Sit back and relax. Go ahead and loosen your necktie a bit, but don’t throw it away. It’s not going anywhere. The necktie has become a timeless symbol of professionalism and success. But why?
The history of the necktie is somewhat elusive. It would be easy to assume that it was inspired by some functional purposes—maybe as a cloth used to wipe sweat from a brow, or some fancy upper-class bib. Neither assumption appears anywhere in the necktie’s history. In fact, the history of the necktie (at least the quick online research anyone can do) reveals no functional purpose for this now-standard business attire. Instead, this iconic piece of formal business clothing appears to be a simple fashion statement traced back to King Louis XIV of France. I guess the rationale is simple enough to understand. If a King does it, why shouldn’t everyone else?
It sounds silly now, cinching a strip of fabric around your neck every day because Louis XIV thought it was fashionable back in the 1600s. Still, we do it. In fact, we seem to follow the lead of King Louis XIV more than we follow the lead from today’s “kings of business,” those companies that prove a timeless business strategy, philosophy, and approach—which has nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with purposeful service.
Take a look at the companies getting all the attention for their success today. What timeless strategy do they deploy? Disney (DIS) has proven it’s here for the long-haul because it focuses on bringing people joy, with every team member “on cast” to provide a safe and satisfying show. Zappos, although hip and trendy, has focused all its attention on stellar service, a strategy as timeless as business itself. Or study Apple (AAPL), with its progressive innovation focused on delighting the customer and with Apple Stores that blow the minds of visitors, delight the eyes of customers, and lock in the loyalty of long-term fans with a service experience that promises and delivers.
Or consider IT service provider Wipro. The company (which I should disclose is one of my clients) chose to focus on uplifting its service, transforming its reputation from that of one of many “low-cost offshore suppliers” into one widely regarded for “customer-centric” leadership and expertise.
How can you make your business timeless?
1. Serve at all levels: Big things often start with big people, such as a king. Service isn’t a department. It’s a mindset. Your leadership must be fully engaged in this mindset and make service fashionable by setting the example. If you want your people to wear an iconic “necktie” of excellent service, you should wear one yourself.
2. Focus on relationships: Regardless of what you sell, you’re in a service relationship with your customers, your employees, and your team. Policies, procedures, and rules don’t mean much if they don’t add value “in service” to another human being. More empires have been squashed by the lethargy of their own bureaucracies than by their enemies.
3. Enrich, empower, and educate: The entire foundation of commerce is the exchange of value between people—it’s all service. Empower your people through effective service education. It will enrich their lives and your bottom line.
4. Pace yourself: Service will outlive the latest flash or fad, so jump in for the long haul and don’t look for a quick finish line. Maintain a strong service focus and make adjustments as needed along the way. Because when it comes to service, there’s never a point when you can’t improve, and there’s never a day when your customers won’t appreciate it.