thinking like a customer

thinking like a customer

Winning Streaks

By on January 21, 2009

It seems that in the 21st century, we are fascinated by winning streaks in business. In the same way in which we admire teams or individuals that can dominate their sports, we look up to companies who have had long-term success. However, recognizing these winning streaks is much easier than understanding how they become a reality. Nevertheless, in attempting to replicate these successes, one thing is certain. These winning streaks don't happen unless your customers are deeply involved.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter in Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End has written about the components of these winning streaks. They are clearly cultural, grounded in values and processes that become self-reinforcing. "Every water walker needs the stones to make it possible to move across the water. Knowing what's underneath will hold you up and help you rise to victory is the essence of confidence," she observes.

Unfortunately, winning streaks don't last forever. "Success means that people or teams or organizations survive long enough to need maintenance and repairs." The Achilles heel of successful organizations is the feeling that it can never end. They can't reach the top and feel they are invincible. What got them there has its limits, a "shelf life" or saturation. Momentum runs down and there will be obstacles. A plaque on golfer Greg Norman's desk, cited by Jimmy Roberts in his forthcoming book Breaking the Slump, reads "Show me a path without obstacles and that path leads nowhere." When momentum runs down, that can lead to negativism and eventually losing streaks.

Losing streaks happen because teams and organizations are not focused on what will make them successful. The decline happens due to neglect or forgetting the fundamentals. Organizations lose their edge and it infiltrates the rank and file. The antidote to overcome this negativism is an unmitigated commitment to one goal: customer success and loyalty.

The ultimate way to stay on top is through strength in performance for your customers. Winners focus on how they can keep their lead. "Winners change; losers don't" wrote Seth Godin in Fast Company magazine (October 1999). When your culture is completely focused on thinking like your customers, people don't want to let down their co-workers (their internal customers) and will do just about anything to outperform. Peer pressure is a wonderful thing.

Moss Kanter describes how Continental Airlines came back to profitability thanks to the "discovery by people at every level that there was something they could do to make a difference in on-time performance." When people have confidence in each other, energy is freed up because the organization trusts that everyone is acting in the best interest of the customer. "Give and you shall later get." The catalyst translates as: "for those who reach out to help others, reciprocity kicks in." It works like this. People come to respect each other because when they feel respected, they do not want to disappoint their teammates. This results in organizational self-confidence, greater adaptability and huge leaps in resourcefulness and openness to new ideas.

Winning streaks are, by definition, predicated on dominance. In business, that dominance is judged by your customers. Success with your customers builds the confidence to continue to get better. It springs out of the fundamental premise that your performance means nothing unless your customers value it. It spreads because it empowers employees to grow in their relationships with the customers that they serve.

"Leadership is plural" according to Duke's men's basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski. By that he means that success results from having many leaders-within an athletic team or a business' employees. In an organization, putting the customer at the heart of your business will galvanize the efforts of the entire team. After all, in that way, you are all working for the same thing, aren't you?

Emphasizing customer-centricity should be the foundation of every successful future. How to create and sustain the confidence that exudes from a winning streak is the same as how to get the best out of your organization-unwavering focus on the customer.

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