The Adaptive Agency Blog

Help Your People Focus

by | Feb 20, 2024 | Culture, Talent

Your business has one job: deliver value to customers.

Everything else is subordinate to this. No value, no customers, no business.

Yet employees in most companies are not aligned with this reality. Having an entire workforce that’s disconnected from the prime directive is both stunning and common.

The Misaligned Masses

When you’re a business owner or even an account owner, you understand alignment to customer value as a primary survival instinct.

Everything that works against customer value is a threat, and you treat it that way. A salesperson whose customers are complaining will get aggressive with engineering or support. A product owner with underwhelmed customers will lobby the CFO for more R&D funding. And a small business owner with late shipments will threaten to switch vendors.

It’s second nature. It doesn’t even have to be articulated. You deliver value to the customer or the customer will find someone else who can.

So why are millions of people in the workforce completely disconnected from this concept?

Because their leaders prefer it that way.

Yes, it’s crazy. And it’s the norm.

In a strange quirk of human nature, when we get put in charge of other people, we feel a need to control them, rather than to empower them. We decide that if they just do what we say, they’ll produce the outcomes we want.

It’s as if we think they’re not smart enough or don’t care enough, to be responsible for the main thing: giving value to customers.

Really, though, it’s because of one or more of the following:

  1. We can’t connect the dots for them.
  2. We don’t know how to lead, so we resort to supervising.
  3. We don’t know how to hire people who can think for themselves.
  4. We think good talent costs more than unhappy customers, so we hire cheap.

Instead of aligning our people with value to the customer, we make them align with other things.

Here are some examples.


Supervisors love making rules. For every problem, there’s a new rule. Many new supervisors will hold a meeting to tell their new teams what all the new rules are.

Each time something new comes up, a new rule gets created. Of course, the rules are leaky: there are so many edge cases that employees constantly have to ask for exceptions, which only the supervisor is wise enough to approve.

And since rules only work if they’re enforced, there’s a punitive side to every rule. “Do this n times and you (get written up, lose your bonus, get fired, etc.).”

The teams are incredulous.

The best talent leaves. (The supervisor is glad because those folks were “hard to manage.”)

The people who remain are not stellar performers from a value-to-the-customer standpoint, but they’re experts at keeping the rules!

But what does that have to do with delivering value to the customer?

Imagine this conversation:Boss: Sarah, you just lost our biggest customer. What happened?

Sarah: I followed the policy exactly.

Sell that to the customer.

Petty Preferences

Most bosses have a way of doing business that they think is the best way. And usually it’s good, but it’s based on their personality. It’s not immutable truth; it just suits them.

Here’s a classic primer on this behavior:

  • Good employees are early to work.
  • Good employees keep their desks organized.
  • Good employees have a smile on their face.
  • Good employees speak up in the meetings.
  • Good employees dress a certain way.
  • Good employees like sports.
  • Good employees don’t color outside the lines.

But what if some high performers don’t do any of those things? Should we replace them, or should we replace our preferences?

What will maximize value to the customer? Not to mention employee satisfaction?

Mood and Personality

One massive barrier to aligning employees with value to the customer is a boss with emotional inconsistency.

For many employees, reading the boss’s facial expressions and vocal tone is a critical job skill. Getting it wrong could get you in hot water.

Literally, millions of people in the US go to work every day with the goal of not getting on the boss’s bad side. They develop tribal knowledge of how not to get fired, and that becomes the foundation of the culture. Employees end up being super risk-averse, and the most talented employees start thinking about greener pastures.

How likely is it that they’re deeply connected to producing value for customers?

And by the way, at Client Focus, we know this is true, because we ask employees to describe their previous work experiences and that’s what they tell us. Spoiler alert: we love hiring people who crave freedom and achievement enough to leave a place like that. It’s why we have such a great culture.


If you want employees who are aligned with value to the customer, the solution is simple: don’t give them reasons to focus on something else.

Don’t assume they’re not smart enough.

Don’t assume they don’t care enough.

Instead, evaluate your leadership style and your office culture. Figure out how you’re sending signals to your employees that will cause them to prioritize job security over value production.

Don’t let coming to work be about survival. Instead, make it about aligning with the needs of the customers.