Congratulations, you just raised the venture capital, or perhaps secured those coveted franchise rights, or reached another milestone on your entrepreneur’s journey. Now it’s time to re-think your job description and focus on the most important key to your success: inspiring the following of those you need in order to make your Vision a reality!
My founding Vision was to make Integra Telecom’s customer service experience the best in our industry, out-punching the heavyweights like Verizon and AT&T. Unlike the giants, who centralized their monolithic call centers and provisioning groups, often in other parts of the world from their customers, we focused on locality. We sought to create a customer experience unlike anything the market had seen before- based on a human-to-human relationship.
That was just the vision, though. Getting it to become a reality was a whole other story; you cannot simply force a vision to manifest, flexing your title and power while assuming everyone will fall in line. Inspiring the following of others becomes even more difficult if your operations are spread across a broad geography with multiple locations, as was our case with operations across eleven states.
By this time in my entrepreneur’s journey I had no idea that the company I co-founded would ultimately employ over 2,000 people and grow to become on of the ten largest fiber-based service providers in our industry. I had not yet co-authored the book Fusion Leadership Unleashing the Movement of Monday Morning Enthusiasts. And I certainly had not yet figured out that the key tool to inspire employees to manifest the Vision was to keep my own selfish interests in check, placing the Mission as an equal priority as I navigated my daily actions. I was merely attempting to create a successful business.
In order to earn “buy-in” to the Vision and the vital following of my organization, I attempted to do two things.
First, model the Vision. I fixated on my daily, weekly and monthly behaviors, prioritizing those behaviors that demonstrated my commitment to the Vision. Because locality, the source of human-to-human relationships, was important to our service model I traveled to our many offices every month to meet and learn from front-line employees. Moreover, I demanded that my fellow c-suite executives get out of their offices, board planes and do the same.
On one occasion a key executive became red in the face and threatened me, after I suspended a technology demo he and his team were championing, because he had not tested their idea in the field, seeking the collaboration and buy-in of a few local sales reps, customer care professionals and customers. “But this will leapfrog the competition” he protested. “Great,” I responded. “We will take this up again as soon as you return from your field trials.”
Second, implement change, even small change that proves the vision works. This shows how smaller steps contribute directly to your larger Vision.
After two days sitting next to Claudia, a Provisioner responsible for turning up new customers, in our Salt Lake City service center she asked if it would be “possible to build an API (application interface) between two separate systems,” explaining that she spends considerable time every day toggling between two different screens required by two different operating systems. Our CIO and COO, after substantial work, implemented her suggestion sixty days later, saving Claudia considerable time, the organization considerable money and delighting out customers with faster turn-up times.
Claudia became a local folk hero within the Company, demonstrating the value of the close to the customer model, and allowing me to evidence my Vision for the power and effectiveness of local, human-to-human relationships.
Taking time to regularly travel to our many offices challenged my schedule and personal life. Pushing my team to get out of their offices and evidence their commitment to the local, human-to-human service model created strain in my relationships with my co-leaders. While difficult, I learned that my selfish needs (for personal time and harmonious relationships) were often in conflict with what was best for the organization. Forcing myself to evidence my commitment to the Mission ultimately made all the difference. Over time, it became clear to me that connecting every person in the organization to our Mission was THE most important job, and therefore my job.