I recently came across this quote and loved the lesson contained in it.
“It’s important to step back from an industry that is full of people announcing new widgets every day – faster widgets, smaller widgets, more widgets. What I’m learning from customers is that there is an excess of technology out there. The real pressure is, how do I use this stuff to achieve something important for my business?”
– Louis V. Gerstner Jr., CEO of IBM, in Fortune Magazine in 1993
Let’s think about the insight Gerstner is offering us here.
In 1993, IBM is one of the biggest companies in the world and the CEO is doing 3 things that I feel are critical for leaders.
- He’s taking time to step back and view his industry from afar.
- He’s looking at his competitors / alternatives in the market.
He’s listening and learning from customers. Then, he asks a question from the customer’s point-of-view that forces IBM to answer. Do IBM’s products and services help their customers achieve the desired outcome?
The answer to this question is where the value is.
Louis V. Gerstner may have said this nearly three decades ago, however his words are just as relevant and necessary today as they were in ’93. And if we want to take further steps in our professional leadership, we need to understand, communicate and help our companies create more value.
People are generally confused. The number of products they have to choose from has never been higher. The amount of information coming at people daily is at a record high, with numerous media channels and ubiquitous access through our phones.
Opportunities and solutions seem to be boundless, but people have a hard time understanding value – and therefore taking action.
In all of the focus groups I’ve attended or moderated for clients, I have never had a participant suggest that they need more products or services. They’ve never recommended an innovative solution, either. In their minds, there is already enough in the world.
What they do communicate during these sessions are the problems they’re experiencing with current solutions, or they’ll ask about solutions to help them live a certain way or achieve a desired outcome.
Your job as a leader is clear. Understand the problem; develop a solution; make it available; and communicate it effectively. This is where value is created and money is made.
For example: Someone wants to lose weight to feel better, live longer or look more attractive. What changes or eating habits will they need to make? Which meals should they prepare? What products should they buy for those meal occasions? How do they find them? Does it fit their budget?
Another example: Let’s say an entrepreneur can’t seem to grow their business. What do they need to change? What tools, products or services will help accelerate or assist this change? What it will cost and how can they eliminate the risk involved in making the change? How do they start?
It seems pretty straightforward, but you would be shocked at how many times I consult with businesses that are not communicating effectively with their customers. They’re so close to their own products or services that they fail to connect the desired outcomes to how their product/service is the solution. In some cases, companies haven’t educated frontline employees well enough to know how to communicate the outcome or how it’s connected.
Sometimes you need to spell out the value in simple terms and communicate it creatively so that it sticks. Practice the three things that Louis outlines in his IBM quote and ask your team if they understand the value you provide to people.
The answers may surprise you.
This Week’s Impact Challenge:
Professional: Talk to some consumers or customers to understand the value they’re receiving from you or areas they want you (or your company) to address. Trust me – you’ll love this challenge and let me know how it goes.
Personal: Schedule (and crush!) at least 3 workouts this week before 8 am. Get them in your calendar.
Spiritual: Minimum of 15 minutes every day of devotionals, meditation, or prayer. I’m reading John 13-17 this week. It’s the Last Supper with Jesus and his disciples. What would you say to your leadership team if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?
Keep having impact!