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What Rock Bands Can Teach Companies


Could you imagine The Beatle’s classic “Twist & Shout” without any guitar? How about Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” without the singing (or moon walking)? Or how about “Don’t Fear The Reaper” without the iconic cowbell, which was made even more iconic with the Saturday Night Live skit?

None of these classic tunes and none of these bands would have made it without a team effort. Every member needs to contribute to their highest level. A wildly successful band recognizes that each member has an extreme specialty, and then milks it for all its worth.

Sure, Eddie Van Halen can jam on the drums, rip on the keyboard and even sing a little too. But Eddie’s supreme talent is guitar. His brother, Alex, dominates the drums (even though he can play guitar, just not nearly as well as Eddie) and David Lee Roth can sing like, well, David Lee Roth. Van Halen achieved iconic status by exploiting the super strengths of each member.

This isn’t just Van Halen’s formula, every iconic band focuses on the super talents of the member instead of asking each member to play each role equally well. They push their band mates to the limits of their specialty. Iconic companies do the same.

When they identify a member (employee) who has strengths with a specific ability, they nurture it. For example great sales people aren’t made sales managers, they are made into greater sales people. Greatness is elevated, not “promoted” to new roles. In other words, great companies nurture the talent of employees, and they surely don’t have those employee start trying to “play other instruments.”

Just like great bands, there are specific roles that are needed to bring balance and iconic status to companies:

Lead singer. The front man of the band not only leads the lyrics, but is often the band’s spokesperson. Just like a band, the president of a company constantly defines the culture of the company and is the lead spokesperson to the public.

Drummer. Arguably the foundation of every band, the drummer maintains the constant rhythm of each and every song. In a company, the chief operating officer is the drummer. She keeps the rhythm of the company’s offering on track and ensures that it is consistent with the company’s mission.

Bassist. The bass is the link between the rhythm of the drums and the melody of the guitars and keyboards. In other words, this is where the rubber hits the road. For a company, the customer service manager is the bassist. She ensures that the vision (defined and enforced by the COO) is exactly what customers are experiencing.

Lead guitar. The lead guitar is all about flourish, wild solos and cool, catchy licks. For a company, this is the manager of the marketing department. The marketing manager needs to deliver the company’s message in a way that catches attention (wild solos) and keeps it (catchy licks).

Rhythm guitar. Almost all rock tunes are carried by the rhythm guitar. This is where the music comes to life and the melody stands on its own. For the business world, this is what customers experience–the service department or in the case of making products, the manufacturing department. The manager of services or manufacturing delivers the essential “tune” to customers and sets the foundation for their experience.

Source: 6/12/12 American Express Open Forum Writer Mike Michalowicz


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