Is it often said that if one trusts in the process, the intended outcome will be reached. More often than not this proves to be true.

Trusting the process can be difficult. Many distractions and forces can take you off course and change your focus. Yet, if you stay on course, my alignment frameworkwill provide a basis for accomplishing most of what a company or team needs to reach higher levels of performance and achievement.

Alignment is the single most critical business challenge for any organization and its leaders. Without it, inefficiency, conflict, and disengagement will cripple your ability to provide value to your customers.

The elements of alignment from my book True Alignment provide a framework that can be used as a step-by-step process. Taking a clear, systemic approach centered around the four elements of customer, brand intention, culture, and leadership, True Alignment presents an effective, easy-to-apply framework for tackling the challenge of alignment head-on, giving you the tools and guidance you need.

You can leverage any part of this alignment framework to focus on the issue at hand. That approach serves us well, yet can limit our thinking, our perceived choices, and our actions. At times, adherence to step-by-step processes can make us rigid, which doesn’t serve us well.

Frequently, our models for teams and companies apply strategic thinking periodically. In the end, success requires both processes for planning and structures for the ongoing assessment and confrontation of the issues and challenges of misalignment.

I encourage you to use the framework as a process for strategic alignment and as the basis for ongoing conversation.

A brief review of the alignment framework.

Begin with the end in mind. The first step is to clearly articulate the company’s mission and purpose, thereby communicating why the company exists. It always begins with the customer.

Brand Intention

To succeed, a business must be able to explain why the customer is spending money for a product or service with one company over another.

Brand intention is the thoughtful and deliberate delivery, through a product or service, of your promise to the customer. It goes beyond statements of a customer or brand promise, market differentiator, and competitive advantage, which are aspects of brand intention.


The vision of a company provides a clearly articulated picture of the future. It includes five key parts: product and service development, market development, operational improvement, finance, and culture. The vision communicates what a company is intended to look like.


A company’s strategy provides the plan for change that is communicated to employees. The strategy clearly defines measurable goals and outcomes, provides timelines and explains how the goals will be achieved. It also establishes the company’s strategic priorities and aligns shorter term initiatives to longer-term outcomes and assigns responsibility to the various parts and individuals.

Group and Team Strategy

Each part of a company must know and understand how its performance contributes to the successful delivery of the product or service to the customer.

In alignment to the company strategy, group and team strategies provide a detailed periodic that clearly defines the measurable goals and outcomes, the timelines, and how the strategic outcomes of the team will be achieved. In alignment to the company’s brand intention and strategy, a team’s strategy will also align to the company’s strategic priorities. It also assigns roles and responsibilities to the various members of the team.

Personal Goals and Development

Individual responsibilities are defined and, to further individual engagement, are aligned to the group and company strategies. This includes measurable and well-defined outcomes, clearly articulated authority for decision making, and expectations for the In high-performing teams and groups, the opportunity for the development of each individual member is incorporated.

Thus, I’ve focused on providing a framework for aligning the what and the why of business. The first step in aligning culture is defining it.



Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email:


Many leaders with whom I have shared The Business Code with put it into action by using it as the framework for visioning and strategic planning.

It works well as a planning tool because, at a high level, it asks you to begin with the end in mind. It requires you to consider three key questions:

  1. “What are we intending to do?”
  2. “Why?”
  3. “How do we align everyone to our intention?”

This takes us back to asking and answering the question of why we are in business.

The ultimate goal of all businesses, the end game, is to provide a product or service to the marketplace that provides benefit to the customer and that will enable the company to win in the marketplace.

In competition with others, the goal of any business, whether it’s a small one-person company or a large multinational corporation, is to win the customer.

If you win the customer, they spend money with you instead of your competitors. If you do this well, you get to reap the benefits — profit. You then get to take the profits and, if you choose, reinvest in your business and win more customers and make more money.

To do this, you have to get clear on the what and why of your business.

This is all fairly basic and straightforward. What is often overlooked is that success always requires the identification of, agreement on, and successful communication of a brand intention.

A company’s brand intention creates a consistent thread of thinking, motivation, and action that makes it possible for every person in the organization at any given time confronted with any circumstance or in any situation to make decisions and act in alignment. From the top down, in any role in the organization, when individuals and groups decide among the options before them, they should be able to identify and take the action that is in alignment. Not just for the purpose of getting something done; rather, they take action and do it in a way that is consistent with the intention and the deliverable to the customer.

Brand intention can take a variety of forms, each of which provides the messaging and articulation of what the company or team aspires to deliver to the market. Whether it is a mission statement, a purpose, a vision, or a code of principles, companies are better aligned when they go beyond their mission or vision statement to clearly articulate their brand intention.

The goal of an extraordinary vision or mission statement is to effectively communicate in the most simple and authentic manner the what and the why of the company and emotionally engage its customers and employees.

This is often not as easy as it appears. Saying that your company will be world class, the best in its industry or the most innovative will likely not communicate what your company has to offer or articulate clearly a desired future state. A firm using a mission statement, “To Be the World’s Best Accounting Firm,” is not likely to convey its brand intention to its customers. Nor is the intention going to be clear to the firm’s members, who are expected to aspire to and fulfill it.

Two aspects of a mission or vision statement are valuable to consider.

The first is exploring whether it conveys the emotion and customer motivation of the brand intention. A vision or mission is an important element in how a company communicates its brand. The more it conveys the customer motivation that a company’s product or service represents, the greater its ability to emotionally engage the customer. If a mission statement or vision does not accomplish this, it is not the end of the world and it is not an indicator of whether a company is going to be successful or not. On the other hand, when a company’s mission or purpose statement is aligned to and clearly articulates its brand intention, the company is that much further along in communicating with its customers and members.

This leads us to the second aspect, which is the influence a mission or vision has on a company’s culture. When clearly articulated, the vision or mission provides a focal point and psychological reinforcement for what and why the company exists and acts as a steady beacon for alignment.

When done well, it contributes to employee engagement and helps to recruit people who are interested in working in a company that is aligned to who they are.

The better a mission statement, vision, or other forms of communication connects to customer motivation and brand intention, the stronger and more effective the appeal is likely to be. Wal-Mart’s “to help people save money” does a great job of communicating low price. If the statement does not clearly convey the brand intention, the company has to take steps to assure that, in one form or another, it clearly communicates the customer motivation to the marketplace and to its employees. However it is achieved, it’s vital that they do it and do it well.

Creating or revisiting your mission statement

If you intend to create a mission statement or revisit the one you have, look at the mission and purpose statements of companies you admire, companies and businesses that are similar to yours as well as those of your direct competitors.

You’ll likely find that there are some you like and others you don’t. You’ll find words and phrases that are attractive to you and others that are not. You’ll find some that you can trust and others that you can’t.

Other approaches to creating or realigning your mission or vision include a host of Internet sites and services that provide methodologies and best practices for formulating a statement. There are brand consultants who provide resources and processes. Whatever course of action you choose, the result should be to create a statement that best represents your company’s aspirations for the future, best conveys your customer motivation and brand intention, and emotionally communicates your vision or mission to the marketplace.


Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email:


It is easy for any team or company to become strategically misaligned. As in the case of G. Hensler, misalignment usually results from a combination of factors. The lure of revenue to support growth and expansion is a powerful force.

The idea becomes bigger is better.

Frequently, misalignment is the result of a single team member or small group that influences a team or company to go in a new direction.

Sometimes very successful companies develop such confidence that its leaders believe they can diversify company product or service strategy to pursue additional markets. Short-term results, while energizing and encouraging, can often mask the realities of longer-term outcomes and consequences. Sometimes, it’s simply the leader’s desire to be more aggressive or competitive, or simply to try something new.

You may note that all of these potential sources of misalignment are the result of human motivation and interaction. It’s all about who we are, what we want to achieve, and the natural desire to participate and contribute.

Alignment is not an easy undertaking.

The term “alignment” isn’t typically used in the business curriculum of colleges and universities, and it doesn’t typically show up in executive and leadership development programs. As a result, it is rarely an articulated outcome or goal used for visioning and strategic planning. Nevertheless, it is one of the most important outcomes.

For most leaders and team members, alignment is not part of their ongoing conversation; this is likely one of the key contributors to their misalignment.

A lack of alignment, and all the challenges and issues it presents, usually becomes part of the dialogue when leaders and members of their companies and teams are forced into it. It’s typically not talked about until it can’t be ignored. Then, it’s a rude awakening.

It often seems sudden, yet we know things don’t ever happen overnight. Still, if you ask members of the team or employees in different parts of the company, they are likely to say that they’ve been dealing with the lack of alignment for some time. They’ve been observing or taking part in the conflict, struggles, and skirmishes caused by it and wondering what it will all lead to. Like a tsunami caused by an undersea earthquake, the plates of the earth’s surface have been slowly shifting for quite some time.

Preceding the tidal wave were tremors that, if someone had been paying attention to them, provided signs of what was to come. We often look past or ignore the signals of misalignment until its waves are upon us.

There are other reasons that companies and teams don’t pay enough attention to alignment.

Here is a short list:

  • Everyone is too busy to stop and talk about it.
  • Although it’s been communicated, we can’t expect that everyone is going to hear it or be in on the communication.
  • Everyone is hard at work on individual goals and objectives and can’t always take the time to communicate to make sure everyone is on the same page.
  • We have a lot of other priorities.
  • People don’t always agree with what is being done or how it is getting done, so misalignments are to be expected.
  • Not everyone agrees on the outcomes.
  • No one, not even the leaders, is willing to truthfully talk about the conflicts.
  • It’s someone else’s responsibility.
  • Not everyone is clear on the vision and strategy.

Unfortunately, one aspect misalignment can never be overlooked.

When it is happening, customers sense it. They can feel the misalignment.

When a company is aligned, customers emotionally experience the satisfaction of being treated in a way that reflects their expectations of getting what they’re paying for. Whether doing business with consumers or in a business-to-business situation, customers know when people act in a manner consistent with, and contributing to, the brand intention and customer satisfaction.

The goal and outcome of alignment is for everyone to act in a manner consistent with the intention delivered through its products or services. Leaders must clearly articulate the intention and communicate it throughout the organization to every person in every corner and in every role. It doesn’t stop there.

Alignment is more challenging than just a matter of communication. In a larger context in a bigger company setting, it requires all the leaders of the organization to lead and manage alignment effectively. This includes ensuring that all goals and outcomes at the organizational, unit, group, team, and individual levels are clearly articulated and contribute in an aligned fashion.

When alignment is present, the day-to-day tasks and actions that people undertake are united and aligned with customer expectations and the longer term objectives and outcomes of the business. They are aligned to the brand intention, mission, or purpose of the business and its shared vision.

It is imperative for any company or team to keep a strategic focus on alignment. And while you may not have started with it in mind, you can always come back to it. Much like Lisa Rissetto and her team at G. Hensler, refocusing on alignment will ultimately reap the benefits of business success and keep your company or team on the right track.


Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email:


Do you recognize the name G. Hensler? Probably not. But the chance that you own and wear something the company had a hand in manufacturing is, in fact, quite good. If you bought a leather or canvas belt from one of the specialty retailers found in any mall or from a number of other well-known apparel brands, the odds are pretty good it’s a Hensler product.

G. Hensler is a great small company. It is excellent at what it does and leverages its brand intention to deliver customized accessories that lead to the overall success of its branded apparel with retail customers. It is also a story of how easily a fast-growing business, regardless of its size, can become misaligned and go off course. It’s an example of what can happen, and how successful a business can be when its leadership confronts misalignments and realigns.

Recognizing accessories as an integral part of the vertical specialty store formula, George Hensler, the founder of Esprit Accessories, set up shop in San Francisco in 1989 and offered the design and delivery of customized fashion accessories. The product blend consisted of handbags and belts. When George began the business, he invited Lisa Rissetto to join him. A graduate of the Fashion Institute in New York, Lisa brought her expertise in merchandising, a sharp eye for recognizing future trends, strong customer relationships, and a keen ability to see how design and business blend.

Success and alignment in the early years

Together, George and Lisa launched the business and, through hard work and determination, put the startup on a path of rapid growth. Through the first 14 years, they achieved a consistently brisk rate of up to 50 percent per year growth in revenue, and the company consistently generated healthy profits.

In 2004, Lisa bought the business from George. For all practical purposes, the leadership role had already transitioned to her. Based on her effectiveness and the profitable course of the business, they structured a deal in which Lisa became the company’s primary owner and CEO.

The company’s model for success was already steeped in its ability to sell its design and merchandising expertise to its customers and consistently deliver a quality product. It established partnerships with customers who looked to Hensler and its designers for guidance on accessories. In essence, the company’s leadership, brand, team, and customers were aligned.

As Lisa explained,

“Our definition differs from providing pure contract manufacturing. Our customers come to us for our specific market knowledge and design capabilities, and our expertise in manufacturing. We know what the trends are and are able to interpret them according to each individual brand we work with.”

A change in direction

In 2006 and 2007, the company moved forward on a strategy to increase revenue by taking advantage of selling to big box stores. Throughout its early years, its customers consisted of established specialty retail brands, such as Gap Inc., American Eagle Outfitters, Aeropostale, Express, and other popular names.

As Lisa looks back on it, “We saw the opportunity to dramatically increase our revenue by working with the big box discount segment of the market and made a conscious decision to go after it. We didn’t see the misalignment.”

identifying misalignment in your company

Selling to the big box retailers differed from selling to and servicing G.Hensler’s early customers.

Until then, most of G. Hensler’s products were delivered directly to customers. Selling to larger retailers required establishing and managing inventories and taking on new operational capabilities that were unfamiliar to them, all at much lower margins—a significant shift in how the business was run. It was clear that margins would be much slimmer, yet not fully incorporated into the strategy was the inventory aspect.

The definition of partnership with the big box retailers also differed from the company’s relationships with the smaller retailers. At the end of 2006, the company was saddled with inventory from suddenly canceled orders.

This was compounded in 2007, when orders for more than 20 percent of the inventory the company produced against confirmed purchase orders were canceled. This unsold inventory presented a liability that could potentially cripple the company. As Lisa explains it,

“Selling off the excess inventory meant getting back about 10% on every dollar that we invested in that inventory. We took a significant loss in 2007. The only way we survived was through a strong cash position. Without it, the business very likely would not have made it. At that point we knew we had to realign the business. Had we not gotten back to aligning to our brand, the business would continue to be in jeopardy. We intentionally let go of a great deal of revenue. We gave up about half of our revenue and went back to creating 100% of our sales from customized contract manufacturing and leveraging our design element in support of it.”

Confronting misalignment

Along with slashing revenue, Lisa made several other difficult decisions, including eliminating some positions in the company. She refocused the company’s efforts on working with retailers on specific categories and offering designs that leveraged their insight into the seasonally changing market.

They went back to selling their design and merchandising expertise as opposed to supplying a commodity.

“We also had to realign our culture, which meant realigning our staff. Some of the employees couldn’t make the transition and left the company. This was especially true in sales. When we aligned ourselves, we focused with complete clarity on what was in the best interest of the business.”

As the CEO of Hensler, Lisa made some difficult choices when confronting the misalignment within the company.

This led the change necessary to realign her company to its customer and brand intention. The unique recipe of Hensler focuses on a main ingredient of customization, with strong elements of preeminence in design and merchandising expertise. The company also gives its clients a high level of attention. By confronting the company’s misalignments, Lisa put the company back on track and secured its future.

Five years later, the company’s revenue reached its 2007 levels and is once again profitable, growing, and aligned. As a result of the turnaround and success of Hensler, Lisa was able to launch 49 Square Miles, a proprietary wholesale division with its own unique brand that sells high-quality handbags and accessories geared to the high-end specialty store.



Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email:


During the first decade of the new century, which of the following was the top tour attraction in North America?

  • Celine Dion
  • Bruce Springsteen
  • U2
  • The Rolling Stones
  • Dave Matthews Band
  • The Eagles
  • Paul McCartney
  • Kenny Chesney
  • Madonna

In the music industry, community has long been a cornerstone for branding purposes. After all, that is what the legacy of Woodstock is all about.

Building your brand through community is something that the iconic band the Grateful Dead so naturally leveraged and so well communicated through its community-oriented business model. Long after the band ceased to exist, it’s community continues to thrive. The community of “Deadheads” not only still buys its music, it also supports the various collaborations and solo careers of its members. The Deadheads led the way for many artists and bands to market themselves by building community and the free exchange of music and material.

Rather than fighting to protect the sharing of its music, the band and its management encouraged it.

The Grateful Dead’s model is replicated by other music artists, including Phish, yet none has succeeded at it better than the Dave Matthews Band, which is why the Dave Matthews Band finished at the top list.

Building your brand through community

Between 2000 and 2009, loyal fans of the Dave Matthews Band purchased over 11 million tickets. The Dave Matthews Band offers a model of success for other businesses interested in the brand intention of community. In fact, companies eager to engage their current and potential customers are duplicating many aspects of its approach, including open sourcing, crowdsourcing, or immediate access and media sharing.

Early on, the band played for free at universities, colleges, and local events, building a community of followers and fans.

It managed its brand much as the Grateful Dead did. The band has freely allowed fans to record its music. Until the mid-1990s, the members allowed people to record directly by sourcing from its sound system. Much like the Deads, its hardcore fans are willing to travel significant distances to see the band play. As the size of the venues grew, the Dave Matthews Band offered reasonable ticket prices to make attending multiple shows a!ordable and to encourage its community to grow.

In 1998, in response to and in service to the fans and market of the band, a merchandising and ticketing hub and fan club called the Warehouse Fan Association was formed. The company, which is housed in a large business and distribution center in Charlottesville, Virginia, is the creation of the band’s manager Coran Capshaw. The first manager of the Dave Matthews Band, Capshaw had a history with the Grateful Dead and saw the tremendous opportunity to build the band’s brand through community and the then newly burgeoning Internet marketplace.

The Warehouse immediately leveraged the capabilities of Internet-based commerce and created an interface with its customers through which communication could occur directly. Capshaw’s astute business model was designed to eliminate much of the traditional ticketing and merchandising minutia of the music industry.

The Warehouse allowed the band to control the selling of its own merchandise, music, and, most important, the band’s merchandise and ticketing prices, which increased its ability to control and maximize profitability.

building your brand through community dave matthews band

It’s model delivered other benefits.

The community of Dave Matthews Band fans, hungry for more music and merchandise, could now buy directly from the fan association.

Live recordings soon became available through the site, creating additional revenue sources beyond the traditional sale of albums and replacing music that had previously been available through community members at no cost. The company takes preorders, allowing for efficient production and inventory management. Fans can also register for presale ticket offers, most of which are in high demand and subject to lottery distribution.

All of this creates greater levels of business efficiency, increased leveraging of the community brand intention, and profitability.

The model Capshaw built soon attracted other great artists and the company began marketing its fan clubs and merchandise, which resulted in a new entity, Musictoday, which eventually grew to manage over 500 fan clubs for a wide variety of artists. In 2006, Musictoday was purchased by the concert promoter LiveNation. By then, it was grossing over $100 million per year and growing.

In early 2010, LiveNation merged with Ticketmaster Entertainment, which now controls event ticketing on a global scale.

Music is art. Business is art.

Without the art of business, music would not sustain and grow as an industry.

Going forward, the key to the success for the Dave Matthews Band is its ability to create great art and purposefully sustain and grow its community brand intention, although it is now managed through an increasingly complex model. It requires the band’s ability, in direct interface with its customers, to convey the emotional aspect that motivates them.

In other words, the customer should always come first.

Building your brand through your community: Whether a company is a group of eight people or 60,000, the basic principles of brand intention alignment, and the alignment to the customer, is a key to success.



Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email:


When it comes to the art of business and business success, whether it’s the business-to-consumer or business-to-business marketplace, nothing rings truer than the importance of knowing how to win the customer. If you’re clear on your brand intention and your company or team is aligned with it, you’ll definitely increase your chances to win.

Alignment to brand intention is a characteristic and key ingredient that successful market leaders have in common; it plays a significant role in how they beat the competition.

In my book, True Alignment, I discuss the six brand intentions – community, customization, preeminence, low price, physical wellbeing, and personal actualization — and how they provide a framework for understanding and leveraging what the customer is seeking and aligning a company’s strategies to meet those expectations.


One of the six brand intentions is community. Community defines the brand intention of products or services that invite and deliver membership in a group. It offers relationship, afiliation, and connection.

The customer motivation in the brand intention of community is attention.

Community offers a sense of belonging and inclusion. It satisfies the human need and desire to feel important and have self-worth. Group members are able to receive attention and give it to others.

Business success: A tale of brand loyalty and community

Suppose two young, very creative, and intelligent men get together to develop a new product. It began a few years before they met, when at 21-years old, one man began exploring how to bring an idea to fruition. Two years later, he finds someone interested in collaborating with him to create a start-up company and bring the idea to market. They share a vision for what’s possible and begin building a prototype in a 10- × 15-foot shed.

They work tirelessly and, hoping it will be the beginning of a successful launch into the marketplace, begin seeking people to use their product. Three years later, customers begin to want their product. They find someone willing to sell it for them, develop a logo, move into to a 28- × 80-foot building, and expand their operation to eight people. The two men continue to recruit talented people interested in collaborating to build the business and, over time, the company grows to over $5 billion in annual revenue. Despite many ups and downs and challenges, they find new ways to collaborate with others, solve problems, and to continue to grow.

The resilience of its brand is defined by how it overcomes great challenges, building an identity of boldness and perseverance. Its customers become some of the most loyal brand ambassadors on the planet and the driving force behind the company’s capacity to continually expand and define ways to market and reinvent itself.

The company becomes one of the first to use crowdsourcing to engage its customers to market to others. With little prompting, its customers invite others to join its worldwide following. The company’s diverse community, comprised of people in all walks of life and generations, celebrates its shared passion and loyalty for the product and its brand by gathering in groups a half million strong.

Can you correctly select the brand to which this story applies?

  1. Nike
  2. Harley-Davidson
  3. Facebook
  4. Geico
  5. Budweiser
  6. Microsoft

If you chose Harley-Davidson, you are correct. In 1903, when the company produced its first motorcycles, its inventor William S. Harley was 23 years old and his partner, Arthur Davidson was 22. Their story of business success is familiar in that the company’s founders were young, talented, and started the business in a fashion that many of today’s success stories mirror.

Much like the folklore of the Microsoft garage and the humble beginnings of so many other companies that capture our imaginations, Harley-Davidson started with practically nothing more than a great idea. Over one hundred years later, the company generates over $5 billion in revenue.

business success harley davidson

At the core of their success is exceptional brand loyalty.

The essence of the brand, what makes it so powerful is its incredibly strong brand intention of community. The company’s mission statement has community and inclusion embedded in it:

“We ride with our customers and apply the connection in every market we serve to create superior value for all our stakeholders.”

The company’s market strategies embody and continue to be aligned to its brand intention. Much as it did in its early years when it sold to members of the military, the company pursues selling to groups and communities and leveraging camaraderie and affiliation. After World War II, when motorcycle owners loosely grouped into organized clubs, Harley-Davidson captured the idea of community and built its brand around it. Over the years, despite its quality issues, the brand maintained itself by expanding this platform.

Today, the community continues to expand and the company’s sales continue to grow. The Sturgis and Daytona motorcycle rallies attract well over a half million riders each. While not directly sponsored by Harley-Davidson, their motorcycles enjoy, by far, the greatest representation at the two events. To further the community brand intention, the company hosts toy drives, conducts cell phones for soldier campaigns, and sponsors concerts and an assortment of other events. It encourages participation in the Harley Owners Group (aka HOG), markets to members of the military, offers group rides, and locally connects individuals to fellow riders. The logo the company unveiled over 100 years ago hasn’t changed much, is recognized the world over, and maintains its popularity even as a tattoo, which is a pretty good representation of the power of brand intention.


Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email:


At the heart of complexity lives simplicity.

Aligning a business, company, or team requires a clear and constant focus, continuous effort, and all the skills necessary to be a great leader today and tomorrow. Members of organizations and teams must be more engaged and committed than ever before. For this, they need as much information and development as their leaders do. Every member of every team or company has a role in ensuring that alignment exists.

The Business Code is a framework for alignment that can be applied to any organization or team, regardless of size. There are four elements to the Business Code: the customer, brand intention, culture, and leadership.


Among a leader’s many responsibilities, none is as powerful and integral to success as understanding culture. Therefore, the leader’s behavior must be in alignment with the culture’s expectations.

Without this, it is virtually impossible to create and lead an aligned organization or team. As complex as the study of leadership is, the most straightforward definition of leadership is influencing others to act. Leaders are responsible for acting in a manner that clearly conveys how the intention of the business is implemented and ultimately how the customer is treated.

To influence culture, leaders primarily do three things.

  • They role model acceptable behaviors, which define how individual and group success are achieved;
  • They reinforce what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and
  • They represent the reputation of the culture.

These basic aspects of aligned leadership are not to be taken lightly. The influence a leader has, formally and informally, can easily be undermined when a leader’s behavior is misaligned.

Aligning natural preferences to group strategies

Another aspect of a leader’s influence that is often overlooked is how well aligned the leader’s natural preference is to the strategies the group is undertaking. The way we behave comes from our psychological makeup and preferences. How we are wired directly impacts how we think strategically, as well as how we relate to the customer experience. This preference guides our beliefs about what, why, and how a product or service is offered and delivered to the customer.

The customer ultimately experiences the preferences of the leader. You don’t have to look hard to find examples. Just consider Henry Ford, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Indra Nooyi, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Steve Wynn, Walt Disney, and Mark Zuckerberg. Each demonstrates their personal preference in how they lead, as well as the market strategies and brand intentions they pursue.


Consider the example of Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks. Schultz believes that connecting to and caring for people is paramount to success. This not only extends to the strategies for how Starbucks engages its customers; it is also evident in the company’s human resource strategies.

Schultz was born and raised in the Bronx, New York, where his family lived in a housing project. He often refers to his father, who struggled in low-paying jobs and had little money, no health insurance, and no workers’ compensation insurance when he got hurt on the job. In Starbucks, Schultz set out to build a company in which employees would be respected and well cared for. While the company’s main goal was to serve a great cup of coffee and to connect and care for its customers, Schultz said he wanted to build a “company with a soul.”

Schultz’s values and preferences resulted in a set of practices that are uncommon in retail businesses. Employees working at least 20 hours per week receive comprehensive health coverage for themselves and their families, as do unmarried couples. Along with stock option plans, employees are given a great deal of personal responsibility and treated with the respect that Schultz thought his father deserved and hadn’t received. How employees are treated by supervisors and the benefits they receive result in high loyalty and lower turnover.

These innovations come from Schultz’s life experience and personal preferences.

They are evident in the company’s strategies, including, in the early stages of the company’s growth, never to franchise. This decision avoided any possible dilution of, or variations in, the company’s culture and assured consistency in how both customers and employees are treated. In the case of Schultz and Starbucks, the alignment of a leader to the company’s market strategy and culture is apparent. The influence of his leadership on the organization’s performance is difficult to debate, and his reputation as a leader is undeniable. In 2011, he was named Fortune Magazine’s Businessperson of the Year.


Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email:


Review the following list of twelve of the most influential businesspeople in recent history. Is there any name you’re not familiar with?

  • Bill Gates
  • Oprah Winfrey
  • John D. Rockefeller
  • Henry Ford
  • Mark Zuckerberg
  • Walt Disney
  • Coco Chanel
  • Thomas Edison
  • Warren Bu!et
  • Edward Bernays
  • Steve Jobs
  • J.P. Morgan

The odds are fairly good that Edward Bernays is the only unfamiliar name. Who is he, and why is he included? The answer tells us something about how marketing and advertising reached such a sophisticated level of influence.

The father of spin

The idea that we purchase products to fulfill our desires and that our buying decisions are based on emotions rather than logic is certainly not new. While several versions of how this evolved exist, they all involve Bernays, an Austrian-born immigrant to America, who is considered one of the most influential minds of the last century.

Bernays, who is known as “the father of public relations” and “the father of spin,” pioneered public relations. He provided the foundation for emotional selling and marketing and influenced much of the twentieth century’s economic and political thought.

In the mid-1920s, the Beech-Nut Packing Company saw its revenue from bacon sales lagging and turned to Bernays for help. Before Bernays, the assumption was that people used logic to make decisions. Bernays, however, was influenced by his uncle Sigmund Freud, who believed that people are more motivated by emotion.

Thus, Bernays understood that much of human behavior is driven by instinct and unconscious desires. As a result, he believed that appealing to the public’s emotions would result in greater sales than promoting the dependability and reliability of a product.

bacon and emotional buying

Bringing home the bacon

To sell more bacon, Bernays decided to create an emotional appeal for a heartier breakfast that included bacon. In the mid-1920s, the ideal American breakfast was toast, juice, and coffee. To change people’s thinking, he asked over 4,500 physicians whether they thought a “light” or a “hearty” breakfast was healthiest. The physicians overwhelmingly chose the hearty breakfast. Bernays’ idea of a hearty breakfast included bacon and eggs, so he used this definition when he released the findings of his study.

The news made headlines and within a short time, bacon and eggs became America’s breakfast. Beech-Nut Packing enjoyed a significant increase in bacon sales, and breakfast was redefined. Bacon and eggs, or some variation remains, by far, America’s best-selling breakfast. This includes McDonald’s McMuffin.

Bernays’ contribution remains incredibly powerful. The idea that what we buy is driven by emotion is how products or services are marketed, branded, and sold today. Automobiles sales play on motivating the buyer’s desire for freedom, luxury, pride, and appearance. Clothing and accessories are marketed to reflect sexual prowess, attractiveness, and status. Food marketers promote physical wellbeing, goodness, and, for “foodies,” feeling “in” on the latest trend.

Bernays’ ideas have been advanced, expanded on, and fine-tuned, and emotional selling is still with us. Whenever you hear “doctors recommend” or “more dentists recommend,” you have Eddie Bernays to thank.



Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email:


The key strategic imperative of any business is alignment.

Alignment has long been the greatest challenge of leadership. The importance of alignment in business, along with its effect on performance, has only increased over time. Today, to come close to competing and succeeding in the chaotic and rapidly shifting business environment, leaders must create aligned teams and organizations.

For extraordinary companies — those that consistently compete and win in the marketplace — the overriding characteristic that is invariably present and separates them from their competition is alignment. And, because it is so important, the challenge is all the more difficult.

Most leaders, teams, and companies struggle with alignment because they lack an effective and easy-to-apply framework and approach. As a result, they tackle individual aspects of business — such as vision, strategy, processes and systems, and culture — without aligning them.

The Dangers of Misalignment

Most of us are all too familiar with the consequences of misalignment. We get caught up in the conflicts and blame games that result when everyone is not working toward the same outcome. Time and energy is wasted trying to overcome misalignments, which can disrupt and destroy teamwork and eventually bring down entire companies.

The consequences of misalignment are grave. Among others, they include:

  • A lack of focus on results that support the vision and strategy of the team and organization, resulting in poor performance.
  • A lack of a shared and consistent approach to serving the customer, which damages the company’s reputation and brand and creates customer distrust.
  • A lack of the ability to leverage and fully utilize team members’ individual talents and strengths, which decreases motivation and reduces their desire to contribute.
  • A lack of clear expectations resulting in unmet performance requirements, poor accountability, distrust, and potentially divisive conflict.

Misalignment is costly.

Typically, misalignment results in a negative financial impact, which can be obvious or often hidden.

Among the hidden costs are:

  • unmet goals and objectives
  • missed opportunities
  • missed sales
  • unmet promises to the customer, and
  • a myriad other failures that result from dysfunction within a group, team, or company.

One way or another, misalignment results in a failure, or a lack, of execution, which has a negative financial impact on a business.

All too often, leaders find themselves searching for answers to these problems without realizing that misalignment is at the root of them. They instead rely on hit-and-miss approaches and fixes, as well as temporary measures that provide only short-term solutions.

Great leaders and team members actively seek out and confront misalignments.

Aligning a business, company, or team requires a clear and constant focus, continuous effort, and all the skills necessary to be a great leader today and tomorrow.

Leaders need a systemic framework for understanding, assessing, and creating alignment. They and their teams and organizations require an approach that cuts through the complexity and eliminates the noise from multiple priorities, numerous initiatives, and the confusion of choices and options; an approach that provides a clear and simple roadmap to success.

The Business Code

The Business Code, discussed in depth in my book True Alignment, is a framework for alignment that can be applied to any organization or team, regardless of its size. It shows leaders and their companies how to confront and overcome the challenges of misalignment. The code also provides the tools needed to create strategies and initiatives and take actions that result in the alignment required to compete and achieve high levels of performance.

the business code - alignment in business

The outcomes of applying this framework include:

  • Alignment that clearly defines the trusted relationship of the business to the customer, the customer’s expectation, and what the brand
    stands for.
  • Alignment of leadership that is responsible for role modeling, reinforcing, and leading an aligned culture and is committed to the reputation
    and success of the business; leaders who hold themselves and other leaders responsible for their personal alignment to the organization,
    as well as its vision, and its culture.
  • Alignment of goals and strategies across and down through organizations and teams, large and small, demonstrated by the contribution each group and team member makes to the organization’s vision and strategies.
  • Alignment of each individual to the values, beliefs, and expectations of the culture; each member knows how success is created at individual, group, and company-wide levels.
  • Alignment that results in every person being responsible and acting in alignment with the business’s intention, as conveyed through each member’s commitment to the customer.
  • Alignment that contributes to the resilience that great companies and teams demonstrate when confronted with difficult issues and challenges and keeps them from going off course or losing sight of their mission, vision, and intended outcomes.
  • Alignment that is demonstrated through every decision and action taken by every member of the organization or team, how they fit into its culture, and what the company and team have promised to deliver to the customer.

The Business Code starts simply, letting us discover the richness of how business fulfills our needs. It allows us to connect the needs of the customer to our brand’s intention as delivered through the products or services provided. Next, it connects the ways in which we lead and operate our businesses and shows how they can be aligned to become more effective and efficient.


Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email:


What makes a brand extraordinary? What differentiates an extraordinary brand from its competitors? Why do we respond to powerful brands as we do? What is in the secret sauce of winners? Why do we want to associate with the best? What do extraordinary brands have that the others don’t?

Again and again we ask these questions. We want to know how to replicate that high level of success and make it our own. Whatever role we have in a company or team, we all aspire to be a part of something extraordinary.

First, extraordinary companies with extraordinary brands are well aligned. Their cultures and leadership are aligned to the company’s brand intention, which delivers in alignment to what the customer is buying.

Second, the company has a unique recipe, and the main ingredient is clearly articulated, understood, and focused on. The priorities of what to focus on in creating and delivering the company’s products or services are known to everyone and all act in alignment to that set of priorities. A sense of individual and shared commitment exists among company or team members, regardless of role or function, to relentlessly pursue and deliver the main ingredient to the customer.

While this may appear complex, it doesn’t have to be. The simpler the message, the more customers are able to see and feel the difference.

Simplicity is one of the attributes of extraordinary brands.

Complexity in a product or service often makes the customer anxious. While we like to have choices, having too many choices is not a good idea.

Have you ever felt uncomfortable when someone tries to sell you something with a lot of add-ons or options? Do you ever find yourself questioning the motives of the seller? When we’re given too much to think about, being sold too much, or being sold something more complicated than we want, we tend not to trust the seller. Or we don’t trust our own ability to make the right choice.

If the provider of a product or service claims that it will fulfill all your needs, that’s a pretty high mark to reach. You are likely to respond skeptically. I am not saying it’s not possible; I am saying it is highly unlikely. Therefore, we’re less likely to trust it.

Potentially, a customer may lack confidence in a company that offers a little bit of everything or tries to sell an overly broad range of products or services. We tend to place more trust in those that work to master a particular product, service, technology, or expertise. If a company offers a little of everything, it increases the likelihood that it’s not going to be great at any of them. The one exception is a low-price provider from which the customer is not expecting a high degree of product knowledge or service competency.

Extraordinary brands: a passion for music

I once read a poem in which the author compared walking into a bookstore to walking into a bakery. The scent of books evoked the emotion associated with the familiarity and anticipation of a fine bakery. He wrote that opening a book’s cover was like breaking into a freshly baked loaf of bread and that flipping through a book and stopping at a page and reading was like taking the first bite.

This is the experience I have every time I enter Wildwood Guitars. Whenever I set foot into Wildwood, I sense its uniqueness. By today’s standards, its approximately 500 square feet is a small space from which to conduct a thriving, rapidly growing retail business. It is also part of its charm and likely contributes to the concentrated, alluring aroma of the fine woods and finishes emanating from the guitars hanging on the walls. As customers walk into the store and across the old worn Italian rugs, they are quickly and warmly greeted by the artists sitting at the four desks that have, over the years, replaced the counters and display cases that once occupied the space. Calling them sales clerks (they don’t have official titles) would be a gross understatement. Each is an accomplished player, who leaves customers marveling when demonstrating a particular guitar. They don’t sell. They help you choose the guitar that’s right for you, that best fits the music you want to create. As they will tell you with conviction, it’s not about buying just any guitar. It’s about the art and your self-actualization.

When you enter Wildwood Guitars, it doesn’t cross your mind that it is a thriving leader in its market, an important player in a worldwide industry. Yet it is one of the largest independent sellers in the world. It achieved this by becoming a powerful niche player in an industry that has moved rapidly toward consolidation and where big is the norm.

The world’s largest retailer of musical instruments is Guitar Center. Owned by Bain Capital, “Guitar Center plunged into the new millennium with the forward-moving momentum of the previous decade and a vision of vast expansion.” Compared to Wildwood Guitars, the company is a giant, easily the Wal-Mart or Best Buy of music, with over 239 locations in the United States and over $2 billion a year in revenue. The company proves that a low-price brand intention and the ability to offer a large selection of items and brands can be a sustainable and growth-oriented path to success. Throughout its history, Guitar Center has grown through a strategy of leveraging acquisitions and opening new stores.

Like all great businesses, even large volume players need to change to succeed. Any great company must innovate and evolve to be competitive long-term, and Guitar Center has proven it can adapt. It has an operational capability and efficiency enabling it to quickly distribute its merchandise to the store level, to move it from store to store, and to swiftly respond to its customers. As part of its vision, the company states, “Guitar Center has no intention of slowing down and will be around for generations to come.”

Two different approaches

The difference in Wildwood Guitar’s approach to how the customer is treated and the intention of its brand couldn’t be any more different than Guitar Center’s, whose stated main customer objective is “to provide for the musician’s every need.” As a result, it offers a broad array of products—keyboards, drums, audio equipment, DJ turntables—pretty much anything you’re looking for. Guitar Center is a low-price retailer with an extensive selection, touting discount pricing. Customer service is naturally in alignment to that intention. While the sales associates at Guitar Center receive product knowledge training, they most often help customers find a particular product from the extraordinary range of choices and fill the role of sales clerk.

The low-price brand intention influences the sales associates and their perspective on the company’s culture.

The contrast with Wildwood Guitars couldn’t be any starker. While many of the influences of big-box retailing have found their way into the marketing of retail musical instruments (including competition on price and volume), Wildwood has resisted this impulse and has successfully held its own. In fact, it has done much better than that. It has become one of the most trusted independent guitar dealers in the world by carving outa niche that has resulted in a consistent growth. Year to year over the past decade, it has experienced double-digit growth by focusing on selling guitars, a narrow selection of high-quality ampliflers, and a few select accessories. It has moved away from selling low-priced items and taken a boutique approach by offering high-quality, vintage, custom, and rare guitars.

Wildwood is currently the largest Fender Custom Shop seller in the world. Among independent dealers, it consistently ranks among the top providers of Fender, Gibson, Taylor, and several other well-known brands. Among guitar makers, it has achieved an elevated status, resulting in several lines of “custom” guitars that include the Wildwood brand in their model names. The average price of a guitar sold at Wildwood is between $3,000 and $4,000.

Steve and Marilynn Mesple founded Wildwood Guitars in 1985. Steve has had “a lifelong love affair with music and guitars.” Their approach was to “sell the greatness and goodness of guitars.” Steve’s leadership approach and its influence on his team at Wildwood are evident and is an excellent example of a leader’s influence on the customer relationship, brand, and culture.

The relationship between Wildwood Guitars and its customers centers on the trust that comes from caring. Customers from far and wide interact with the artists who make up Wildwood’s team and, by phone and email, making buying decisions based on their input and recommendations. The members of the team build relationships, carefully listening to what the customer is looking for from a particular instrument—what they play, what they want to achieve, and what they aspire to—as well as what the customer likes in a guitar, including how it looks, feels, and sounds. Without ever playing the instrument, the customer makes a decision. That level of trust is compelling and is evidence of the caring nature of the Wildwood brand. It explains why the vast majority of Wildwood’s sales are not in-store. Steve makes it very clear. “We never try to sell the customer anything that they don’t want to buy . . . period. That’s not who we are and it’s not what our customers would ever expect from us. Everyone here knows that’s not something we would ever do.”

Steve Mesple has made changes along the way. And while they didn’t always get the results he was looking for, he has worked toward always making changes consistent with what motivates his customers, the alignment to the business’s brand, and what he sees as an unwavering culture of passion. He’s carefully recruits the right people for his team and rewards them for their passion and dedication. With the advent of the Internet, he expanded his sales capabilities and reach. The store’s website now offers over 2500 videos of great guest artists playing Wildwood’s offerings. The videos are not just entertaining. They are educational, inspirational, and in service to the customer. As Steve told me, “People love to hear great guitars played by great artists. It gives them the opportunity to experience what we can offer them, which is an unparalleled inventory of amazing guitars and trust. And we do it with unbridled passion.”

To compete with the appeal of the Wildwood Guitars of the world, Guitar Center offers through its brand Musician’s Friend, a single-person sales unit called Private Reserve. Customers can call and speak directly to the person at Private Reserve and get the expert assistance of an artist in the selection and buying of a custom or high-priced guitar. In relation to its brand and the perception of its customers, Private Reserve is much like a small stand-alone brand that lives within the larger brand intention of Guitar Center. While it offers a distinct service and product, the customer may not intuitively or intellectually find it to be in alignment with their interpretation of the Guitar Center and Musician’s Friend overall brand intention.

At the core of Wildwood’s achievement and the success of Guitar Center is what lies at the heart of the success of any business. It is alignment. For any enterprise, large or small, competing in a local, regional, or global marketplace, the required ingredient is the alignment of the customer’s expectation and their experience of how it is delivered. This means that the company’s people work with one another and act toward the customer in alignment with the brand intention and the customer’s expectations.


Edgar Papke is the co-author of Innovation By Design and author of True Alignment and The Elephant In The Boardroom. He helps leaders and their organizations align to create greater levels of innovation, performance, and fulfillment. He can be reached by email: