I remember the president of ComputerLand Canada, Jim Yeates saying “on average, people are average”. It was his mathematical mind stating the obvious. But, I found it depressing. I was hoping that I was surrounded by the smartest people in our industry! But, he was right. Unless we did a better job of hiring (separating the wheat from the chaff) or in developing people we were likely to be an average group of people with average service for our customers.
Most recruiting organizations are designed to find the good people. Tons of money and countless hours are spent trying to figure out if the person being interviewed is an A player or something else. We only want the A players! If it takes one to know one then everyone in the recruiting department would have to be an A player for this strategy to work. I would argue that hiring for values alignment would make better sense but more on that later.
I attended a roundtable discussion on Sales Leadership yesterday hosted by York University. “You just can’t differentiate on products anymore, people are the only way to truly differentiate your company, your product or your services” said one participant to aggressive agreement from most other participants. It had a tinge of a complaint in the tone. Great sales people help to differentiate a company but that alone is not enough.
At the heart of differentiation is a need for scarcity. By slimming down the number of choices – hopefully to one -the decision for the buyer is made obvious. In some industries scarcity can be managed by restricting supply – oil and diamonds come to mind. In other industries there are just too many companies making similar products and oversupply results.
According to Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, some companies will use design to reduce the selection list. By focusing on the right-brain attributes and producing products that are beautiful and well designed a maker of a $20 fly swatter can make more money than the company racing to the bottom of the price curve with a $2 item that is functional but uninspired. So, great design is a way to create scarcity, increase differentiation and optimize profits. Apple wrote the book on this and is a great source of proof.
What happens for organizations like car dealerships, service-based industries or raw materials suppliers? There is not much opportunity to design the products. Or is there? When the differentiation is rooted in the service and not the product the opportunity for differentiation is largely based on the characteristics of the people who provide the service. The service is the real product and the design of that service must be rigorous.
So, design great service, hire great people and voila you are magically different and the profits will flow! Right? Well, almost and I argue that the other element to the puzzle is to design an employee culture that is strategically consistent with the brand. Clear cultures help people to know if they should be on the bus or off the bus. People whose values totally align with the culture LOVE being in that company. People who don’t share those values should leave. They aren’t bad people or B players. They just don’t fit the brand and therefore don’t support the differentiated position the company has staked out!
Confusion about culture kills company profits. Differentiation is about hiring people with similar values that add up to a consistent culture – something rare and hard to attain. It is mandatory to link all of this to a clear brand position that again sets a company apart from the competition. If we are not doing this then we should just accept that we are average people working for average companies offering average service. Ugh.