19. Leading World Class Excellence – Lead With Your Customer, 2nd Edition:Transform Culture and Brand into World-Class Excellence


Leading World-Class Excellence

Having covered so many important insights to creating a great customer experience by developing a highly engaged workforce, the question remains: How do you make this all come alive? How do you transform your organization? You’ll recall this earlier model:

We’ve shared behind-the-scenes best practices regarding how to develop a highly engaged employee culture as well as creating a highly satisfied customer experience. The catalyst that sparks the whole process is your leadership excellence. That’s what this chapter is about. This is where you lead with your customer.

Let’s start with a sobering reality: In a perfect world, we could provide a flawlessly logical step-by-step process that was tidy and mistake-proof, but that doesn’t exist when humans are involved. The reality is that organizational life is three-dimensional and unstable. Every person involved in your business is changing, which changes the circumstances, which changes the people—it’s a never-ending cycle and a constantly evolving organic process. Furthermore, being formulaic is not possible until you get individualistic with the unique culture of the organization. That’s why it’s important to understand the compass of your customer—externally and internally.

The good news is that the strategies in this book serve as dependable guidelines that will dramatically improve your business. But it only works if you implement them.

In chapter 2 we explored leadership excellence and the qualities exhibited by leaders. We could categorize most traits as one of two things:

• getting superior results

• effectively working with others.

Our approach to helping you lead your effort will focus on these two qualities (Table 19-1). The first is what you need to do. The second is how you need to do it.

Table 19-1. How to Achieve Leadership Excellence

How Leaders Get Results How Leaders Work Effectively With Others

• Craft and stay the plate

• Develop and execute your plan

• Be resourceful

• Create a learning culture

• Work hard to seek excellence

• Know your customer

• Build morale

• Empower and involve

• Flatten the organization

• Communicate

Here’s the key—you must work on results and relationships at the same time. You must concentrate on both fronts simultaneously. Yes, it is challenging, but if you’re successful you’ll find that the results are multiplied many times over. Let’s review the elements of each quality.

How Leaders Get Results

There is nothing worse than leaders who are all talk and no substance. The reputation of a great leader is in their ability to make performance matter. Simply put, you’re not going to be in business if you don’t get the outcomes your organization needs. The following behaviors are critical to getting sustainable results.

Create and Then Stay Focused on Your Plate

You’ll recall that in the introduction we talked about “the plate.” It represents the values, vision, and behaviors that define your framework for sustainable success. Your ever-changing circumstances—the things being put on your plate—will continue to descend on you.

World-class organizations endure the same challenge, but they choose to focus on their nonnegotiable plate as the most dependable guide for effective, on-brand growth. Remember, your plate is not a program or initiative. It defines your brand and culture for years, if not decades, to come. You need to identify what those are, gather input, and then set them into motion. Don’t rush this—you want to get it right. But don’t think that simply talking at meetings is the same as taking needed action. Improvement always demands action. Just as getting results is the “what” and working effectively with others is the “how,” your plate becomes the “why.”

Once your plate is in place, stay focused on it. Use it to determine the most important demands on your time and resources, and the most effective ways to measure your progress. Scorecards, dashboards, and other tools based on your plate will support your efforts to stay focused on your North Star. For best results, balance formal accountability with informal conversations and activities that maintain your team’s focus on the nonnegotiable plate.

Develop and Execute Your Plan

Once your nonnegotiables are in place, you need to simultaneously move forward on two fronts: building an engaged workforce, and creating a great customer experience. You do this by focusing on the four delivery systems of the six Ps. We’ve covered this in detail already, but Table 19-2 outlines a few key things to get you started.

Remember, that whatever you do it must deliver on fulfilling your promise (established by the plate) and create value, or be worth the price to both employees and customers.

Table 19-2. Designing the Customer Experience

Ps Building an Engaged Workforce Creating a Great Customer Experience

Use selection to weave the “right fit” candidates for hire into the workplace.

Identify formal and informal ways every member of the organization is accountable to being a leader in engaging fellow employees and creating a great customer experience.

Incorporate opportunities for reward and recognition.

Train and develop your employees to deliver a great customer experience. For new employees this involves not only an orientation, but a set of onboarding activities over the first months. You may also need to re-onboard existing employees to obtain buy-in for how you envision moving the organization forward. They will likely require a focused set of training programs and other activities to get them where they need to be.
Place Create a workplace that truly supports the work employees are doing. Ensure the physical and virtual setting is one in which customers want to do business with you.
Process Identify processes that make it easier for employees to do business with you. Make it easier for your customers to do business with you through the policies, procedures, and guidelines in place.
Products Look at your compensation and benefits to make sure you are providing components that underscore the culture you are trying to establish. Provide the best of the best in the products and services you offer your customers. Make sure they stand apart from what your competition offers.

Be Resourceful

The ever-present challenge for every leader is the budget. Do you have the resources to take your business to the next level? If you are staying focused on your plate, then you can prioritize to optimize your resources. You shouldn’t attempt to do anything that is misaligned with your most important goals. Identify the easy wins that can be carried out quickly and affordably, and build momentum from there. Brainstorm with your team about creative, low-cost solutions to the more complicated issues that will improve the customer experience. For instance, we mentioned recognition as not being about monetary goods, but symbols of value. You don’t have to throw money at issues to have a superb customer experience. To be sustainably successful, you have to be intentional and strategic about it your plan. You can even involve your most passionate external customers. They’ll often come up with innovative ideas you’d never even think of.

Create a Learning Culture

We mentioned the importance of nurturing a dynamic learning culture in chapter 8, but it’s worth repeating, as we’ve seen that true engagement is nearly impossible without it. Emphasize that making mistakes is part of learning and growing, and real breakout innovation can’t be done without it. Document all insights, both successes and “successful failures” (as Disney calls them). All are valuable in the quest for world-class results. Establish an internal database of learning insights that can be easily accessed for future, and ongoing, reference. Find ways to share what people have learned and reinforce that this initiative is not merely a program, but an ongoing journey. Every day is a new opportunity to earn success by optimizing your potential. And it requires everyone to do their part every day.

Seek Excellence by Working Hard

There’s a little-known story shared in the book Disney, Leadership & You (Kober 2018) that is told by our former colleague, Valerie Oberle, the original leader of the Disney University Professional Development Programs, the institution that would eventually become the Disney Institute. In the early days of the program, Michael Eisner was concerned about giving away too many of Disney’s “secrets” to other companies who were attending the courses. So, one day he and Frank Wells showed up unannounced at the old Walt Disney World Conference Center to watch one of the programs being delivered.

After observing for some 40 minutes, they walked out of the room. Michael was anxious and wanted to shut it down.

“See … they’re giving away our secrets!” he said.

But Frank, always the calming influence, reassured Michael that giving away their secrets shouldn’t worry him.

Why? Because the real secret at Disney, according to Frank Wells, was that “we work very, very, very hard to pull off what we do, and no one else has that kind of discipline to do so.”

That reasoning seemed to pacify Michael, and the business programs of the Disney Institute continued.

So it is with any organization. You have to work hard and work smart. The best, most sustainable way to do it in a disciplined way is by effectively working with others.

How Leaders Work Effectively With Others

Have you ever worked with someone who led the team across the finish line in getting something accomplished, but everyone agreed that they would quit before they had to work with that leader again? Sustainable success is about not just getting results, but also effectively working with others to attain those results. While getting results is what puts you on the map, it’s your ability to engage the team in perpetuating those results that keeps you in business for the long term. Consider the following.

Know Your Customer

You must understand your customer, whether externally or internally. You are probably already gathering some quantitative and qualitative data about both groups. Whether through surveys, comment cards, focus groups, or an intelligent analysis of databases and utilization studies, you can’t be in business if you don’t have the data.

But beyond these demographics, understanding the psychographics of your customer is what makes you world class. That’s where the Customer Compass we introduced earlier comes handy. Through formal and informal means, make sure you are building a workforce that can engage customers both internally and externally. Training, development, and daily discussions are all critical for this effort. While knowing their needs, understanding their expectations, and delivering to their individual styles are all fundamental starting places to engagement, getting everyone to walk in the shoes of someone else will do more than anything to understand how to effectively work with others.

Build Morale

How do you get people to do what you want them to do? There are two different ways—what we call hard-wiring and soft-wiring. Hard-wiring is the most commonplace, involving some assortment of activities that include reconfiguring the organizational structure, reassigning people, creating new policies and procedures, and implementing a new program or initiative.

Soft-wiring is decidedly different. It is about inspiring your employees, developing others, modeling correct expectations, and encouraging others to build commitment rather than mere compliance. It’s not that there isn’t a time or place for redoing your organizational structure or implementing a policy. We simply believe that too many organizations don’t do enough to build morale and commitment through soft-wiring.

During this emotionally charged time, it will be critical for you to nurture relationships of trust and confidence. Effectively managing the change at this point is more about the perceptions of your team than anything else. Make relationship building your primary concern. Consider the forces that are influential to your team. Include those people—both within and outside your extended organization—when you are reaching out to grow your advocates. It is amazing how momentum can drive the change when people are on board.

Empower and Involve

You can’t get the results that make you stand out unless your employees are working together as a high-performing team. You need everyone in your organization’s critical thinking skills. This approach is not merely a top-down initiative. It is creating a culture where input is valued and sought after, and then channeled toward results. We spoke of working hard to seek excellence. However, the problem usually isn’t convincing the leader to work hard—it’s getting everyone to work hard. Your role—wherever it is in the organization—is not about you coming up with the solutions and getting on board. Your role is getting everyone else to identify and implement the necessary solutions.

Involve everyone affected by the change. One of the tools used by world-class organizations to successfully navigate change is to involve the team in designing and developing aspects of the change. Ensuring that they will have significant influence over the details of the change will help tremendously with buy-in and ownership—and, ultimately, passion, especially once they see that empowerment in action.

It’s also important to make establishing advocates a priority. Your executives, influential managers, and frontline team members will be useful in getting buy-in at rollout and can help finetune the key aspects of your culture and customer experience. In addition, don’t neglect external customers when building your foundation of advocates. Their involvement and input will be important to ensure that the initial plan is relevant, and their understanding, buy-in, and ownership will be critical in preparing the workforce for adoption.

There’s a well-known saying: “Those who plan the fight won’t fight the plan.” When employees understand and participate in designing the solution, they rarely, if ever, resist supporting its implementation. If it’s “their baby,” they are less likely to think the solution is ugly.

Flatten the Organization

You don’t have to do an extensive re-org, but it’s important to implement symbols and behaviors that suggest your team is all in this together and everyone matters. In Creativity, Inc. Ed Catmull (2014), founder and leader of Pixar noted:

We had made the mistake of confusing the communication structure with the organizational structure. Of course, an animator should be able to talk to a modeler directly, without first talking with his or her manager. So, we gathered the company together and said: Going forward, anyone should be able to talk to anyone else, at any level, at any time, without fear or reprimand. Communication would no longer have to go through hierarchical channels.

This serves as a great segue into the next critical leadership trait— communication!


The value of effective communication cannot be overstated. Employees need to know what to do (results), how to do it (relationships), and the why (the plate)—and it all depends on how you communicate these issues with them. Consider the following:

• Connect these new tools with an expectation that the transformation effort will involve generating new operational improvement efforts to benefit the customer, team, and organization.

• Cascade the information and opportunities to get involved throughout the organization. Start with senior management leaders and move down the system, allowing sufficient time for each successive supervisor level to digest and prepare to manage and support their team before announcing the initiative to the workforce at large. At each level, you should ensure the following:

Formalize the new nonnegotiables as a primary responsibility in the company’s performance reviews. Directly connect them to all work efforts—including culture and relationship-based behaviors as well as operational and financial results. Everything should align with your plate. Only those behaviors that align with your plate will be rewarded, while behaviors that deviate are properly held accountable to minimize outcomes that undermine your initiative.

Informalize communications through activities like team huddles and pre-shift or stand-up meetings. Each team leader should include time at every team meeting to address real-time issues and involve everyone in developing solutions to improve the customer experience, the team experience, and the operational and financial outcomes. Use this opportunity to get everyone’s input in the improvement process—especially identifying trends or patterns that reveal clues to what issues to pursue and resourceful ideas to resolve them.

Ask what you can do to support people in making progress toward the common goal. This is one of the most important questions you can ask. Being aware of your customer’s needs and caring enough to take significant action is vital to deepening the relationship and optimizing the results for sustainable success. Providing an environment of support and open communication will continue your forward momentum toward World Class Excellence.

Ultimately, the goal is to be better today than you were yesterday using the core nonnegotiables as your North Star. If your initiative is fully modeled and supported throughout the organization, it will never go out of style. World-class companies adopt this approach as more than a process; it is a way of thinking that has proven to be the most effective way to do business. The proof is in the results.

Let’s look at how one organization we worked with sought to do the kinds of things we advocate. As you read this case study, consider how the company created results by working effectively with others using many of the key points mentioned thus far.

Bangor Savings Bank: Customer Service That Matters

Bangor Savings Bank (BSB) is a state-chartered bank founded in 1852 and currently the second largest Maine-based bank with 54 branches. BSB has more than $3 billion in assets and offers retail banking and investment management services as well as comprehensive commercial, corporate, payroll administration, merchant services, insurance, and small business banking services to Maine businesses.

Business Challenge

Megan Clough (2018), former executive, shared the following insights about Bangor Savings Bank:

The regional banking landscape had grown significantly, while Bangor Savings Bank remained a steady, but small community bank. Technology and other industry transitions had expanded the expectations of the banking public to include many more services, making banks more of a one-stop shop to do financial business. In the midst of growing competition, BSB was losing market share to other banks in the region. The CEO at that time saw this trend and embarked on an initiative to transform BSB into a full-fledged multiservices financial institution.

Upon the initial review of its current state, BSB identified several challenges that they needed to overcome:

• It needed to provide a wider array of new services.

• It was not optimizing its potential, even with limited resources.

• Customers’ experiences with the bank were not generally aligned with BSB’s brand or desired reputation.

• There was a gap between its goal of caring for customers and actually demonstrating that care.

Improvement Strategy

Clarify core nonnegotiable values, vision, and standards.

• Identify behaviors that bring the company values and brand to life.

• Align processes and leader and employee behaviors to the nonnegotiables for optimal performance.

• Enhance the overall customer experience.

• Enhance the overall employee engagement.

• Identify ways to add value for the customers and employees, as well as to the organization’s operational and financial bottom line.

• Increase market share and enrich reputation in the community.

Tactical Implementation

The process for BSB started with securing a clear understanding of the gap between where it was and where it wanted to be. The bank’s image (the consequences of the behaviors customers were consistently experiencing) was not desirable, particularly in comparison with competing banks. Upon identifying the key business drivers and customer perceptions of value, BSB embarked on a strategic effort to sustainably improve.

Tactically, this took the form of addressing core issues such as establishing the criteria for effective behaviors. The core values and vision were reviewed and updated to better align with the outcomes the bank had identified regarding engaging people and achieving operational and financial results. Developing a new North Star with which to guide appropriate behaviors provided a tactical tool to leverage for workforce-wide behavior improvements.

Utilizing focus groups and other data-gathering methods to better understand the deeper, underlying needs of its customers (both external and internal), the essence of BSB’s focus was distilled down to something more accurate and reflective of its aspirations than its existing motto, “Independent Capacity in Action,” which was based in a more operations-centric philosophy rather than its intent (to care for their customers). BSB quickly created its current motto of “You Matter More,” emphasizing that the people it serves were the priority. Delivering extraordinary personal experiences became the ultimate goal in all aspects of BSB operations.

Once the overarching focus was established, the next step was to operationalize the new strategy. BSB developed a “bubble box” grid that showcased the way all parts of the organization were involved in aligning and unifying the efforts to mutual benefit (Figure 19-2). The new direction would be evident in all culture-building aspects of the organization: selection, orientation, training and development, communications, and recognition. The tactical plan was for each of the functional teams to identify ideas to implement behaviors that reflect “You Matter More” to whomever they served, and in a way that was relevant to their unique function.

After introducing the shift to the leadership throughout the organization and providing them tools to manage the transition, BSB unveiled the new approach at its annual holiday rally. The bank created a small booklet with images and stories that brought the new brand to life, supplying relevant examples of the new expectations and the behaviors required to successfully achieve them.

Figure 19-2. Elements of the Customer Experience Program

Frontline training provided tools and practice to hone the behaviors most effective in bringing “You Matter More” to life in the day-to-day interactions of customers. This was part of an overarching infrastructure of support systems that both engaged the workforce on an individual level and reinforced the new behaviors, providing direction for long-term growth. The intent here was to ensure the initiative was not a temporary “program of the month” spearheaded by a single person. Everything about this effort was woven into the fabric of the entire organization, with the entire workforce expected to participate in sustaining it for the benefit of their customers, shareholders, employees, and operational results.

Here are some examples of how this initiative was implemented in various aspects of the company:

Bangor Savings Bank’s community relations department had a program to provide financial assistance to local nonprofit customers, orchestrated by an internal selection committee. Based on the new “You Matter More” initiative, it shifted the process to be more inclusive, showing that every individual in its community mattered. The improvement included any community member, whether they were a paying customer or not. Anyone could submit nominations for local nonprofit organizations that they felt deserved a portion of that charity fund, based on specified criteria. BSB now collects those nominations and reveals who the community (not just the bank) determined to be the recipients. Even the distribution of the checks became an opportunity to show that people matter as well. Checks up to $5,000 are presented by the local branches at an event that is meaningful for that particular recipient (engaging both the nonprofit and the local branch team) and spotlights that particular community. This “win-win” approach heightens the profile of everyone involved, promoting the nonprofit as well as BSB, all while demonstrating that the bank believes “You Matter More” and delivers what it believes.

Acknowledging the Bangor Savings Bank workforce as people “who matter more” as well, BSB initiated a plan to develop a program that supported them in a similar way. Given that bank teller positions (nearly half of the organization’s roles) are entry-level jobs, financial circumstances can be a challenge for that demographic. To show that its team mattered more, BSB established a fund to provide assistance for employees struggling financially due to any unforeseen circumstances. Employees can confidentially request funds that an internal committee would evaluate, providing a grant, rather than a loan, to help that employee. BSB is truly committed to serving a community—and this extends to its internal community. Soon, other colleagues began to ask to support this effort as well, offering to donate items such as children’s clothes or furniture. Morale and engagement scores rose dramatically as a result of this and other visible examples of the bank walking the talk with integrity. Performance levels rose as well, with feedback stating that it was easier to focus on work when they weren’t as worried about issues in their personal lives.

Bangor Savings Bank also focused on communication as a key component of this transformation effort. Feedback from the workforce pointed toward the need to develop an intranet site that anyone could use at any time to access information and tools necessary to successfully exceed expectations. This platform ensured an equality of involvement in continuously improving the organization, in a manner that was on-brand, comprehensive, fully integrated, and forever evolving to stay relevant.

Finally, an ongoing infrastructure of support included “strategic human resources,” which focused on creating a culture of service and care, aligning everything to the core nonnegotiables. Working closely with the operational units, human resources ensured that all employee touchpoints were unified: right-fit talent joining the organization, orienting them from the beginning on the core nonnegotiables and training them to deliver using behaviors that bring “You Matter More” to life every day and establishing recognition that reinforces performance rather than mere seniority (Figure 19-3). BSB shifted human resources from a support function to a central aspect of creating a sustainable people-focused culture of engaged excellence.

Figure 19-3. BSB Culture Pyramid


In 2016, J.D. Power and Associates ranked Bangor Savings Bank highest in New England for Retail Banking Customer Satisfaction for the second consecutive year. The J.D Power study includes banking customers nationwide for opinions on various aspects of their banking experience, including facilities, product offerings and fees, various channel activities, and the overall quality of personal interactions—all of which were affected by the initiative.

In a 2016 press release, current Bangor Savings Bank President and CEO Bob Montgomery-Rice said, “Our clear focus is to provide an exceptional customer experience every day, and our efforts have undoubtedly made an impact on our valued customers…. When it comes to our own job satisfaction, the personal interaction we have with our customers and communities is what drives us to go the extra mile. Maine customers deserve the best and they are our top priority. Our motto—You Matter More—is something we live and breathe.”

Summing Up

The BSB case study is just one example of how following the proven strategies in this book can lead you to optimizing your potential. These are not academic theories; they are tried-and-true methods and tools that get results. When you orchestrate the various actions outlined here, the natural consequences are daily improvements that build on a solid foundation of your nonnegotiables and follow the lead of your customers (both external and internal) to create a relevant and valuable experience that ensures success—even in an ever-changing workplace environment.