Your Company is in WHAT Business?!?

When Facebook founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified last week in front of Congress, I nearly feel off my chair when I heard his answer to the question “Are you a media company or a technology company?” Now – realizing that the options offered in the question may have been too limiting PLUS the fact that Zuckerberg was likely advised to stick to answering the questions (not correcting them), I was still shocked at his reported response: “I like to think that we are a tech company”.

Given the reason why Zuckerberg was called up to Congress in the first place (the Cambridge Analytica situation), it appears that someone (many someones?) at Facebook had the impression that the social networking platform is actually a data company. And, as a result, those folks made the business decision to monetize the data Facebook has invested in accumulating (a strategic move aligned with being in the data business).

Did someone forget to let Zuckerberg know that Facebook’s business has morphed over time from just a place for people to connect to a serious data company? (hint: I think he knows).

My goal here isn’t to get into a debate about what business Facebook is actually in. It’s really to point out that this kind of disconnect happens in companies of all sizes every day.

When people in a company (including executives) aren’t on the same page about what business the company is in, they make business decisions based on what business they think the company is in.  And, when several decision-makers make different/conflicting guesses, business leaders and their company can be heading for a heap of trouble.

So what should you, as the leader of your company, do to head off the “what business are we in?” disconnect in your organization?


1 Decide what business your company is REALLY in and keep it up to date over time

There are lots of different factors that play into the decision about what business a company is in:  the problem it’s solving; who the target customer is and what they need/expect from a provider; what others in the marketplace are doing to solve the problem and how the company plans to set itself apart; the customer value proposition the company is primarily focused on delivering, etc.  I could go on.

To illustrate, let’s look at a hotel. Here are just some of the different businesses a hotel could be in:

  1. Putting a roof over people’s heads at the lowest possible price
  2. Providing a place to interact with/test out all the coolest tech amenities
  3. Being a home away from home
  4. Designing a luxury experience that anticipates and fulfills every wish
  5. Supporting the ability to travel with the smallest possible carbon footprint

It really doesn’t matter which you select for your hotel – the important thing is to be clear about what business your hotel is in because that choice will have implications for all the business decisions, big and small, that follow.

Remember – your choice of what business you are in probably won’t stay static over time. Your customers change. The marketplace changes. Your company grows.  And you learn.  So, if you want to be in business tomorrow, you’ll have to be flexible and adaptable to change. And this can include tweaking or changing the business your company is in (companies re-position and rebrand all the time).

However, the important thing in step 1 is to be purposeful about, and clear on, what business your company is in at this point in time.


2 Make sure that everyone is on the same page

Once you’ve settled on what business your company is in, and can state it clearly, it’s time to ensure that everyone in your company has the same understanding. Even when you think that the business that you’re in should be obvious to everyone, don’t take it for granted. Take my advice – don’t skip this step!

First be sure that everyone on the executive team is on the same page. Then begin communicating across your company. But don’t just use a one-way communication approach – be sure that part of your communication strategy includes having employees tell you what business your company is in and what that would look like in action. Taking the time to be sure that everyone has heard the same message and is indeed on the same page about what business your company is in will help prevent disconnects in the future.

Be sure to repeat this step with all new hires, from time to time with existing employees, and every time there’s an adjustment to what business your company is in.


3 Monitor the alignment between intent and follow through

Once you’ve clarified what business your company is in, and you’re sure that everyone is on the same page, you can’t stop there. It’s not a once and done proposition! You’ve got to keep everyone’s eyes on the follow through, making sure that business decisions, investments, actions, and priorities across your company stay aligned with the nature of the business you are in. Staying on top of the follow through across your company allows you and your team to pick up mis-alignments with your business intent early and make the required course corrections quickly.

The actions you and your team take to course correct will depend on the root cause behind the mis-alignment – the key is to learn and adjust before small mis-alignments snowball into a serious business problem.


Disconnects between what business your company is in and the business your employees think your company is in happen all the time.  Unfortunately, this disconnect almost always shows up as costly, misaligned business decisions and sub-optimized business results.

The good news is that, when you follow these three small but important steps, it’s possible to minimize, and even eliminate, the “what business are we in?” disconnect in your company – making it possible for everyone across your company to focus with certainty on doing the right things to maximize company performance, customer outcomes, and financial results for your business!