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Lisa McLeod: How a slight tweak in words changes your entire organization

A colleague and friend of mine was staying at a high-end casino hotel recently for a conference. One morning, he asked a waiter for a bottle of water. A few minutes later he was served the best water he’d ever tasted. He described the water as “magical.” He said, it tasted like it had come from a babbling brook, clean, crisp and fresh.” I never realized there was such a discernible difference in waters, but apparently there is.

My friend was so enamored of the water that he complimented it to the waiter. Whereupon the waiter laughed and said, “Does this make you want to gamble more?”

Suddenly, the magic was gone. It was obvious to my friend, that the water, just like everything else in the establishment, was not designed to help the customers enjoy themselves more; the entire experience was designed for the customers to spend more money.

From a leadership and profitability perspective, this seems like a solid plan with excellent organizational alignment. But there’s a big problem.

The casino is not unlike other organizations that want their customers to buy more of their offerings. For a restaurant it might be selling more appetizers and cocktails, for a service organization it might be selling more high-end offerings.

Wanting your customers to buy more of your products is a smart, and logical, business goal. But it’s not a true purpose. It won’t create long-term competitive differentiation, and it won’t rally your employees to deliver better service.

Getting customers to spend more money is an inward-facing, organizational goal. A true Noble Purpose is a more strategic approach that creates long-term sustainable profitability because outwardly focused, it’s about the customer.

Compare these two organizational goals:

A. Get our customers to spend more money.

B. Provide our customers a better experience.

Which organization will be more innovative in creating interesting offerings? Which organization would you rather do business with, Organization A, who wants you to spend more money? Or organization B, who wants to provide you with a better experience?

The data says you’ll wind up spending more money with Organization B. Ten years of business research reveals that organizations with a customer-focused Noble Purpose outperform the market by more than 350 percent.

My friend visiting the casino was surprised by the waiter’s clarity about his organization’s objectives. The casino has excellent organizational alignment; unfortunately it’s around the wrong goal.

Compare these two goals:

A. Get our customers to gamble more.

B. Help our customers enjoy gambling more.

When the waiter repeated Goal A to my friend he revealed the flaw in an inward-facing strategy. The waiter doesn’t care about whether my friend has a great experience because the waiter has been told that the real goal is to get him to spend more money.

If the waiter, all the other staff, had been told: Our purpose is to help our customer enjoy gambling more, it would have created an entirely different environment. An environment where the staff is focused on helping you enjoy gambling, is an environment where you’re going to do more of it. And you’re more likely to return.

Words matter. Look at your goals; are they about you or are they about your customers?

Organizations whose goals focus inwardly may experience short-term wins. But organizations with a customer-focused purpose create long-term results.