08/12/2013 04:49 pm ET Updated Oct 12, 2013

Perception and Perspective


Is the glass half full or half empty? This is actually a great question. Though the state of the glass remains the same, the outlook of those who see the glass changes dramatically based on how the glass is perceived. Perception has always been a fascinating concept, especially when it pertains to business. Perception permeates many business aspects from marketing, to product differentiation to attitudes. Your day can be awful or great depending on your perspective. You can see a great deal of success or failure depending on perspective. The way people look at a problem makes a big difference in how they approach the problem.

Perception plays a big role in products. People are willing to pay according to the perceived value of the product. Two products may have everything in common except for the brand image and yet one product will sell for more than the other. I experienced this a couple weeks ago. A friend of mine received two hand bags for her birthday. They were about the same price. One had more compartments while the other had a "cute" design on it. She liked the design and thought it was a better value and so she returned the other bag.

Several weeks ago, I purchased a pizza from a very high class pizza place. All the ingredients are imported and its pizzas are all individually handmade to your specifications. I felt more important just being at this upscale pizza place. Recalling this experience reminded me again of the importance of perception in products. The pizza was good, but I could have bought a very similar pizza at another place that would have been great and I could have saved some dough. It was not just the pizza I bought, it was the experience. The atmosphere was classy, the music was nice and the idea that the ingredients were not only the best, but were imported, made a huge difference in the product as a whole. I could have ordered a pizza from another place, but it would have taken a lot of work to recreate the experience and memory I have of that pizza place. We should care about and understand the way our businesses and products are perceived. The perception could affect the way we should be marketing our products.

I was taking a personality test a few years ago, my wife was beside me, and as I started to fill out the personality test she looked over my shoulder and corrected me on some of the things I put down. "How patient are you on a scale of 1-5?" I think, "I am definitely a 5" and as I start to fill in my answer my wife clears her throat sarcastically. It made me think of the perceptions we have of our behaviors and what we require of ourselves and our employees. We develop core values and missions, but we achieve only to what we perceive is a representation of these values and mission goals. This stresses the importance of having good examples of what is considered a good behavior or of the value you are trying to achieve as a company.

If Dan is a perfect representation of what you want in customer service, make him an example of what everyone should strive for. Recognize his efforts at a company meeting, or send an email out to everyone to congratulate him, or have him train other employees. Going the extra mile to recognize great behavior will improve behavior throughout your company. Though one might think his or her goals are lofty, others might think they are incredibly easy to reach.

Another aspect of perception pertains to attitude and can be understood easily through sales. A sales person will likely be rejected many times before landing a sale. This salesperson can either take the perspective that the rejection is personal or think she will never succeed. With the right attitude, the salesperson can have her eye on the next sale and not let any of the past failures faze her. It is amazing how many people fail before they start because their attitude is a failing attitude from the beginning. I played some football in high school and I came to realize that the game was often won or lost far before the fourth quarter. Being on a scoring or fumbling streak can be gravitational. I learned that sacking the quarterback two or three times in the first quarter could be more effective than many other possible strategies. I also found that when we were losing and a lineman on our team happened to end up with the ball in his arms and, by some miracle, ended up scoring a touchdown, the next touchdown was a bit easier to score. I soon learned that the game was often decided by the attitudes of the players more than their talent - that is why good coaching is so essential.

This principle is the same in business. Low spirits and a poor attitude can be gravitational and drag down productivity and performance and it may be very difficult to turn around. If your company's attitude is going downhill, focus on the road and not the cliff ahead of you.

Perspective can be important to an employee's identity in the business. How important does the employee see his job as being? What is his perception of the opportunities, the respect, and where the company is going in the long-run? How do employees see the culture? It is important to know how customers see the company. Is the company green? Do its products have a good value proposition? Reality is important, but reality is frequently just perception. Creating a positive perception of your company, the perception you want others to have, is critical to your success.

Nature or Nurture?
There is not much we can do about people's nature. Aside from Spiderman, I have never heard of anyone who was able to have a complete genetic makeover overnight. Instead we can control how things, employees, culture, and organizations are nurtured. In business, we might not be able to do much to change our employees, or change the core operations of our company, but we can nurture the things we see are important to our company and improve the perception. Prioritize those things that you feel are most important. Focus and emphasize the positives, the strengths of your company. Change perception by rewarding actions consistent with the desired outcome.