How To Improve Boardroom Decisions

Council

Daylong meetings starting at 7:30 am behind closed doors. Continental breakfast with all the coffee you can drink. Lunch around noon…sandwiches or pizza…followed by early afternoon cookies, more coffee, and an occasional bottle of water. The day ends around 5:30 pm with a 30 minute break to “freshen up” before going out for a team dinner. Sound familiar? It does if you’ve ever experienced an executive, or Board-level meeting.

Many companies are currently knee-deep in 2014 planning sessions. Meetings like the one I’ve described above are taking place in different cities across the country…and the world. Lots of PowerPoint presentations, opinions, predictions, explanations, what-ifs, if-nots, and I-needs, fill hours upon hours of meetings. Interestingly enough one of the most important ingredients to building a successful strategy is missing from many of these discussions…the customer.

A fair number of companies execute their planning season with an inside-out view. They go into these sessions with closed minds, hindered by their narrow focus of what is, rather than what could be. This is not necessarily a purposeful or conscious approach, but it just seems to happen that way. We look at last year’s results, add 10% or whatever number we “think” sounds reasonable and build a plan around it. Again, sound familiar?

But companies that drive significant growth through innovation do it differently…they involve the customer.  Here’s some proof.

One of the best shows on television today is The C-Suite.  The show, and its host Jeffrey Hayzlett, focuses on getting behind the typically-closed-doors of some of the country’s biggest brands.  They dig around the executives thinking, ideas, philosophies and plans.  Hayzlett asks tough questions, the questions viewers would love to ask if they could – and he gets answers.

In a recent episode of The C-Suite on BloombergTV, host Jeffrey Hayzlett profiled the Seattle Sounders professional soccer team. He met with the owner and the executive leadership to understand how the Sounders have accomplished sell-outs (60,000+ seats) at every home game. In a previous episode he met with the executive team of Dunkin Donuts to have a similar conversation about what’s driving their growth. What was quite surprising and impressive is that while both these companies are in completely different industries their response was nearly identical…they both involve the customer.

Joe Roth, the majority owner of the Sounders, and Nigel Travis the CEO of Dunkin Brands, have both established customer advisory councils. The Sounders’ council consists of season ticket holders and Dunkin’s is made up of a group of their franchisees. Both councils provide ideas, thoughts, and reactions to their respective company’s strategy and plans. The Sounders go as far as involving their council members in discussions from ticket prices to player selection. They have given the brand to their customers and are reaping the benefits in a big way.  In fact their leap of faith has paid of five-fold.

It takes guts to listen to your customers.  Executive teams must also have the courage to act on what their customers tell them. Oddly enough the companies that have allowed their customers to “hijack” their brand have been extremely successful as profiled in the book Brand Hijack. Given their success it’s interesting to me that more companies don’t follow this approach. At the same time I find it unbelievable that many companies still don’t listen to their customers yet expect, or hope they continue to spend their money on their brands.

It’s great to see some companies really nailing the customer experience.  Asking, engaging, listening and acting upon what the customer says is so powerful.  Providing a forum for that exchange to take place is a best practice all companies should follow.  For many things in life there is no silver bullet.  But in business, knowing your customer is the best silver bullet you’ve got.  You simply need to do three things:  Ask, listen, and act.

Does your company do this?

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