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How to Find—and Close—Vision, Culture, and Experience Gaps

Published April 10, 2014

Most companies we work with have some sort of performance gap. Some are known and easier to see, others less obvious. Some big, some small. All–when identified and closed–drive increased value across a range of quantifiable measures. When it comes to the ways a company is experienced or perceived, most of these gaps fall into a fairly common pattern.

We call these “vision/culture/experience” gaps. These gaps are related to the heart and soul of what makes most companies truly unique–where brand, customer and employee experience connect, and absent any gaps, where they align to drive perceptions and value.

The Three Legs Of The Vision/Culture/Experience Stool


The stool analogy is a bit sophomoric, I grant you. But we all get it. A two legged stool topples, a three legged stool with legs of unequal length wobbles. Understanding each of these “legs” is the key to ensuring yours is aligned and stable. These three “legs” are your:

1. Vision: Vision is at the top of the accompanying illustration for a reason. Informed by your business strategy, vision sets the brand and describes what the company can become and what it promises customers and employees today. It’s what a company stands for and why it exists and is defined by the purpose and values that drive strategies.

2. Culture: Usually culture is an unstated series of beliefs that govern the meanings people attach to their experiences of being an employee.

3. Customer Experience: Customer experience is the result of a customer’s interactions with a company. Customers attach meanings to these experiences, forming opinions or beliefs of what the company stands for based on their perceptions of how the company treats them, the degree to which it meets their expectations, and how well it does or doesn’t deliver on its promises. It’s what employees believe the organization stands for–its values, systems, and habits, among other things. How are they treated by others? How are they, themselves, expected to behave? Put another way, employee experience equals culture.

Three Common Gaps

Looking across the above, there are three major “gap areas.” No one is more common than another. Depending on the company, one or all may be at issue. For some companies, no gaps exist at all. Each is important. Unless all are in alignment, significant issues can occur, and value is destroyed. These gap areas include:

1. The Vision/Culture Gap: This occurs when executives and management talk about the company one way, but the experience of being an employee is somehow fundamentally different. For example, a company might say that integrity and respect are core values, but it treats employees poorly and leverages legal loopholes to get ahead.

2. The Vision/Experience Gap: This is similar to the Vision/Culture gap, where the vision translates to a brand promise that creates customer expectations of a certain experience. If integrity is part of the brand, and the “legal loopholes” (like hiding gotchas in the fine print) negatively impact customers, expectations aren’t met, and gaps exist.

3. The Experience/Culture Gap: When the vision or brand create customer expectations of a certain experience and these expectations are not met, then experience is negative and a performance gap is created.

Identifying And Closing Gaps

While closing the Experience/Culture gap is at the core of most customer experience efforts, the identification of any gaps is important. While not simple, the process is relatively straightforward. Check out Six Steps To Customer Experience Improvement, my two-part article from 2012, for a quick primer.

If you do find multiple gaps, the place I suggest you start is with any Vision/Culture gaps. Without alignment of vision and culture, even the most articulate business and customer experience strategies won’t help a company succeed. After all, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”–a remark as funny as it is true, attributed to Peter Drucker and popularized in 2006 by Mark Fields, president of Ford Motor Company. In fact, rumor has it that the phrase continues to hang in the company’s War Room today.

The truth is, many organizations miss out on obvious opportunities to improve culture and customer experience when they don’t start by aligning their vision.

The Benefits Of Aligning Vision, Culture, And Experience

Those companies that succeed most wildly–those in the top quartile for employee engagement that have the most loyal customers and employees and drive outsized business value as a result–are those that understand the importance of alignment across these three areas.

They clearly articulate their vision and bring it life for their people and their customers in brands that promise relevant experiences that set them apart from their competition. Then they back it up–by delivering on these promises to employees, customers and shareholders alike.

After all, even the best-articulated strategies cannot be effective if employees don’t understand or believe in them or aren’t motivated to deliver on them to your customers. While not simple, the fact is any company can get there–because this is what the promise of alignment can deliver.

Customer Experience Strategy, Get it Right to Drive Success

This blog originally ran on CMO.com, where Michael Hinshaw writes the weekly “Get Customer-Centric” blog.

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