Advice from Someone Who’s Walked in Your Shoes

Advice from Someone Who’s Walked in Your Shoes


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Last fall, I had the privilege of facilitating a breakout session at a retreat for the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program. I thought I would excerpt some key advice from that session. I hope they hit home with you, too. These are common-sense principles that apply to all businesses.

Get The Mission Right

If you were to assemble your direct reports and ask each of them to put on paper the mission statement of your business, what would you receive? I guarantee that many of you would receive as many statements as you have people reporting to you. Ask yourself: “If I and my staff aren’t on the same page, how can the rest of our team operate effectively?”

hempKCMost mission statements are copious, verbose blather that no one can absorb or remember, not even the author. I’ve been told that some of my examples of company missions are dated; yes, they are, but they also endure. If I say “We Sell for Less” or “We Fly for Less,” is it possible that anyone doesn’t recognize the corporate giants behind those four words? I don’t think so. The point is that everyone at Walmart and Southwest drinks the Kool-Aid, and they spend virtually no time on activities that don’t move the mission forward. In his book “Management Smarts: Listen, Think, Act,” Ted Cohn nailed it when he stated that “20 percent of our activities produce 80 percent of the desired result and 80 percent of our activities are wasted.” What’s your mission and how do you spend your time?

One of my favorite books is “Made in Japan” by Akio Morita, one of the four founding partners of Sony. Aki was an officer in the Japanese Navy during World War II. He came home to a war-torn, devastated country. He and his partners wrote a three-word mission statement: “Rebuild Japan’s Economy.” Wouldn’t you agree that their contribution was enormous?

Critical to your success is the mission must be attainable. Business history is littered with failures because those organizations did not have the resources (human and financial) to attain their mission. In such cases, the goals cannot be attained, and the team quickly becomes frustrated and discouraged. Be careful. Never set goals your team can’t reach.

Your Business Is a Brand

Your business is a brand; think like a brand manager. My background is consumer products. The two greatest brand managers I know are Ralph Lauren and Phil Knight, the minds behind Polo and Nike respectively. How is it that decade after decade they remain on top while others fall away and fail? Lauren and Knight are absolute masters of brand and channel management. They constantly reinvent themselves while offering an iconic core product.

Look at your peer group of competitors. Can you differentiate your offering of products and services? If you can, you have established a proprietary position of features and benefits. Drive your business from a position of differentiation.

If you cannot differentiate your offering from competitors, you are probably considered a commodity by your customers—not good. Your customers can take it or leave it, because there is another vendor who will provide the exact same products and services at the same price or less.

How, then, do you extricate yourself from the commodities ditch? One answer is world-class customer service. Sadly, customer service is an afterthought for so many: recorded messages, no humanoids available, no response to calls and emails requesting satisfaction. It’s pathetic. In one of my businesses, we had an inbound 1-800 number for our dealers and another for our consumers. Because users were passionate about our product category, our monthly inbound calls ranged from 10,000 to 16,000 calls per month. My customer service team members were empowered to “make it right.” If they couldn’t handle it, I had to call the customer before I left the office that night.

Let’s go back to Ted’s book and thoughts. Ted said we all should treat our customers by the Golden Rule. He also had a favorite expression: “WAYMISH”—that is, “Why are you making it so hard” to deal with you?

People and Communication

Who should make the decisions in your business? I have always believed decisions should be made at the lowest level in the business, the one that is closest to the action. Akio Morita supports that notion in his book when he wrote, “Thinking and decision making cannot be left to management.” So what happens if the decision is wrong? I agree with Akio when he said, “Management doesn’t inquire who made the mistake. Rather, we ask what can we learn from the mistake and how can we avoid it again?’

You must develop an organization where your team members will reach beyond their grasp. Only by so doing will you achieve exceptional results. A short reach yields short results. You will only build such an environment by telling the truth and communicating regularly with everyone. I met with all my people once a month, and in two very stressful situations, we met weekly. It pours water on the rumor wildfires and keeps the team on point.

When I was in my 20s, my favorite boss told me, “Jimbo, you’ve got to carry water on both shoulders.” The leader must do the same, and he or she must confront laggards, malcontents and those who put themselves above the team goals. If you refuse to address a people issue in your business, it will soon fester, then become malignant. Worse than that, everyone will know someone is skating, and you won’t put a stop to it. You just came down a notch in the eyes of your team. Remember Ted’s advice: “Hire slowly and fire quickly. Spend 10x on hiring than you do on training.”

Jim Huntington

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Jim Huntington is a mentor with the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program, which pairs seasoned executives with established but growing business owners. Huntington's professional experience includes several CEO positions with apparel and sporting goods companies. // www.hempkc.org

Categories: Management

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