Four Realities CEOs Can’t Afford to Ignore

We all know that the hardest things are also the things that often get avoided or ignored— especially if they come with any kind of obscurity. The startup founder and the financial books, the content writer and the metrics, the seasoned CEO and…a few new vital realities of doing business today.

As humans evolve and a new(er) generation steps into the role of the consumer and employee, these new realities have the power to take long-standing companies out of the game if left unaddressed. Still, I see them get pushed to the back burner or ignored altogether— more than any CEO would like to admit. Ego gets in the way. Whether it’s rhetorical or not, a voice says, “How do you think we got to where we are today?” But, no matter what’s been achieved in the past, the livelihood and longevity of your organization depends on new factors. And, where they’re in line, money follows.

Here are four that should be top of mind.

Marketing: You Can’t Just Hope for the Best

The days of throwing money at marketing and seeing what sticks are over, and I don’t think that’s any secret. Digital media has turned marketing into a science, which is good for all of us. Businesses can understand what really works. And, while consumers don’t necessarily get less crap, they do get more of the right stuff. What can be a bit harder for companies to swallow? Throwing science into the mix means that marketing has to be highly relevant and come from a place of value and personalization.

People want to buy from humans, even in B2B. People want to understand how your company can add value to their lives before they buy, and they want to meet people just like themselves who have experienced the same problem they’re trying to solve.

There’s more— this doesn’t just mean throwing more money at your online marketing and content budget. Before you do that, you have to understand what your employees are telling the world. Your employees are the eyes, ears, and mouths of your company. Whatever they’re saying resonates loudest, and trust me, they’re talking. If the messages your employees are sharing conflict with what you’re saying as an organization, you’re just making noise, not progress. And, when employees say great things— things that are in-line with your organizational mission— they’re the path to getting valuable content out on digital mediums.

Online Tools Aren’t a Problem, They’re the Solution

You’ll notice that employee experience is the theme here, and a big part of it is giving your team the tools they need to succeed. If you don’t, they’ll get them themselves or go to a company that will.

Today, most of your spreadsheets are apps, a lot of your email back-and-forth can be eliminated and team members don’t need to have in-person conversations to find out what colleagues are working on. This is a huge area of opportunity for you to make work a lot more efficient and collaborative for employees.

“If you think about all these people who are relentlessly resourceful and equally talented in a mass competitive ecosystem competing for talent, you learn to give people the best possible tools to do the best possible job,” Keith Rabois, Khosla Ventures, preached to a class of future tech CEOs at Stanford. “Rigorously ask: ‘how do I make people more successful, what things do they not need to be working on, or what things are distracting?’ And, ‘what things can I give them to make them more valuable per day?’”

Today, a lot of executives are asking, “how can we stop employees from implementing tools on their own?” When we should be asking, “how can we learn about what employees need and adopt tools that really make work better for everyone?”

Let Go to Get More

Just like asking for permission to use the right tools to get the job done, if your employees have to ask for permission to actually do the job you hired them for, you have a big problem. If you’re busy looking over the shoulders of your team members, especially your executive team, who’s doing your job? The job of CEO.

The same goes for if you’re spending time worrying about how many hours a day people are sitting at their desk. If you’re occupied with counting time spent instead of value delivered that’s what your people will focus on too. Your company’s operations don’t rely on an assembly line. People don’t need to be at their posts to get the job done, and they shouldn’t have to raise their hands when they need to go to the bathroom (yes, that’s still a thing). What your employees really need is the full, true story and space to do what you hired them to do.

Alignment = Productivity

This is the one that CEOs seem to find the most fluffy of all. Yet, it’s by far the thing that holds businesses back the most. Alignment equals productivity, and if your employees don’t know where they’re going, they can’t get there.

When goals and direction change, which they will, everyone needs to know how that impacts company-wide metrics. If employees don’t know what needle to move, they have no frame of reference for focus, success, and lack thereof. You leave people guessing at what’s important. Everyone also needs to know how new goals relate to the why, or the purpose. Because that’s the thing that doesn’t change.

Your employees need a reason, besides money, to wake up every morning. If people aren’t fulfilled by their work at your organization, they’ll find it elsewhere— usually on your time and money.

I recently had a conversation with a digital design shop owner whose employees are being poached by a large organization, to be left unnamed. One employee offered double his salary, turned down the job. When the owner dug in to understand why, the employee said, “It costs too much to not have a clear purpose at the place I work.”

Could your employees say the same?

Here’s a quick test. Ask three of your employees: “What’s our organization’s underlying mission? Collectively, why do we all do what we do?” 

Did you get three different answers?

Honesty, empowerment, trust, and purpose. Those are the true takeaways of each of the realities above. But, if I would have started there, it’s likely that you wouldn’t have read very far. That feels too fluffy. Those words are too soft for an experienced business leader. But that’s the foundation of today’s fastest growing companies and teams. Today, the organizations that are getting this right are those that have grown up (or are growing up) digital. It shouldn’t be a surprise that that’s where customers are flocking to buy and employees are hounding for work.

So, I’ll repeat it again, avoid these truths and you will see your business decline. You’ll see your customers buy from competitors who are taking part in honest and valuable discussions. You’ll see your employees head to the startup down the street where they can get more done with the right tools and have more energy to do the job because they’re fueled by a clear mission.

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