Imagine your business as an army battalion all on the same mission. In the army everyone is a trained soldier, yes, even the cooks and the medics have been through boot camp. Boot camp is the basic training anyone in the army goes through. During Boot camp, you are physically and mentally prepared for what could happen in battle. Cook’s primary role may be to ensure the troops are well fed and watered and the Medic Corp may be there to make sure they have medical support, however, when the enemy has re-upped and the infantry is low on ammo, Cook is called upon to abandon the kitchen and get to the frontline to ensure the safety and survival of the troops. In short, you’re first a soldier, then you’re a cook.

Every business has a strategic objective addressing the importance of customer focus in achieving its vision. Where most businesses get it wrong is that they make it an imperative of only the customer-facing parts of the business. Sales are where the rubber hits the road as they say, but for sales to deliver excellently on that objective, everything and everyone needs to put their hand to the wheel to deliver that. HR should not have conversations about saving on overtime without considering the impact of that on customer service. Finance wouldn’t ask a store manager to complete another report to managing an internal risk if they understood what impact it would have on the delivery of the store managers primary role–leading a sales team to deliver excellent service. For your business to truly earn customer loyalty then everyone needs to be a trained soldier. Bootcamp in your business should be customer service training if indeed customer focus is your mission.

Soldier first, Cook second

Why does the cook, when called upon to do so, drop his spoon and take up arms? Because in the army nobody gets left behind, that’s army culture. The mission, whatever it is, is not complete until everyone is home safely. Cook believes that his fellow soldiers would do the same for him, that they have his back. He knows the battle plan and he trusts the commander to lead by example and keep them safe.

Let’s pivot to what makes an entire organisation focus on customer needs. It’s business culture is the answer. Building that culture means deliberately investing in people, systems and processes that enable that. Everybody knows the defining trait, they trust their teams to have their back and they see their leaders roll up their sleeves too and equip them to deliver.

Why join the army when you’re a cook?

The army isn’t the obvious place for a cook right? Just as customer service isn’t an obvious imperative for people who aren’t in sales. So how does the army find cooks willing to go to war? They tell them that nobody gets left behind and articulate the importance of their service. The cooks who value belonging, team and are patriotic will jump right in. Similarly, hiring people who innately value service to others and can demonstrate it in their everyday lives makes the work a lot easier. The work then – is creating an environment where they can be who they naturally are.

What about the reluctant soldier? How do you get him on board with the mission? As the commander, you deliver the same message consistently in word and in action – nobody gets left behind. You tell them stories from your experience in the army of how you were kept safe because of this culture. You ask about what holds them back and you do something to fix it. You show consistently, on and off the battlefield, that you will not leave them behind. It’s no different in business consistent messaging, listening to feedback on what is working and what is not, changing processes and policies to enable delivery and rewarding behaviour that embodies the desired culture will deliver the results.

Big corporates invest money in culture assessments because they have big ships to turn. Even a small business can get a view of this. In fact, I urge you to do this now. Write down the words your customers would use to describe your business if it exceeded their expectations. Now write down the traits you believe your employees should have to deliver against this description. Now write down the words that describe what your business really invests time and effort in. Congratulations, you’ve just done your first culture assessment. Richard Branson said if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers – it’s true, your employees are your first customers.

Now, armed with your first culture assessment, go into your team meeting and share, get feedback from your team and commit to changing just one thing to enable a team focus on the customer. Build on success, change what doesn’t work and get feedback from your customers at every opportunity.

Written by: Natasha Moloantoa
Director: Avidity Group People Solutions