Harry Houdini, the world's greatest stage magician, was a global sensation more than 100 years ago. But Houdini's dedication to his audience still resonates with me to this day, and if you own a business, it should mean something to you as well.

I first heard Houdini's story more than 40 years ago, when I was in the third grade. I read his biography for my first-ever book report. In the book, the magician's secret to great performances was revealed: Before going onstage, Houdini reminded himself that he was privileged to perform and that he should have gratitude toward the people who had paid to see him.

Houdini reminded himself that his own family was fed from the hard-earned nickels being paid to him by his audience members. It was their nickels that made his dollars. The same axiom can inform business owners today by reminding them of the importance of keeping end users at the forefront. 

It is a lesson I took to heart and personally use regularly. Whether I'm delivering a keynote address or giving an undergrad lecture, I follow Houdini's example and remind myself that it is my audience that gives my work purpose (and myself a paycheck). 

Never forget who pays your salary. Never forget who feeds your family. Remember, it is their hard-earned money that makes your dream venture successful.

Now, this is easier for performers to do because the distance between them and the paying customer is small. As you scale your business, entrepreneurs have to put more and more distance between themselves and the end user.

That said, here are three ways to close that gap and better remind yourself of your audience:

1. Share a customer persona. 

A customer persona is a semi-fictional archetype that represents the key traits of a large segment of your audience, based on the data you've collected from the user. It's a business tool in which the entire cohort of early adopters and current users is envisioned and then turned into a gestalt representing all users. Usually, customer personas are one page long and have a high-level visual summation of the motivations, background, and habits of early users.

Once you have created one, share and discuss it with your staff. Knowing who you serve, why they buy, and who they are puts a face to the role and helps employees build with those users in mind.

2. Connect role to goal.

Each team member at your organization should be able to describe how their activities serve the company's goals and the customer persona's needs. Even more distant teammates--say, the receptionist--can make an impact on customer experience. Take time to discuss that explicitly.

I like to rename and reposition staff roles to reflect their impact on customers. So that receptionist isn't just a secretary--he or she is the Director of First Impressions.

This isn't just semantics. By connecting role to goal, employees will find it easier to see the importance of their work.  

3. Spotlight performance. 

Showcase employees that go above and beyond to deliver value, no matter where they sit on the org chart. When management makes a big deal about something, like job performance or customer impact, those things become a big deal to the rest of the organization.

So, for instance, showcase how the Director of First Impressions's recent work with arriving clients furthered the organization's goal of creating a top customer experience, and how that led to better sales.   

You may not be an escape artist or stage magician, but Houdini's practice of remembering who he really works for serves as a reminder of the power of mindful gratitude, and the power of creating meaning at work by addressing the unmet market needs of customers.

Published on: Apr 20, 2019
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