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What Business Leaders Can Learn From Speedcubers

This article was originally posted on Forbes.com

My son and I just solved our first Rubik’s Cube together. Admittedly, it took a number of visits to YouTube and countless restarts.

So, I was mesmerized when I watched The Speed Cubers on Netflix — a fascinating and moving documentary about the relatively unknown world of competitive Rubik’s Cube solving. To me, solving a Rubik’s Cube is an astonishing feat. Solving it in less than seven seconds? Unfathomable.

Did I mention these speedcubers are teenagers? Sometimes even younger.

The documentary got me thinking about problem-solving and decision making in business. Just as every turn of a Rubik’s Cube affects each of the 26 miniature cubes (called “cubies” or “cubelets”), any decision a business makes impacts every department, team, employee, customer, shareholder and outcome the business cares about.

It wasn’t always this way. Business used to be simple, mainly because competition and choices were limited. To increase profitability, all brands had to do was adjust the price, introduce a new model or provide better service. Business metrics were all that mattered; there was little to no notion of customer experience or employee satisfaction.

But the prominent rise of “the age of customer experience” brings a new variable to the equation. Brands can no longer make business decisions at the expense of customers and employees — and get away with it. Customer experience (and employee satisfaction) has become the new battlefield for business. And still, businesses have to remain accountable to boards and shareholders.

There has to be a balance.

Finding Intersections Of Value

Today, brands can’t onlybe customer-obsessed. They can’t only be employee-obsessed. And they certainly will not survive if they’re blindly driven by financial outcomes.

So, how do you know where customer, employee and business needs meet? How do you identify and prioritize the intersection of value between these critical variables?

Ask yourself these three simple questions every time you make a decision:

• How will this impact our customers?

 How will this impact our employees?

• How will this impact our business?

The tricky part? The value equation is different for every industry and every business. Today, businesses need to ask themselves these questions with more rigor than ever. Many companies are fighting not to thrive, but to simply survive. 

Take airlines and middle seats. If customers had it their way, middle seats would disappear forever, right? The extra space would likely make for a more pleasant customer experience and, in turn, more satisfied employees. However, losing a third of its potential revenue could hurt an airline’s bottom line, meaning lower wages and fewer job opportunities (obviously bad for employees). And fewer available seats could make booking the flight you want more difficult and, due to supply and demand, more expensive as well (not great for customers). 

With customers’ hesitancy to travel, employees’ desire to return to work and an airline’s mandate to keep both groups safe, you introduce a whole new world of variables. 

The same happens with technology purchases. When the world’s workforce went remote, many traditional butts-in-seats companies quickly purchased Slack or Microsoft Teams to help remote workers connect. Of course, this is essential for employee communication, but may not be great for business productivity or customer response times due to employees managing another communication system. Like any technology decision that’s forward-thinking, it should balance customer, employee and business needs — and deliver value to all three.

Like I said: It’s a Rubik’s Cube.

Solving The Rubik’s Cube

While there are different methods to solve a Rubik’s Cube, one thing is for certain: You need to perform the right combination of moves to ensure alignment on all sides. You can’t get one side right and leave the others a rainbow-colored mess.

The good news? Businesses can solve their metaphorical cubes. But just like solving a real cube, it takes time, diligence and focus. Businesses need comprehensive data, the right technology to make sense of it and human expertise to identify the correct path forward. Getting it right on the first try is rare, which makes the eventual success that much more satisfying.

When it comes to the value equation, many brands do one element well. And a select few might nail two. But the top brands — those enviable entities that seemingly cannot get things wrong — have their Rubik’s Cube solved. They consistently and dynamically move the complex pieces in near-perfect harmony to achieve positive results for customers, employees and their business. That’s something the speedcubers would be proud of.

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Andrew Joiner CEO

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