Business lessons from a CSO

Steve Howard is the Chief Sustainability Officer for IKEA. His 2013 TED talk is an outstanding message for all to hear and there are two interesting points. His considerations toward sustainability is incredibly valid and I have no doubt that he and IKEA will achieve their targets in the years to come. I think the two points below provide an interesting lesson for all lines of business not just sustainability.

“Achieving 100% is so much easier than a 90% goal.”

One might think that 90% is more attainable but the bottom line is when it comes to the difficult aspects of change, everyone will be fighting to be part of the 10% exclusion. If there is no exclusion then there is no fight, negotiation, or discussion – only compliance. Consider a project that you or your company are working on that is change related – what would it be like if all participants hit the goal and not just the average of the participants. What would sales numbers be like if every member of the team elevated their sales by 10% not the company average by 10%. How would the top performers feel about not always having to drag the dead weight along thanks to the painful rule of averages? What would it be like if the Public Service Commission (PSC) received 0.0 substantiated complaints each year instead of 0.05 because someone wasn’t able to address the needs of your customer. What would Net Promoter Scores (NPS) be like if the number of detractors fell to 0? This would allow an easy assessment of the lazy and non-compliant wouldn’t it?

“You can manage what you measure…well, you should measure what you care about. If you’re not measuring things, you don’t care and you don’t know.”

This seems like a clear statement of the obvious but countless leaders speak to the importance of elevating service, reducing cost, and improving sales performance and effectiveness yet don’t allow the sun to shine on some of the very things they publically state to be important. The reality is most executives reward themselves with a bonus while cutting health coverages for those most important to the business or use a private or corporate jet to transport their families for vacations but require those traveling and doing business for the company to be squeezed in an airline middle seat and pay out of their own pockets for a checked bag because it’s ‘not permitted in the corporate travel policy.’ If the customer experience is so important, why do the companies that hold this value so high don’t support employees with the appropriate tools to communicate well with their customers and have no measures in place for validating the personal side of a transaction. These changes are difficult to make but so important for the companies that Jim Collins calls Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies and must begin at the top. The organization’s board of directors is where this must begin. Boards must be more than rubber stamps for the CEOs agenda. A board exists to set strategy, challenge the executives to think outside the box and lead their industry in the difficult things. You will only get what you inspect, not what you expect.

Howard concludes with the reinforcing note “Measure what you care about and lead the change.” I couldn’t agree more perhaps Ghandi said it best, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”