Firstly I am not referring to how a CEO and/or Entrepreneur gets to be in their position, rather how to be successful once they have the position and are steering the business into the future.
I also want to be clear that I am not talking about a one night stand or a casual fling here. A long-term, intimate relationship is required for success.
Managing any intimate relationship is tough. Here we have 3 people in this intimate relationship, and they know about each other. As you can imagine all 3 will be competing for attention and resources. No one person can be ignored or be seen to be favoured over another.
We must be a master of relationships and strike a balance across these 3 people.
I had a particular priority for these 3 people which I lived by for many years, however recently I discussed this with several very successful CEO’s and Entrepreneurs and they each had a different view based on their own philosophy and business model.
It is clear to me now that priority is not as important as balance.
The Customer – it is important to recognise that the customer here relates not only to existing customers but also potential customers and therefore the broader society. To be successful you must know your customer intimately. What they like/don’t like, and how they expect us to act when we interact with them. Customers expect us to listen and change, although surprisingly they are often not the most demanding of our sleeping partners.
When we don’t respect our customers they leave, new customers become harder to attract and more expensive to acquire. Unhappy customers generally leads to negative interactions with “The Employee” (impacting another key person we must sleep with) and if they are unhappy enough they will impact our profitability which will impact our relationship with “The Funder”.
Note: I have never heard of a business failing because they focused too much on the Customer.
The Funder – Traditionally the Funder is a shareholder, stockholder or anyone else that provides funds to the business (e.g. Banks). However, I also include spouses and family here, they are not funding with money but with our time. Funders are looking for some type of reward for their funding. They are often the most jealous and controlling of the 3 people we sleep with, they are generally needy and require constant reassurance they are high on our priority list. They often don’t appreciate the time we spend in bed with Customers and Employees.
We need to manage Funders very carefully, if we don’t respect them we may run out of resources as they tighten the reigns. Typically businesses focus heavily on funders, when they do that at the expense of customers we almost always see catastrophic results – Enron, Blockbuster video, Vodafone are classic examples where focusing too much on Funders at the expense of Customers had major impacts on the business resulting in closure or at least significant restructure.
The Employee – In many industries these are the most expensive of our sleeping partners. They take up space, need computers, cars, phones, sick days, tea & coffee, it all adds up. Typically they are key people in front of our Customers and we really need them to be making our customers happy.
Unfortunately when the Funders are unhappy the first group they target are Employees. When the Customers are unhappy Employees are first port of call to unleash their fury.
Plenty of research shows that engaged employees are great for your business however it is important to recognise that every person is different and not everyone will be a fit in your business. Unhappy disengaged employees can be a cancer in your business – Government departments can be a good example, they typically struggle with staff engagement leading to poor customer service. Once low engagement is ingrained (and has become the norm) it can be very difficult change the work environment without a total and costly restructure.
Like most things in life there is no silver bullet to magically make all of our sleeping partners happy. It takes hard work and careful expectation management. As the business grows the ability to understand and manage these relationships becomes more difficult.
Only CEOs and Entrepreneurs with Actionable Management systems that provide an early warning of relationship rifts before they happen can avoid the pitfalls that slow growth, cost money, and can ultimately destroy your business.