Think of an organization or company you admire. It seems to accomplish things your company only talks about in endless meetings. Not only does it deliver the goods, its customers relish its products and services. How does it do it? 

True Alignment

There's been much debate about what makes a great company. Some say it's a groundswell of community, while others are confident innate, strong leadership defines the goals and objectives of the organization. However, what seems most significant is that there is a strategic alignment between what the customer wants and what the company can deliver. 

Recently, a book called "True Alignment: Linking Company Culture with Customer Needs for Extraordinary Results" crossed my desk. Author Edgar Papke writes about how company culture "provides the framework for how people live the values and beliefs of a group, [and] how they gain and use power and influence." Truer words have never been written. 

Most everyone has worked somewhere that just didn't work well. The upper management wasn't listening to the needs of those on the frontline. The frontline had lost confidence in the powers that be. Customers dictated the company's strategy for product development with little regard to company goals. Every day you wondered 'how does anything even get done?"  Most companies start off with noble goals, so how is it that so many go off the rails so easily? 

Why Are You in Business?

According to Papke, businesses need to go back to basics. First, ask yourself "Why are you in business?" Then, ask "What do you offer the customer that allows you to [answer to first question]?"

These are same questions I ask the students that I teach. They are artists who are learning the business of art and design. They have skills and wares to offer their customers -- but they are merely a means of delivering a unique experience. Anyone can design jewelry, or paint a landscape -- but it's the true artist that can elicit a certain feeling or satiate a visceral need by doing so. Those that can, have a true business alignment. While it's not rare to give the customer what they want or what they didn't know they wanted -- it's especially rare for a company or professional to sustain that alignment over time. 

How can you guarantee that you'll always be able to deliver? How can you continue to reinvent your product to keep up with shifting market and consumer trends? 

Papke presents the Business Code --  a systemic framework for understanding, assessing and creating alignment. Within the code, there are four key elements: the customer, brand intention, culture and leadership. The secret to success is to have each of these optimized in such a way that the customer experiences satisfaction and trust. 

Purpose Driven, Customer Caring

Simple, right? Not so fast. Even if you are able to align these four elements, they will need to be re-tuned consistently to ensure they're on key. Papke takes this musical metaphor further comparing business success to a guitar. He writes: 

Just as a guitar needs a player, the company needs talented and creative people to bring it to lie, and like a guitar, constant attention is required to bring it into alignment. The leader must know how to tune the keys."

This may explain why there are too many companies out of tune to what customers want or need. Furthermore, this all seems to take us a few steps further than the purpose-driven company does. You may recall, the purpose-driven organization, a term coined by Simon Sinek refers to "an organization of people who show up for the same reason, who work together to achieve something and will sacrifice so that the others may make it." 

Both start with by asking why, but the Business Code looks beyond aligning internal behavior. It also helps to identify why and how companies engage with customers. Papke writes:

What separates market leaders from their competitors is the ability to deliver through their product or service a uniqueness that differentiates them from the rest. To accomplish this means answering the question "why is the customer spending money with us rather than our competitors?"

The next time you suspect you're in the presence of a truly aligned company, look closer at the ways the customer, the brand, culture and leadership of the company come together. For the Apples, Whole Foods, Harley Davidsons of the world, it's not good fortune that drives their business. Rather, it's the business code driving their good fortune. 

Title image by Christophe Boisson (Shutterstock).