggest detours from accepted practice, he allowed them to fight and lead on their own.

In those days, battle was a confusing melee where communication was nearly impossible, and coordinating any choreography was largely a futile pursuit.  Nelson confidently relied on the competence of his captains to make their own decisions and to execute based on the things he had taught them.  Although he may have signaled direction in order to get things into place before the battle, once the fighting began, the signaling stopped and encouragement ensued.  He simply trusted his men to do what they knew to do.

Nelson’s use of what, at the time, seemed a disorderly strategy, relied on a few key leadership principles that might be best summarized by Vice-Admiral Villeneuve, the French fleet commander defeated at Trafalgar:

“To any other Nation the loss of a Nelson would have been irreparable, but in the British Fleet off Cadiz, every Captain was a Nelson.”

Here are a few key principles of Nelson’s style that today’s business leaders would do well to borrow:

Trust:  Nelson trusted his captains to do what he knew they could do.  He also did things to bring them together to build trust among each other.  By demonstrating his trust in them, he modeled what he expected from their behavior with each other and the men under their command.  Each captain knew they could make decisions without fear of retribution and because Nelson had shown them how he made decisions, it was probable that they would simply do things he would do anyway.  One Nelson with many “mini-Nelsons” authorized to think.

Engagement: Nelson activated the team by involving them, getting them together regularly and communicating with them.  This communication included listening to and considering their thoughts and ideas as part of making strategy.  He motivated them to have their own minds and to feel free to question things if they saw dangers that had not been voiced.  He also taught them how he did what he did so that they would impart that same knowledge to their charges.  By communicating his philosophy so that it cascaded throughout the ranks, the need for direction in the heat of battle would be unnecessary.

Action:  Nelson took action by not taking action.  It may sound like a Zen koan but his action was to create a basic strategy, then delegate thinking to his captains and trust them to do what they knew to do.  Nelson got results and by doing so got the admiration and loyalty of those who followed him.  This enabled him to lead and get more and greater results culminating in the victory at Trafalgar.  Although this battle proved to be his last, the legacy it left was the ultimate undoing of the despotic threat of Napoleon, a great result indeed.

To be a leader requires being someone people want to follow, not simply holding a title.  This requires character that holds to values like trust and respect.  From there a leader must engage their followers to move the movement forward and they must work in the best interest of the team so they can get results.  In the case of Nelson, he saw the power in trusting, teaching and allowing his followers to achieve the mission and get the results.  Overall, Nelson’s example proves a timeless lesson in leadership for all of us today.

Belonging, an Important Consideration for Leaders

Belonging is a basic human need, it’s necessary for safety; a unified ‘tribe’ can demonstrate strength and defend against threats better than individuals. Effective leaders understand this need and do things that make people feel included. For example, parents make sure their children feel like important members of the family and, by doing so, create a strong family unit. Spouses work together as partners to make better decisions that benefit their common goals. And good bosses let their employees know that they are valued members of the team in order to keep engagement high.

One leader who comes to mind for me is Dwight D. Eisenhower. Although he was supreme commander of the allied forces, he took time to wander among the troops. He would greet officers by name, and talk to the enlisted men; he would ask about their hometown, wife, family and interests. The attention and time he took with his people made them feel a great sense of camaraderie and belonging not to mention a devotion to him and the mission they were pursuing.

How can you provide more of a sense of belonging for your ‘tribe’? Here are some things to try:

  1. Set a reminder in your calendar for a time each day to walk among you team and visit with them.
  2. Learn about your team members: Family? Kids? Interests? Hobbies?
  3. Create reminders for critical things like birthdays and work anniversaries and make sure to make mention of these things personally with the team member.
  4. Ask team members if there is anything you can do to help them. Are there obstacles you can help remove?
  5. Ask team members what they think about what’s going well and what needs improvement.

If you desire to become a better leader, you must develop a service mindset, an ‘other-person’ mentality. Begin looking for ways to include others.

One Simple Way to Make Your Workplace a Better Place

Wondering how to make your workplace better? This is it and it’s ridiculously uncomplicated. Find some way to make someone else’s day. It can be as simple as noticing what your co-workers like to eat for snacks or drinks and buying one for him/her. Or maybe you could notice what coffee drink is a particular favorite and grab one for them one morning. Or maybe you could email an inspiring quote to someone when they need a pick-me-up. Or you could do something even more involved like sharing time, energy or ideas without any thought about getting anything in return.

The benefit?  As you do these simple acts of kindness more often, your teammates just may start being more kind and even copying your giving behavior. I think most people really want to “pay it forward” and that payment of kindness and giving has an even bigger payoff in not only making the office a better place but also making the experience for customers better. When we are kinder within the organization it becomes more likely that we will be kind outside of the organization.

When you think about it and consider how many people loathe going to work and dislike their work environment, is it any wonder why customer experiences are largely poor?  Imagine workplaces where people are actually generous with their time, energy, knowledge, ideas, and connections so much so that it ripples throughout the organization and enhances everyone’s success.  Imagine hearing the words us, we, and our more than I, me, and mine.  How would workplaces change and how would that change what customers experience?

So, if you want an uncomplicated way to make your workplace better, give, give your time, energy, ideas, and maybe even a cup of coffee without any expectation of something in return…ever.  Be the leader in creating a giving workplace culture where everyone in the organization is generous to the person next to them in order to ultimately be generous to the customers the organization serves. It really is simple; what could be better?

For more on giving, pick up a copy of Adam Grant’s excellent book, Give and Take.