If your business lacks a solid foundation, even things like smart employees and great ideas can’t save you from trouble down the road.

One out of every two Inc. 5000 CEOs surveyed has the qualities of a “Creative Builder CEO,” (see Inc.’s 2012 CEO survey). If you match those characteristics you are similar to iconic leaders like Steve Jobs, not the worst company to keep for sure. However, in my experience there are some unintended consequences of this leadership approach.

See if any of these statements resonate with you:


  • “I feel like we often get the hard things right and the easy things wrong in the areas of consistency, service, quality, or marketing.”
  • “Sometimes it feels like the cobbler’s kids around here. We seem to get lots of things right for our customers but make mistakes in those exact same areas in our own company.”
  • “I am just concerned that we can’t grow if we keep making fundamental mistakes.”


Sound familiar? If so, you’re probably familiar with the urge to get “back to the basics” too. I have heard this phrase in all of its formats countless times from the mouths of CEOs who see the remarkable potential of their companies thwarted by seemingly small hurdles. Declaring that you need to get back to basics may be a well-intentioned first step but it’s not actionable or sustainable in the long run.

So before you take that leap into the re-systemization of tasks and punch listing of performance, (both of which have real benefits), I encourage you first to make certain that the underlying “basics” of your business are in place. The basics must capture the essence of excellence that drives all other behaviors.


“Act as if it your loved one is on the (operating) table.”–IMS, Integrated Medical Systems International, Inc.(surgical and laparoscopic device repair, efficiency of operating room instrumentation, sterile processing management and consulting)

“Great food. Clean place. Friendly service.”–The Garden Café in Omaha, Nebraska

“Any size, any shape, any time, any place, always right, every day.”–Langham Logistics, (3PL and 4PL freight logistics and transportation)

These simple examples of guiding precepts give a clear standard against which all decisions, procedures, and policies inside of those companies can be tested. Here are three tips to develop your own:


  • Develop a simple message. Mine is, “We help companies double the speed that they double their company by landing transformational sales.” What is the underlying value that you are promising to your customers? Can you say it in a sentence that is about them in the language they understand?
  • Say it every where, live it everywhere. I can ask any one of the employees in the companies that I have cited and they can deliver their company’s basic line. Cool–memorization is a good first step. The real proof is in asking that employee the second question, “How do you make that happen for our clients in your job every day?” If they can answer that in one to two sentences, you have integrity in your claim, alignment in your team and a really good chance that the basics truly mean something.
  • Trust and verify. Final step: Measure how well the company is living up to this message. What are the metrics that will verify you’ve met those basic promises? The dashboard of performance metrics that rolls up for your operational performance should link clearly and causally to your basic promise.


More dashboards, punch lists, and training are not enough to overcome shortfalls in your organization’s performance of the basics. You need the driving essence to be defined, understood, and measured.

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