In the framework of leadership and influence, the people around you get to decide—your direct reports, your team, the people you lead your boss, your colleagues. These people are your audience. They get to decide if you’re authentic. You do not.
— Kimberly Davis, Brave Leadership
Anyone who has sat in an MBA program, helped market products or services, or filled out the form for an online dating app understands the phrase “value proposition.” A value proposition expresses the results an organization (or individual) intends to provide its customers through its efforts. “Customer” can be defined in at least three ways:
- The “customer” is often the end-user. Delta Airlines, for example, currently markets the high level of service it intends to provide its passengers through the entire flying experience – from ticket purchase to touch-down.
- The “customer” can also be shareholders. I once worked for a corporation that spoke of providing annual “double-digit growth” – hardly something our end users would get all giddy about, but the board of directors and market analysts loved it.
- And the value proposition can be directed to the internal customers – the employees. Such was the case with Alcoa Aluminum. In 1987 when Paul O’Neill took over the struggling company as CEO, he stood before a large group of Wall Street investors and shared how he was going to engineer a turn-around — in short, what he believed the company’s real value proposition needed to be. He didn’t talk about revenue and expenses and debt ratios and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization. He didn’t talk about stronger foil for the kitchen or airplane airframes.
Instead, he leaned into the microphone and said: “worker safety.”
Alcoa’s factories could be very dangerous places to work, and its poor safety record reflected that fact. So O’Neill mused that if you honestly make the factories safer places to work, workers will feel better about the company, and they will contribute ideas and efforts to improve performance. And ultimately, the company will deliver expected financial results.
And all that came to be true. During O’Neill’s two-decade tenure, Alcoa delivered exceptional financial results, often exceeding targets.
What’s important about O’Neill’s story is his firm understanding that real value is in the eyes of the “customer” – in his case, the workers. A proposition is just a proposition. You don’t realize the value just because you say it. You have to deliver it, and that’s how you’ll be judged.
And that discussion leads us to this week’s podcast guest, Grant Lichtman. Grant is an educator, school reform evangelist, and author of three books about education change. In his latest book, Thrive – How Schools Will Win the Education Revolution, Grant argues that if schools are to change how they have traditionally operated, they must firmly grasp at least three foundational elements:
- They must have a “North Star” – a vision of where they want to go and how they want to behave as a system on behalf of their kids.
- They must have a disciplined mentality – the willingness to say “Yes!” to changes that support their North Star and “No!” to those changes that don’t. And finally,
- They must have a value proposition, which Grant defines as the difference between what they say they are going to deliver and what they actually deliver as determined by their students, parents, the local board of education, and the community. Harkening back to Kimberly’s point above, school personnel don’t get to assign value, their “customers” do.
If you made it this far, thank you! And if you’re intrigued enough to listen to the podcast episode, thank you again. We believe this episode – like all of our episodes – has real value, but we know you ultimately decide whether it does or not.