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Be the CEO Who Gives Gifts and Thanks

During the past two weeks, the business news has been dominated by tech companies that are laying off staff. Meta laid off 11,000 employees or 13% of their workforce. Twitter terminated the employment of 3,700, nearly 50% of its staff.  A long list of other companies followed. Intel, Snap, Robinhood, Stripe, Salesforce, Lyft, Microsoft, Shopify, Netflix, HP and Coinbase rounded out the list of companies laying off 10% or more of their team members.

The news of layoffs in the tech sector strikes fear in the markets and in those outside of the industry, too.  Meanwhile, unemployment remains at or near an all-time low. Most businesses are not laying people off but doing their best to meet the needs of employees and customers. Many CEOs are projecting an economic bounce back and predict 2023 will return to a more normal year. Outside of the tech sector, where most Americans work, is where the good stuff in our economy is happening, although it is rarely mentioned in the news.

One of my CEO clients in the medical device sector brought his top leadership team together last week to discuss their 2023 plans. Since he was hired just over a year ago, four of his eight direct reports are new to the company. Aware his team of leaders have been working hard learning the business, managing their responsibilities and building their credibility, he took them off-site for a few days to plan for the upcoming year and to recognize their contributions. It is a lonely journey most leaders walk, saddled with multiple demands and high expectations, yet rarely do they receive positive support and affirmation. He decided to change that.

His desire for his new team is not just to develop and execute the strategy, but to get to know one another better and build trust as they work together to create a great company.

During the last working session of the day, everyone wrote on a sheet of paper the name of each team member. Then they wrote three gifts each person brought to their work. These were not technical skills or work competencies; they were personal qualities demonstrated by the individual. At the bottom of the sheet, they wrote what they would miss if that person was no longer on the team.

Ten minutes later, each person received seven pages of their gifts as perceived by their teammates. They took a few minutes to each read their gifts silently, then they shared what they heard with the full team.

After each individual shared “What I heard”, their colleagues elaborated on the gifts and unique qualities that person brought to their work, sharing examples and a story or two.  Many smiles were shared. After everyone took their turn, to take it a step further, they reflected on what they heard, what they saw as their own special gifts and wrote and shared their unique gift statement.

Here is a sample of the gift statements shared:

  • I use my gift of enthusiasm, joy and a positive attitude, to lift people up, encourage and support others, to see the bright side and find a silver lining.
  • I use my passion and ability to connect with others, to create an environment that creates an opportunity for people to achieve excellence and enjoy the experience that leads to results.
  • My gift is passion and care for people. I use my gift to serve others, to increase confidence, so they can achieve increased fulfillment and impact in their lives.
  • I use my gift of a deep caring for people – to engage, support, serve and impact others – helping them elevate.

As they exited, the CEO thanked each team member for their willingness to lean in and work together. He said, “You’ve now landed on your unique gift statement, the uniqueness that no one else in the world brings. What makes you special. Let’s now bring our gifts to all the opportunities and situations that come our way.”

What do you think the collective mood of the team was walking out of the room that afternoon?

One team member stated, “I’ve never been through a process like this, giving and getting gifts from your colleagues and leader. I’ve worked with some companies for many years and never heard what others thought my gifts were. I feel tighter with this team already than the other teams I have been part of.”

Another said, “While it was at first a little uncomfortable to be recognized by my peers and boss in such a way, I am grateful you appreciate me for who I am. I am so happy to be part of this team and company. You make it safe and motivating. Thank you for your encouragement and letting me be me.”

As they wrapped up, high fives, smiles, thank yous and hugs were abundant. An uplifting and affirming afternoon. The team was tighter, more supportive and trusting at the close of their meeting.  Each person felt accepted, encouraged and inspired.

Is the collective emotional state of your top team, CEO, like this team’s? Do you invest in building relationships, trust and commitment?  If not, why not? What’s the price you’ll pay if you aren’t the CEO who gives your team gifts and thanks?

Intentionally building relationships, trust and commitment secures the foundation from which you build and grow your company. The bonds and tight relationships serve as the cement that holds the blocks of the foundation – the people, strategies, goals, products, execution and results – together. A small investment in time and effort can yield a tremendous return on investment.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving and the holiday season, won’t you be the CEO who is grateful for your team and gives gifts and thanks?

Bringing Your Company’s Purpose To Life: 4 Steps to a Purpose-Driven Client Experience

In our recent post, you discovered that purpose is the secret ingredient of extraordinary companies. If you’ve done the work, you reflected on the questions to unlock that noble purpose statement for your company. You’ve committed to a higher purpose and you and your team members are genuinely passionate about making a difference in the marketplace. You believe in the good work your firm does. Your company’s products and services make people’s lives and the planet better.

With this noble and honorable purpose statement now in place, here’s the big question for you:

How do you bring your purpose to life?

With great care and on-going commitment, you design both a purpose-driven client experience and a purpose-driven team member (employee) experience.

Let’s focus today on the purpose-driven client experience. Why? As iconic leadership expert Peter Drucker stated, “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.”  When you operate with purpose when serving your clients, something remarkable can happen.

Here are the four keys for creating a purpose-driven client experience.

  1. Define your brand position

Step one is to create a concise statement that details how your firm differs from and is better in meeting your client’s needs than your competitors. The following are reflection questions to create your brand position statement:

  • What do we do better than anyone else in the world?
  • What difference has our product or service made in the lives of our clients?
  • When would and wouldn’t they use our brand vs the competition?
  • What is the emotional benefit we provide our clients?
  • How do we make them feel?
  • What would they lose if we ceased to exist?
  • As we serve our clients, what makes our hearts sing?

Example: The Bolton Group LLC is the #1 resource to guide medical technology, life sciences and healthcare CEOs in creating massive value so their stakeholders thrive.

Make sure all team members know, understand and can articulate your brand position statement with clients, so clients know your firm is unique.

  1. Create a one-liner making your client the hero

Step two is to make your client the hero of the story. Your role, and that of your brand is not to be the hero, but the guide.  Your client doesn’t want another hero. They want to be the hero of their story.

What is success to your client? How do your clients wish to feel and what do they want? Your job is to help your client solve their biggest problem and/or capitalize on their biggest opportunity. What role will you play in your client’s journey? Create a one-liner of how you and your brand will make the client a hero.

Example: I’m Chuck Bolton, the guide who helps medtech, life sciences and healthcare CEOs thrive. Making you the hero of your magnificent story.

  1. Use the clock model to strengthen client touch points

Now is the time to do a brand audit  – an assessment of the positive and negatives – of every point where your firm connects with the client. Each component influences your client’s perception of your firm and each component must be supportive of your company purpose.  This is where you adjust and clean up any problems.

A useful model to conduct this exercise is to think of a clock.  To what extent is each component reflective of your company’s purpose? Which needs to be adjusted in order to be consistent with purpose? Which component is doing well and is consistent with purpose?

Pre-purchase. A client enters your brand world at the pre-purchase stage, think 12 to 4.  Pre-purchase components include advertising, tradeshows, social media, public relations, events and sponsorships.

Purchase is 4 to 8 on the clock. The components include distribution, packaging, store design, user reviews, financing, user generated reviews.

Post-purchase is 8 to 12. The components include customer service, loyalty programs and warranty programs.

How to strengthen your client touch points?

First, put your client in the center. What is most important to them?

Secondly, look at the client experience holistically around the brand. Does your purpose get reflected like you intend?

Thirdly, look at your competitors. What can you learn from them?

Fourth, Where is your firm’s opportunity to stand out? Where is the world headed? Where’s the greatest variance? With your limited capital, where can you be world-class in your sector? Where can you gain the greatest return on investment with shifts you make to your client touch points?

When Apple launched Apple Stores in 2001, many were skeptical of these expensive and airy retail stores that just displayed a few products. Experienced consumer electronic chains like Gateway, CompUSA and others were in decline.  But the customer experience Steve Jobs and team wanted was not to have metal boxes thrust at their customers. They believed there was power in focusing on the pre-purchase touch points, allowing customers to try out and learn about the products. When customers experimented and learned, they could see the potential the products had in empowering their lives in the future. They would develop an emotional connection, and sales would follow. Apple took a decidedly different approach than their competitors. As they prepared for the launch of Apple Stores, they asked a more empowering question: How do we enrich lives?

As they visualized the experience of their clients, they developed the following statements to guide their efforts in the creation of the stores:

  • A store that enriches lives has a non-commission sales floor. Instead of clerks or sales people, it would hire geniuses and concierges.
  • A store that enriches lives hires for empathy and passion.
  • A store that enriches lives greets you as you step foot inside.
  • A store that enriches lives let you play with the products.
  • A store that enriches lives is located where people live their lives.

Better questions led to better innovations. The vision to enrich lives served as the Apple Stores’ True North. Enriching lives still remains at the heart of the company’s mission.  The more technologically advanced our society becomes, the more we need to go back to the basic fundamentals of human connection. Empathy is one of the greatest creators of positive energy.

Once you’ve completed your clock model to identify and strengthen client touch points, defining your brand identity, you can create an explicit purpose-driven client story to serve as a narrative for how you’ll treat your clients moving forward. Just like Apple did with their stores. Now it’s your turn to create that purpose-driven client story.

  1. Construct your purpose-driven client story

Create a story of how you and your brand make your client a hero.

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” Jeff Bezos, Amazon

There are eight steps to the purpose-driven client story:

  1. Who is your client and what do they want? What is their definition of success? How can you enrich their lives?
  2. What’s your client’s biggest problem? What price do they pay when they suffer from the problem? What is the benefit when that problem gets fixed? What are the stakes? How are their lives enriched?
  3. Your client meets a guide – you armed with your brand, products and/or service – who brings both empathy and the authority to fix the client’s problem.
  4. You give them a plan. As your client’s guide, you have a proven process (a product or service) that when your client implements, will fix their problem and make their life better.
  5. You call them to action. Clients are people and people are often reluctant to try new approaches. You remind them of the price they pay when the problem is prolonged. You describe the future benefit from accepting the call to action. You invite them to take action, on what will become a transformational journey for them.
  6. That ends in a success. With your client, you create a vivid picture of what success will look like when the work is completed. The desired future state.
  7. That helps them avoid failure. You remind the client they will not face the downside of their problem when they are guided by you and use your proven process.
  8. That helps them transform. When they follow you and implement their plan, change happens. They become better at their work, their company gets better, their stakeholders benefit and they transform, becoming a better person, too.

As a firm that has a noble purpose and a commitment to improving the lives of people, there is no doubt you have knowledge of compelling client stories, even if you haven’t organized it exactly in this purpose-driven client story format. As a next step, write out your “customer as hero” stories, using this eight-step framework. If you have sub-brands or different product offerings, you will want to create a hero story for each brand, division or product.

These stories should be widely shared within in your firm, so everyone understands how the company’s purpose is brought to life as you serve your clients.

As you engage your clients today and in the future, share your client stories and use the client story framework directly with them, engaging them in the questions and in creating the story of their success and transformation.  Your clients will feel your commitment to making them the hero of their stories. The effect will be a magnetic pull toward you and your company and will set you apart from your competition.  As the guide, you make the client the hero of the story – every time.

Four powerful keys for bringing your purpose to life as you serve your clients

  1. Define your brand position
  2. Create a one-liner making your client the hero
  3. Use the clock model to strengthen client touch points
  4. Construct your purpose-driven client story

Implementing these four ideas is an impactful approach in making certain your clients experience your firm’s unique, noble purpose. These ideas bring your purpose to life for your clients – the most critical external stakeholder to sustaining your company’s long-term success.

Using Your Purpose Story to Pivot

When you read her bio and then meet her, you can’t help but being impressed with Rachel.

In her early 50s, she’s Ivy-League educated, has an MBA from one of the top business schools in the world, speaks multiple languages and holds a senior level global role for a leading healthcare company. With her educational and career background, it’s no surprise that she’s smart and strategic. But a high IQ doesn’t always transfer to high emotional intelligence, or EQ. Rachel is both self-aware and socially aware. Polite, well-spoken and empathetic, she brings the right combination of heart and head, the right ingredients to one day become the CEO of her $2 billion global company.

But Rachel had a problem.

After three years, she had doubts her company was right for her.  As we got to know one another, she confided she wasn’t feeling good about the company, she’d lost her passion and wanted to get her juice back.  When she experienced the nagging feelings her company may not be the right fit, she’d stuff them away, and immerse herself deeply in her work.

She described her boss, the CEO, as “old school, low energy and fear-based, who didn’t like open debate.” His presence created, in her words, a “certain toxicity.” She rationalized that she had a big role and was expected to get results, that she was paid well, and that every company and every boss brings both positives and negatives. She wondered, “Is it me? Can I thrive in a place where I can’t communicate with my boss and the team with complete candor and openness?”

She worked hard and felt a little cheated that she could not find more joy in her work, particularly given the effort she invested. She sensed the CEO may not have had complete confidence in her and she was concerned she might fail in his eyes and be asked to leave.

I asked Rachel if she had defined her purpose. Purpose is the overarching principle that gives your life meaning. It’s the forward-pointing arrow, that gives you clarity and helps you get out of bed in the morning. She said she hadn’t given much thought to purpose of late. I provided Rachel some materials on discovering her purpose and that’s where her story begins. Rachel describes below in her own words, in her purpose story, how she uncovered her purpose and how it led her to make some important changes in her life.

“When I was 23 years old, I wanted to see the world and do something physically challenging. Many of my classmates who I had studied abroad with in China traveled to Tibet and raved about it. So a year after graduating from college, and after doing some research, I signed up with an Australian expedition company to do a thirty-day hike in the Himalayas. Traveling on my own, I signed up to join a group of ten other individuals, all strangers to me, ranging in age from twenty-somethings to couples in their thirties and forties. There was one couple in their late forties. I was the only American among this group of Aussies. We had one guide, a bunch of mules who did the heavy lifting, and a handful of sherpas.

“The first few days I was filled with energy and excitement and we trekked an average of thirteen miles each day. As each day went by, my energy and excitement started to wane. The poor sleep, severe altitude sickness, the lack of a warm shower or bath, and eating the same food (mutton, nonetheless) slowly, but surely, chipped away my energy. Little had I appreciated the luxury of standing under a shower with hot water pouring down on me. Little had I appreciated the feeling of being clean, head-to-toe. Little had I appreciated biting into a juicy watermelon or a hot New York-style pizza. Thirty days later, after having summited five mountains ranging from ten to fifteen thousand feet, each time with altitude-induced head-bursting migraines, and only sponge-bathing in a pure, frigid glacial stream, I not only appreciated all of these life luxuries but actually couldn’t stop thinking of them. It didn’t help that at day twenty, a kerosene tank leaked on the food, resulting in much of the food being discarded. At that point, I learned to appreciate the mutton that I was so tired of as we had to settle with only dahl, rice, and potatoes for the last ten days. By the time we stumbled into the city of Leh, more than three hundred miles away, I was simultaneously thoroughly worn out and fatigued, and deeply proud of my accomplishment, having discovered a deep well of tenacity and potential.

“I dug deep into my reserve and courageously faced each day when I had no choice but to tackle the day’s trek. I found that I had resilience to keep going. Our group was out in the middle of nowhere, among nature’s majestic mountains, lush and fertile landscape, and stark and barren scenery, sometimes not seeing another soul outside of our expedition group for nearly a week. I experienced the forces and beauty of nature and was humbled and awed by its power. I learned that it’s when we are pushed to the limits of discomfort, sometimes on the brink of feeling broken, that we have the opportunity to open ourselves up and tap into our reserve to unleash our strength. These lessons from my expedition have stayed with me and carried me into day-to-day life, helping me to navigate through life’s twists and turns. It has taught me that power and strength come through vulnerability and openness to move toward the unknown. And this experience confirmed that by embracing discomfort, changes, and new experiences, I am able to surprise myself in discovering the potential that exists within me.

“This experience helped clarify my purpose statement: To courageously dig deep to unleash potential as powerful as Nature. Today I live that purpose in all aspects of my life. I have the confidence to shape my future—and whatever circumstances are thrown my way—when I reflect on my trek in the Himalayas and my purpose.

“The process of clarifying my purpose and identifying my passions caused me to reflect deeply on my career. I’ve been fortunate to have led companies in the healthcare products sector. About three years ago, I joined a new company to oversee its North American business. After a successful two year run in my first assignment, I was asked to take on even bigger role at the company. On paper, it was an impressive role. I had great responsibility with many people reporting into me, I was compensated well, and served as a valuable member of our company’s executive team.

“But I felt something was missing. I wasn’t passionate about the company or its culture. The company was very different from the company where I had thrived. It was hierarchical, traditional, and low energy, run by a CEO who verbally encouraged the opinions of others but his actions didn’t support the verbal encouragement. People operated within an environment of fear, and therefore they aspired to “fly under the radar.” The climate could be described as collegial at the surface level, but honest, open debate where the best ideas win wasn’t truly welcomed or encouraged.

“While there were many positive aspects of the company, I knew this was not the environment or culture for me to thrive long term. I had known this for some time deep inside my soul, but I ignored those feelings, and had grown numb to the situation by throwing myself into my work. My team and I delivered results and put points on the board, while I overlooked the uneasiness of not really fitting in. I was unable to fully commit myself to this company.

“As I embarked on the journey to define my purpose, and reflected on my experience in the Himalayas and how I had lived my life, I strove to operate by courageously digging deep to tap into my potential and live powerfully. That was the true me. And being honest with myself—while I had the big job and the trappings that went along with it—I wasn’t living true to my purpose and values. It was at that time that I knew I needed to find a different environment so I could flourish and then help others flourish, too.

“Being clear about my purpose and my passions allowed me to take the courageous next step of resigning. I transitioned with honesty and integrity, leaving the people and position in a good place. This departure gave me an unexpected sense of relief. As I embarked on my search, I felt a sense of great optimism about what the future held. While I was a bit uncertain as I began the journey, and I didn’t know my exact destination, I had a strong sense of where I was headed. I believed I would know the destination when I saw it. I was confident I’d find the place where I could dig deep courageously to unleash potential as powerful as nature, and where I could create impact and value for myself and others. I was confident I’d be able to help others be successful and grow in an open and transparent environment. I had great faith the best was yet to come.”

Now, six months later, after writing her purpose story, Rachel found her dream job. She accepted the chief executive officer role of a smaller, privately-held company in the women’s health industry. She’s passionate about the space, the company, and culture, and she is confident she will make a meaningful difference in growing and shaping the future of this company. She states, “Had I not clarified my purpose and my plan to create impact, there is no way I would be in this role today.”

When you’re clear about your purpose, it serves as your north star. When you write and share your purpose story, it’s healing and liberating. Sharing your purpose story is the most generous thing you can do.  Sharing your purpose statement and story will inspire others to write and share theirs, too. Live by your purpose and purpose story, that’s the recipe for living a life of great impact. Just like Rachel.